Korea's 'gigatopia': KT delivering gigabit speeds over copper

Korea Telecom is working to provide gigabit-speed broadband even for its 10-20 percent of customers still on ADSL by using 'GiGA Wire' technology over copper and coax cable.

While the majority of South Korea has access to fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) broadband, Korea Telecom (KT) has said it is still using ADSL to connect up to 20 percent of its customers.

Speaking during the Global Broadband Futures Conference on Monday in Sydney, KT VP Global Business Development Byungki Oh said KT is using technology called G.hn, or "GiGA Wire", in an effort to provide gigabit-speed connections to those still on legacy copper and coax cable connections.

Such technology effectively fills in the gap between VDSL and FttP, he said, adding that around 10 to 20 percent of KT's customers are still on ADSL. And while the telco's first choice is to upgrade these customers to full fibre, if KT finds that this cannot be done, it looks at utilising its existing network assets.

"If you look at the advantage of GiGA Wire, there are four different characteristics," Oh said.

"First is of course the cost -- can we do it really cost effectively? We look at it from not only capex but also opex, so we look at the total cost of ownership," he explained.

"Another is coexistence with other carriers and other services. This is very, very important; the typical housing environment in Korea is multi-dwelling units like big apartment complexes, which is shared with other carriers and other services, so we need to have coexistence.

"Also scalability -- this technology is relatively new, so we need it to scale up as the market grows.

"Another is installation, a quick installation, because some of the places we're not allowed to run the fibres because building owners will not allow us, and also our customers do not like to have our maintenance people to be in their house for a long time."

According to Oh, KT has a 15-minute timeframe in which it aims to complete all broadband installations and upgrades; while connecting hotel rooms in one project, he said KT installers were able to complete their work during the time it took housekeeping to service the room.

Around 40 percent of KT's subscribers are on gigabit speeds, Oh said, with the nation having progressed more rapidly than others in this space: By 2004, KT was already offering speeds of 50Mbps; by 2006, it had reached 100Mbps fixed-line broadband offerings; and by 2014, customers could purchase a 1Gbps service.

"We are constantly upgrading," Oh said, noting that KT is currently trialling bi-directional 10Gbps FttP technology, and is also moving to G.hn 3.0 in 2018 to attain faster speeds across legacy assets.

By comparison, Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN) is eyeing a metric of 25Mbps minimum speeds to 100 percent of the population by 2020, and only its FttP network is currently able to reach gigabit speeds.

With KT partnering up with Boston in the United States and Gaborone in Botswana to deploy GiGA Wire commercially across copper and coax networks, Oh said KT is currently talking to NBN about the benefits of G.hn.

However, he did not say whether the Australian broadband company is likely to use the technology.

NBN will be launching 1Gbps-capable G.fast across its fibre-to-the-node (FttN), fibre-to-the-building (FttB), and fibre-to-the-curb (FttC) networks, and DOCSIS 3.1 on its HFC network in 2018 -- with an Ovum report earlier this week saying NBN's commercial viability depends on its continual network upgrades.

KT has the luxury of rolling out its network across a much smaller geography than NBN in Australia, Oh noted, and to a more condensed population. However, the KT VP also lauded the use of multiple technologies in rolling out a nationwide broadband network -- especially when it comes to providing the greatest amount of people with high speeds in the shortest amount of time possible.

"We're not really focusing on what technology [we use]. We really saw the value of how we can instantly upgrade customers to gigabit," he said on KT's GiGA Wire technology.

"One thing that we learned is that our customers do not wait for us to develop certain technologies. We really need to use a different mix of technologies to provide services that customers want."

KT's "gigatopia" vision extends across all networks, with its mobile networks having developed even faster than its fixed-line networks, Oh said, thanks to such technologies as carrier aggregation.

The telco is also planning to deploy a 5G network for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games using Intel's 5G mobile trial network, processors, and 5G technologies including FlexRAN.

Winter Olympics attendees will be given access to gigabit-speed wireless broadband, low-latency video, and live-streamed content at Gangneung Olympic Park; in Gwanghwamun, Seoul; and at other Korean Olympic venues.

KT had successfully demonstrated 5G technology to the Winter Olympics committee back in February last year, and has also worked with Intel on 5G mobile device and network developments and verification, including a modem that supports 5G, concepts for anchor-booster cell and Massive MIMO, solutions for Licensed Assisted Access (LAA), virtual network platforms, and joint standardisation.

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