Deutsche Telekom: 'Impossible' to roll out fibre to every home

Deutsche Telekom has said its fibre-to-the-curb network using VDSL vectoring across legacy copper lines is the only way to reach all premises across the country in a timely and cost-effective way.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor
(Image: Deutsche Telekom)

Deutsche Telekom has defended its use of VDSL vectoring technology across legacy copper lines during its nationwide broadband project, saying it would be "impossible" to build out fibre-to-the-home (FttH) connections across Germany due to time, cost, and construction constraints.

"We are committed to vectoring, because it is the only way to provide people in rural areas with faster lines quickly," Deutsche Telekom said in a blog post published on Thursday.

"If we are fixated on FttH, those in the countryside will remain left behind for years. It is simply impossible to roll out fibre lines to homes everywhere in the country. Neither the construction capacity nor the funding is available for that.

"Plus, there is quite simply no demand for it."

Deutsche Telekom's broadband network involves rolling out fibre to nodes and curbs (FttN/C), with vectoring then used to reduce any signal interference that could slow down the speeds attained across existing copper lines between the box and the home, allowing for download speeds of up to 100Mbps.

According to Deutsche Telekom, those who make criticisms over which broadband technologies are being used to roll out ubiquitous connectivity are missing the point of the project: To provide everyone with high-speed broadband "as quickly and as comprehensively as possible".

"There is always criticism of Deutsche Telekom's broadband build-out in the media: Sometimes we're building too little, sometimes we're accused of using the wrong technology, sometimes the allegation is that we're preventing other providers from expanding," Deutsche Telekom said, arguing that those making such criticisms have "tunnel vision".

According to Deutsche Telekom's roadmap, it will be providing around 80 percent of households with FttC and vectoring for download speeds of 50Mbps, with full fibre connections available in development areas and business parks, or where they are funded through cooperation or driven by demand.

In 2018, Deutsche Telekom plans to launch "super vectoring" allowing more than 250Mbps speeds; and is also eyeing current lab tests of XG-FAST, which have demonstrated speeds of up to 11Gbps.

Deutsche Telekom said its 4G LTE network will provide 95 percent of the population by 2018 with speeds of over 300Mbps, with combined coverage of LTE and DSL using a hybrid router to provide rural areas with download speeds of up to 550Mbps.

All of this will be underpinned by Deutsche Telekom's future 5G network, the company said.

"Our broadband build-out of the fixed and mobile networks is laying the foundations for 5G, the next communication standard, which will make the Internet of Things and self-driving cars possible," Deutsche Telekom said.

"We are making sure that fibre technology will reach every street, step by step. And while we're hard at work building, others just sit back and bellyache."

Deutsche Telekom invests €4 billion annually in Germany to drive the construction of broadband across the nation, building 25,000km of fibre network every year since 2010 for a total fibre network stretching 455,000km.

Its network plans involving upgrades across legacy technology combined with greater fibre builds each year follows German Federal Minister Alexander Dobrindt in March announcing a €100 billion fund with the Netzallianz Digitales Germany to ensure gigabit-speed mobile and fixed-line broadband connectivity by 2025.

"We need more bandwidth, reliable real-time transmission, and intelligent networks that process, prioritise, and transport data as quickly as possible to the user," Dobrindt said.

"To this end, we are now building next-generation broadband networks, bringing together the most advanced technologies, such as fibre and the future 5G mobile communications standard."

Dobrindt's announcement came less than two years after the German government had said it would spend €2.7 billion to ensure that every citizen had minimum broadband speeds of 50Mbps by 2018, using funds raised through a spectrum auction.

"With the federal funding for the rollout of broadband networks, we will close the white spots on the map," Dobrindt said at the time.

"We will invest the funds selectively in regions where commercial network expansion is not expected. This will create fast internet for all throughout Germany by 2018."

Deutsche Telekom had in February 2015 proposed to the regulatory agency, the Bundesnetzagentur, that it be permitted to use 100Mbps-enabling vectoring across legacy copper lines throughout the country without giving its competitors automatic access to the last mile between the exchange and the 5.9 million households it would serve.

On Thursday, Deutsche Telekom pointed out that while it had made a commitment to provide 80 percent of all premises with 50Mbps at minimum, its competitors have not.

"Other companies have not made this type of commitment, especially not the cable operators; they are quite happy to use their own copper infrastructure while demanding that other companies build out the fibre-optic network," Deutsche Telekom argued.

The telecommunications giant said it has signed cooperation agreements with NetCologne, Innogy, and EWE, with the company in support of various types of collaboration including leasing infrastructure or forming joint ventures.

"This could include both cooperation models with local carriers and with larger competitors," it said, pointing towards competitive tenders.

According to Deutsche Telekom, other countries are "already rethinking" their FttH rollouts because Germany's "next-generation access" broadband coverage is higher than in Sweden, Estonia, and France, which all emphasise FttH and fibre-to-the-building (FttB) rollouts.

Germany's broadband coverage is at 82 percent, Deutsche Telekom said, compared to 79 percent each in Sweden and Estonia, and 47 percent in France.

On connection speeds, Deutsche Telekom ranked Germany's average at 15.3Mbps, above France and Estonia at 10.8Mbps and 11.6Mbps, respectively, but below Sweden's 22.5Mbps.

According to the Netzallianz, 75.5 percent of all German households have access to 50Mbps broadband, either on fixed-line or mobile, with Deutsche Telekom saying 80 percent have access to 30Mbps.

Akamai's State of the Internet report [PDF] published in June conversely reported that Germany's average home broadband connection speeds, ranked 25th globally, rose by 9.8 percent year on year to 15.3Mbps; and its peak speeds, ranked 45th globally, were 65.6Mbps, up 22 percent.

Akamai added that 90 percent of the German population have speeds faster than 4Mbps; 53 percent have faster than 10Mbps, and 33 percent have access to speeds above 15Mbps.

By comparison, Australia -- whose National Broadband Network (NBN) company is similarly rolling out a mix of network technologies including FttH, FttN, FttC, and FttB, along with hybrid fibre-coaxial cable, fixed-wireless, and satellite -- was ranked 64th globally for peak connection speeds, at 55.7Mbps; and 50th for average connection speeds, at 11.1Mbps, across fixed-line broadband.

The Australian government's NBN, which has similarly been criticised for not rolling out a full-fibre network, passed its halfway point earlier this year, with 6 million premises now able to order a service. It is aiming to provide 25Mbps minimum speeds to 100 percent of the population by the end of 2020.

Editorial standards