Forget Fibre: NBN Is Just Making Copper Faster Instead

The latest results from NBN lab trials of XG.FAST are in. Yes, that is the name of copper acceleration technology — an extension of Nokia’s commercially available technology — not an antiperspirant spray designed to boost your masculinity. Basically, it’s powering up the existing copper network to deliver fiber-like speeds, and has achieved lab results of 8Gbps over 30 metres of twisted-pair copper — 900 times faster than the average broadband speed.

NBN is the third operator in the global market to run lab trials of XG.FAST, joining BT who ran trials last year, and Deutsche Telekom who did the same in February. The Australian XG.FAST lab trials were held at NBN HQ in North Sydney in September, along with Nokia.

Federico Guillen, president of Nokia’s Fixed Networks business group, said NBN’s “flexible” approach to network architecture “makes it perfectly suited to future upgrades based on emerging technologies like XG-FAST, which is designed to provide high-quality, multi-gigabit broadband over short cable distances”.

As well as the 30 metre results, 5Gbps peak aggregate speed was achieved over 70 metres of twisted-pair copper — which would be roughly three times the average length of copper lead-in from pit to premises, NBN pointed out.

Guillen says Nokia are committed to further developing the technology to eventually support 2Gbps or more at 100 meters, enabling longer distances to effectively cover buildings and clusters of homes without the need to rewire.

“Nokia will continue to work with NBN to ensure they see the latest developments and technology innovation to evolve their network and deliver ultra-broadband to more people sooner,” Guillen said.

NBN said that XG.FAST can be deployed across a range of scenarios in the field, “delivering ultra-fast speeds to either Multi-Dwelling Units (MDUs) in a Fibre-to-the-Building (FTTB) scenario or via a Distribution Point Unit (DPU) in a Fibre-to-the Curb (FTTC) based network”.

In late September NBN announced its intention to deploy FTTC services to approximately 700,000 premises on the NBN network, and it says this will “provide an ideal platform” for “potentially” deploying future XG.FAST services.

“Although XG.FAST is still in its very early stages of development the lab trials we have conducted demonstrates the huge potential that the technology offers,” Dennis Steiger, CTO of NBN Australia, said. “XG.FAST gives us the potential ability to deliver multi-gigabit speeds over copper lines — virtually on a par with what is currently available on Fibre-to-the-Premises — but at a lower cost and time to deploy”.

Steiger says while the core goal remains to connect eight million premises to the NBN by 2020, keeping a close eye on new technologies like XG.FAST will ensure NBN can meet the future bandwidth demands of Australian broadband users.

“I’m guessing it was coincidental that this report was dropped the day before NBN was due to appear in front of a Senate Estimates committee hearing?” said Laurie Patton, CEO of lobby group Internet Australia of the news.

“It is notable that G.Fast is currently only slated for 11 percent of European premises anyway. It is not widely seen as a replacement for fibre,” Patton says.

He predicts that when XG.Fast hits the market, assuming the trials lead to commercialisation, stocks will probably be hard to get (and expensive) because other countries will want it too. In any case, on its own projections, the NBN rollout will probably be completed before XG.Fast is readily available.

“This is not to say that G.Fast is not a relevant technology,” Patton says, “it’s just we’ll have to wait and see”.

This article originally appeared on Gizmodo.

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