• Andy Harris, CEO

FTTH in the UK? 'Think out of the Box!'

The term Fibre to the Home (FTTH) seems to have been around for ages and anyone involved in the networking, computing and IT industry probably regards it as “old-hat” but the reality is somewhat different, in that, whilst the terminology has been in place for some time, the actual reach in terms of the percentage of UK homes connected to pure fibre high-speed broadband is quite limited. The latest statistics provided by the FTTH Council indicate that that less than 1% of UK households have end-to-end fibre connections to their homes and it lags way behind many of its international counterparts.

A number of the big Internet Service Providers (ISPs) make a lot of marketing noise about Fibre Broadband being readily available, but on closer inspection, you uncover the fact that whilst fibre is involved, frequently it is only up to the cabinet (FTTC) and the final connection between the cabinet and the household, is still in fact copper, and with copper having a limited bandwidth, this inevitably compromises the broadband speeds available.

In fact, it is this final connection, or “Home Drop” (the distance of which can vary dramatically) which has historically proved to be the most problematic element of an FTTH implementation and in all probability has acted as a slowing factor on the implementation of FTTH across the nation. The fact that there is not a government initiative driving the implementation of FTTH across the UK means that coverage is patchy and largely dependent on the ISPs who will address the most profitable geographical areas that will provide an acceptable ROI whilst leaving out areas that don’t.

The net result of this means that, currently in the UK we have something of a “postcode lottery” in terms of FTTH implementation and a technology that is now regarded by most as the “fourth utility” is not available to all equally. Rural areas tend to suffer the most, with the exception of specific communities who have tackled the problem and have funded FTTH projects themselves. As long as this situation continues the divide between the “haves“ and “have nots” in terms of high-speed broadband will continue and the implications of this are far-reaching. Those areas that have high speed broadband will enjoy all the benefits associated with them: in terms of social inclusion, community communications and activities, and the attractiveness of locations for commuters and home-workers. In short those areas that have high-speed broadband have every opportunity to thrive on an individual, community or economic basis, as they exploit all the benefits that are available to them. Those areas without access miss out on the opportunities and suffer the consequences on all levels.

In areas where “FTTH” has already been implemented a variety of different approaches have been used for the “Home Drop”. In some cases fibre is run to the cabinet (FTTC) and then the existing copper telephone wiring combined with sophisticated Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) techniques is used for the “Home Drop”. This can technically offer data rates reaching up to 100Mbs, but is seldom achievable as the distance from the cabinet to the home is often 500m or more. Whilst this is a short-term fix, longer term the copper cable will prove to be a speed constraint. An alternative approach has been to use Fibre to the Pole (FTTP). This can work where an existing aerial copper infrastructure exists, as the distance from the pole to the home is typically less than 50m, but this requires a significantly deeper fibre trunk reach into the network and substantially higher costs than FTTC as an active unit is required on each individual pole.

It is evident that the home drop is typically the most unpredictable and potentially most costly element of the FTTH implementation. It is well reported that, due to the variable nature in terms of distances and substrates, that the nearer the FTTH roll-out gets to the household the more complicated and expensive it becomes. Add to that the fact that the final home drop requires a connection from the public highway to the householder’s property, and the householder doesn’t particularly want the disruption or potential problems associated with the digging up of their drive, patio or pathway and you can begin to understand why this is so problematic.

But what would happen if we were to look at alternative methodologies that ease the whole process of installing fibre into the home drop, thus removing the barriers to deploying fibre right up to the householder’s property. And what if you were to use existing infrastructure to deploy the fibre and reach the householder? And what if you could achieve this in a way that was non-invasive and caused minimum levels of disruption?

Sometimes it is easier than you imagine and there is a system available that counteracts the barriers of conventional approaches, but at the same time disrupts some of the paradigms that currently exist.

Atlantis Hydrotec® is a simple pipe in a pipe solution that provides a conduit to a building by installing a micro-bore pipe within the existing water supply infrastructure that feeds a property. Once the micro-bore pipe is in place, a communications cable can be safely installed within it without having any adverse effect on the existing water supply. The micro-bore pipe is made out of the same materials as the existing fresh water supply pipe system. This solution overcomes the difficulties associated with more conventional FTTH approaches such as the costs of excavation, disruption of digging up roads and driveways, and the time to install the fibre. The system is available in two versions: The D series is ideal for FTTH connectivity to individual homes, Multi-dwelling units (MDUs) and Gated communities and the T series is suitable for PTP core/trunk/distributor fibre and for connections to remote or rural locations. The system has been WRAS approved and certified by NSF/ANSI 61 as safe to use in water supply pipes, making it suitable for use on virtually a global basis.

As CEO of CRALEY Group, I have a vested commercial interest in the Atlantis Hydrotec solution, and I can appreciate that this article may simply be regarded as a sales “plug” for the solution. However I would like to share with you my learnings from the experience of starting up the company, investing in the technology and talking to many professionals and institutions located in different parts of the world. The reality is that the UK is lagging behind many other countries in the world in terms of FTTH implementation and this will have a dramatic impact on us in terms of our economic competitiveness in the future if we don’t address it. Other developed and non-developed countries are surging ahead with their FTTH implementation, through investment and innovative approaches.

"So why don’t we challenge the status quo by pushing the boundaries, trying alternative technologies and empowering ourselves to grow our digital networks and keep pace with the rest of the world"

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