CenturyLink trials G.fast in apartments, sees cost savings in vectoring, bonding

A CenturyLink executive said the provider is conducting "one of the earliest" large-scale G.fast trials to an area with numerous apartment buildings -- a target market for upcoming deployments of the copper-based technology.

The service provider is leveraging G.fast technology to deliver higher broadband speeds to residential and business customers in multi-dwelling units (MDUs) where it can’t build a out a business case for fiber.

G.fast leverages a fiber-to-the-distribution point (FttDP) architecture where a telco will deploy a fiber into a building, typically a basement, and then extend service over the building's existing copper or coax cabling.

Tony Davis, VP of investor relations, told investors during Oppenheimer’s 19th annual Technology, Internet and Communications conference that it is conducting a large-scale G.fast trial. However, Davis would not reveal where it is occurring or how many customers are being served in the trial.

“We believe we're one of the earliest ones to deploy in a fairly dense G.fast deployment in a market where we have a lot of MDUs,” Davis said. “We have begun to use all of the technologies available out there.”

Davis said that it is looking at expanding the use of G.fast in other markets outside of the trial area.

“We’re certainly beginning to look at that and ask is there an opportunity to expand,” Davis said. “We concentrated on a particular area and launched into a number of multi-dwelling units in that area so we’ll start looking at if there’s other opportunities to expand.”

A CenturyLink spokesperson confirmed with FierceTelecom that the telco is conducting G.fast trials and that it plans to share additional details about its plans “later this month.”

CenturyLink is hardly alone in targeting MDUs with G.fast. The technology has caught the eye of Windstream and AT&T.

Windstream recently began a trial in Lincoln, Nebraska, for example. Since G.fast equipment incorporates more software-based virtual elements like SDN, Windstream said could accelerate customer self-service in the future.

AT&T plans to conduct lab trials and future field trials of G.fast in MDUs, too. The service provider can leverage existing Cat 5, Cat 6 or copper cable to deliver up to 300-500 Mbps to each resident.

While CenturyLink sees fiber as a priority for new broadband builds, CenturyLink has created a toolbox of broadband technologies that also include copper pair bonding and vectoring.

Davis said that the cost of deploying fiber to a customer averages $500-800 per location, while vectoring over bonded copper costs $160 per location.

“We’ve begun to use all of those technologies available out there and we said we always take a fiber first approach where we say does it make economic sense to take fiber there,” Davis said. “If it’s economical we’re going fiber first and then we’re coming down the chain of technology if you will.”

By using VDSL2 over a single copper pair, CenturyLink can deliver up to 40 Mbps over a 2,500 foot copper loop and if the telco bonds that VDSL2 connection, it doubles to about 5,000 feet or less. If the telco implements vectoring on that same VDSL2 line, it can deliver 40 Mbps at a distance of 8,000 feet or less from the nearest CO or remote terminal (RT) cabinet.

“Our new CTO Aamir Hussein, who joined us two years ago, had a lot of experience with vectoring and he’s been a strong proponent looking at that,” Davis said. “As we have begun to roll it out it has been effective.”

The service provider has set a high bar for vectoring. Glen Post, CEO of CenturyLink told investors during its first quarter earnings call that it plans to reach 14 million households with 100 Mbps over copper via vectoring.

Vectoring and G.fast are part of a broader set of tools that CenturyLink will use in tandem with fiber-based GPON to extend broadband services to more homes in its territory.

Leveraging a mix of copper and fiber, CenturyLink expects to provide 85 percent of its footprint, or its top 25 markets, with over 40 Mbps by the end of 2018, while enabling over 11 million locations with over 100 Mbps and 3 million locations with 1 Gbps over fiber.

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