The Drive to Extend Copper Continues

Carl Weinschenk

Last week, I wrote a post that made the observation that the happy little war between the cable and telephone companies is continuing on its merry way. Indeed, the competition between the two industries is the constant. The only thing that really changes is the weaponry with which the war is waged.


Today, Ericsson Broadband Networks made an announcement concerning its armaments. It is well known that the weakest link in the telephone industry arsenal is the copper that provides the last leg to customers' homes. The way around this, for many years, has been digital subscriber line (DSL) technology that increases the capacity of that copper. Ericsson's announcement is a successful test of the impressively named Vectorized Very High Bit Rate DSL 2 (VDSL2). The results-speeds of 500 Megabits per second (Mbps) over a 500 meter span-are equally impressive.

The idea is really simple: In areas where there is more than one copper line available, Ericsson is bonding them together. Network World reports that Ericsson is using six copper pairs -- a "pair" represents one connection -- though the story doesn't suggest that this the required number for the technology to work. The trick is keeping the signals from interfering with each other. The new technology uses advanced noise cancellation technology to predict where noise will occur and do what is necessary to transmit signals nonetheless. Ericsson, which says it will introduce products using vectorized VDSL 2 the end of the year, is not the only company working on the technology.


Ikanos is another company deeply involved in VDSL2 and related research. Today, the company said that it and Sumitomo Electric Networks have released three papers on VDSL2 and online reconfiguration (OLR) technology. The papers will formally be presented by Sumitomo at the Institute of Electronics, Information and Communications Engineers conference at Ehime University in Matsuyama City, Japan this week. The papers aim at the heart of the convergence of voice, video and data on copper networks. Much like the Ericsson technology enables agility in the maintenance of adequate signal quality, the Rapid Rate Adaptation element of Ikanos' OLR offering enables connectivity to survive even if the link's signal-to-noise (SNR) drops below normal levels.

The million-actually, multiple billion -- dollar question for the telephone companies is whether there is way to rely on copper to provide triple-play services to most of their customers or if the lion's share of carriers must migrate. AT&T has taken the copper bet with U-Verse, while Verizon opted for fiber in its FiOS architecture. The jury seems to still be out. It is unclear from this release whether the North American trials of Actiontec Electronics' VDSL2/ADSL2+ Universal DSL Wireless Gateway announced last month are aimed at choosing between VDSL and fiber or if the choice has been made and the carriers simply are choosing the best vendor.

The speed of VDSL technology degrades rapidly the longer the distance is from the central office. This article at thinkbroadband provides some flavor for the distances being considered by Openreach, a BT company in the UK. The piece says the main speed increments being considered are 20 Mbps downstream and 5 upstream, 30 Mbps downstream and 10 Mbps upstream, and 40 Mbps downstream and 15 Mbps upstream. Since speeds decrease as distance grows, the goal is to base the endpoint in a cabinet in the field and closer to the end user, not the central office. The post says VDSL2 already is in use in Belgium, Denmark, Finland and elsewhere.

The many flavors of DSL create a confusing array of choices. Regardless, the trials and introductions show that a lot of time and research are still being lavished on squeezing every last ounce of value out of copper.The bottom line is that the phone industry still is trying to forestall or delay a wholesale switch to fiber, which they know would be an expensive undertaking.

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