We had the opportunity in April to visit the North West corner of Swindon where some existing premises are getting native FTTP from Openreach. We have looked at how Openreach deploys its Fibre to the Premise network before, but that was before it started to look at using connectorised fibre to reduce the length of time to connect each property and they have also announced an ambition to deliver 2 million FTTP premises in the next few years. The massively increased volume means reducing the time it takes to deploy FTTP, the amount of training of staff and degree of intrusion for home owners becomes ever more important.
With the new methods of deployment which are aimed at reducing the amount of road works too it is possible for a road to be made FTTP or FTTH ready during the day, this means if no-one is home you may not even realise a much faster and more reliable service is available hence as premises are passed leaflets are dropped through the letter box.
The big change is that the use of blown fibre and fusion splicing will happen a lot less and that is courtesy of rugged fibre cable which is pre-terminated and can handle bend radii as small as 7.5mm meaning handling it is much more like copper (Corning rate the cables to a 100lb pull limit) and the result is that it for the Swindon roll-out the fibre is actually ending up sitting behind the small grey network points on the outside of the property waiting for enough slack to be pulled through and ran into the property once someone orders the service. The drop cable holds two fibres and the black outer can actually be removed to reveal a white inner for when it is inside a property. The Kevlar elements also mean the drop cable can be used for the final drop on overhead installs too. We did not see it but there is apparently a version of the drop cable with a copper pair embedded, which makes connecting new builds easier, since old fashioned copper phone services can be provided and the fibre is then in place for immediate switch-on.
Current Openreach GEA-FTTP needs two visits, one to install the fibre to the outside of the property and another to install the final run into the property, but this is down to one visit with the new system, saving truck rolls and benefiting the property owner as only need to take a morning or day off work rather than the old two. One install was going on while we where there and if you did not know this was a FTTP install you’d have thought it was an second copper line being run into the property.
The drop cable will run from the fibre DP, which in Haydon Wick are all underground and here is one with its cover lifted. Each DP can be raised out of the chamber individually for working on and it is as simple plugging in the connector that is on the DP end of the Corning OptiTap cable. The un-terminated end heads off towards the property, where a connector is added to connect to the usual fibre ONT.
In the cases where the drop fibre is ran to the grey riser on the outside of a property the slack is left bundled up in the bottom of the pavement chamber. Perhaps the slowest part now is attaching the various yellow routing labels so that on future visits everyone knows what goes where, compared to the days of having to setup a compressor and fusion splicer the new system seems to be popular with Openreach staff and where limited numbers of staff do the fusion splicing many more should be able to handle the new system.
Those who have seen our previous fibre articles will be familiar with the 25mm diameter fibre tubing that holds mini-tubes fibres are blown through. The above shot shows a massive advantage of the new system and that is that the fibres heading back from the DP to the splitter node are connectorised and take up a lot less space in a duct, the payoff being that where as the old 25mm tube might not have fit due to a full duct or a blockage the new small diameter may fit thus reducing the number of duct blockages that need to be cleared or even totally new duct runs. The cost of the duct run is not the grey PVC ‘sewer pipe’ but the labour involved in getting it into the ground.
The fibre splitters are also undergoing a change, with a smaller splice tray which reduces the fibre splitter size and thus should fit into many more of the existing pavement chambers, i.e. avoiding the need or new or re-built chambers. The splitters split and combine the light in the fibres which means you reduce the number of fibres needed as you get closer to the exchange, this is inherent in the deployment of a GPON network, the other network style would be point to point fibre where each premise has an individual fibre all the way back to the head end (exchange).
The final link in the chain before you head off back to the exchange is the aggregation node, in this case in a pavement chamber with the standard size two slabs. This node can serve some 1480 premises.
The exchange side of GEA-FTTP is pretty much the same as we saw some years ago in Cornwall, but there are some changes on the way. One of the reasons providers who do not use the BT Wholesale network have yet to adopt the GEA-FTTP service is that an additional cablelink must be ordered in addition to the one carrying the data from FTTC users, but these 1 Gbps or 10 Gbps links will be changing in the future so that wholesale network operators will pick both FTTC and FTTP users traffic over a single cablelink.
Since we have visited more postcodes in Haydon Wick have gone live (hopefully we will see more too) and also a little bit of new build slightly to the north where it is so new that road signs are A4 laminated signs hung on fencing and lamp posts.
Unfortunately no big plan for where the 2 million FTTP premises was found lurking in the boot of any ones car on the visit so we cannot help there, but hopefully this article will help people to spot any interesting bits of Openreach work in their area. One parting thought, the VDSL2 cabinets already are fed by fibre nodes and these nodes have been installed with the expansion for G.fast and FTTP in mind, and the new connectorised deployment systems may make it easier for premises on the fringes of a cabinet area where speeds are well below superfast thresholds to receive a pure fibre service, we know of a few thousand premises already where they have FTTC at slow speeds available and a FTTP overlay is present and this seems to be growing who knows there is a risk that those falling under the proposed 10 Mbps Universal Service Obligation might actually see FTTP delivered once the USO becomes law.
We know we have visited and covered a fair bit about what Openreach do, so if other UK based FTTH operators are willing to share a walk through of what they get up and let us post some photos we are happy to pay a visit assuming work schedules allow.