a new look at old broadband

Is there life in DSL? While the buzz at Broadband World Forum in Paris centers on the impact of optical fibre services to businesses and homes, Nokia Siemens Networks proudly claim to have pushed copper pair close to its physical limits. They have tested VDSL services over "phantom" circuits (an elaborate way of bonding 2-4 copper pairs) at 825 mbps over a 400 metre range. The speed drops quickly with distance - down to 750 mbps over 500 metres - however the kit is small enough to deploy in street cabinets (i.e. does not have to run all the way to an exchange).  

Note, these are tests of course, probably on good quality copper with very little interference. But the technology still promises some significant speed increases in the real world.

Deployed as a combination of optical fiber to the cabinet, and copper in the last half-kilometer, phantom circuits could be ideal for urbanized/suburbanized areas. So who would want so much capacity? It's probably going to be a little expensive to have multiple circuits into the average home, but it would be ideal (capacity and price point) for small businesses and branch offices, and for mobile backhaul.

Without wanting to plug NSN too much (as many network vendors will soon have this capability), they also announced what they claim is the first 3G HSPA+ network sharing in the "re-farmed" 900MHz mobile spectrum. Sounds like a "first" too far? 

Rural broadband

This will have particular implication on the provision of broadband. French mobile operator SFR will build a mobile broadband access network that will be shared with Orange and Bouygues. What's interesting from my perspective is the spectrum: the 900MHz spectrum has been used for 2G in Europe, and until recently, operators have not been able to use it for 3G, which typically operates at 2100MHz.

Lower frequency = longer range. Longer range means less base stations, lower costs, less planning permission. 3G is more spectrally efficient than 2G, so basically the mobile operators will be able to deliver low cost mobile broadband on existing cell sites. And because it is a shared network, the costs are shared among the operators.

For anyone who has struggled with poor quality mobile broadband coverage (or capacity), this will be a boon. The rise of the smartphones has choked mobile networks. 

This particular announcement is good news for any rural business, and just a taster of what's to come with the Digital Dividend when much of the 470 - 862MHz analogue TV spectrum is freed up for use by mobile operators.
Stewart Baines
Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.