We’ve been promised that by 2017, 95% of the UK will have access to at least 24Mb broadband and 100% will have at least 5Mb. It’s also hoped that many of us will get connections faster than 100Mb. But in order to achieve this ambitious goal, our telecommunications infrastructure needs upgrading. A full fibre network to replace the ageing telephone lines would be preferable but also expensive, so one alternative being explored by BT is a technology called G.Fast.

What Is G.Fast?

If you have broadband today there’s a good chance you’ll have either an ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) connection which utilises the telephone lines to provide speeds up to around 17Mb, a FTTC (Fibre To The Cabinet) fibre broadband service offering up to 76Mb using the BT Openreach network, or Virgin Media cable broadband up to 152Mb, which is similar to FTTC but utilises a coaxial cable for the final run into premises rather than the telephone line used by FTTC. You can find some of the main ways broadband is now delivered in the Broadband Genie broadband journey guide.

Ideally we’d all be using Fibre To The Home (FTTH) to enjoy speeds of 1Gb or more, but this requires the installation of fibre lines, an expensive endeavour both in terms of time and money. FTTC solutions are cheaper and quicker while still giving us reasonably rapid connectivity.

G.Fast is a technology that works much like FTTC but can provide greater bandwidth by using more radio spectrum over the copper line. BT believes that G.Fast could deliver speeds up to 500Mb, more than five times the capability of its current fibre products offered under the BT Infinity label and by other providers like Sky and TalkTalk.

As with FTTC the advantage of G.Fast is a network operator doesn’t have to go around the entire country deploying fibre lines into every home, but it does also offer a significant upgrade in performance over the existing mainstream services.

However, one negative is that G.Fast only works effectively over much shorter lengths of copper cable, which means BT must still bring the fibre links closer to premises, and homes which are at the most distant ends of the connection will see much slower speeds.

How Will G.Fast Change The UK Broadband Market?

While G.Fast isn’t as exciting as a full fibre rollout, it could still make a big difference. BT has said that “most homes” will be able to receive up to 500Mb, which is a huge upgrade even if you already have 76Mb fibre broadband and greatly exceeds the 24Mb target set by the Conservative government.

The timescales are important too as we may not have long to wait before this is possible. BT is starting a trial run of G.Fast this summer in Gosforth, Huntingdon and Swansea. This will only cover a limited area of around 2,000 premises, but if successful the firm plans to begin a widespread deployment of G.Fast in 2016.

While it will be years before “most homes” are covered by G.Fast, BT’s current timetable means that much faster broadband is (hopefully) coming in the not-too-distant future.

G.Fast may also spur other providers into action. Virgin Media has been steadily upgrading its speed over the last few years but hasn’t expanded the coverage of its network. Widespread 500Mb G.Fast broadband would be major competition so Virgin might decide to rapidly upgrade the performance of cable and perhaps begin covering more areas. We might also see an accelerated deployment of FTTH networks, which are currently offered by smaller operators in a few areas of the UK.

Is G.Fast An Answer To Rural Broadband Blackspots?

If you live in a rural area which already has – or is planned to have – fibre broadband connectivity then it seems likely you may be able to get access to G.Fast in the future.

But as mentioned above, G.Fast is heavily dependent on short lengths of copper telephone line, and this may be an issue for remote homes. While it may be economically viable for BT to install G.Fast to a village where multiple properties are within range, more distant locations may not be included, or only receive much slower speed.

It’s important to note that at present the exact details of BT’s G.Fast service are unknown, we do not know the range or what kind of speed it may deliver at the extreme end of the line. However, it does not seem unreasonable to guess that existing broadband blackspots – especially those with only dial-up or very slow ADSL – will probably not have their problems solved with G.Fast. Such extreme outliers will likely be covered by alternative solutions such as satellite broadband.

Matt Powell
Guest Blogger – Broadband Genie