G.Fast has historically been described as a stepping stone technology to FTTH, with fibre running to the distribution point and then using the existing copper drop wire with G.Fast technology to deliver 300 - 500 Mbit/s and perhaps eventually 1Gbit/s to the end user. G.Fast to the distribution point would undoubtedly be much faster and cheaper to roll out than FTTH, as the fibre only has to be taken as far as the distribution point. The FTTH upgrade to replace the drop wire can then be done only as and when you need to...
BT has been talking a lot about G.Fast and in its field trials, it has demonstrated fibre to the distribution point (i.e. typically within 10s of metres of each property). But if you look carefully at its briefings in the last 6 months, BT seems to only be planning to actually deploy G.Fast from existing FTTC cabinets and says it is uneconomic to roll out fibre even as far as the 4 million distribution points it has, let alone all the way to the home.
Even the system vendors that work with BT have technolgoy that they claim would get much more performance out of the existing copper loop / cabinet architecture. Huawei talks about 400Meg at 300 metres and still delivering 100Meg at 800 metres using their SuperVector product and 35Mhz of bandwidth instead of 17Mhz whilst Alcatel / Lucent talks of 200Meg to 500 metres and 300Meg to 250 metres with their VPlus vectoring solution.
No doubt a quick change of line card in the cabinets to upgrade lines from VDSL2 to a long range version of G.Fast will be much cheaper for BT than actually going to the time and effort of rolling out fibre any further into the access network. But it will also remove the vital stepping stone the country needs to get to full FTTH, perhaps for the foreseeable future. After all, if BT can really get 100Mbit/s to most people by going down this route, where will the value be in ever rolling out fibre all the way?
No wonder Sky and TalkTalk seem to have gone quiet on their FTTH experiment in York. No other scale provider is going to be able to compete with BT given that BT's cabinets are all in place already and a cheap speed upgrade is already in the offing in the next few years. They would be unable to compete with BT on price in this scenario, whilst BT is allowed to keep milking its existing copper plant forever.
The losers will be those that are too far from their cabinet to benefit (i.e. more than 800 meters, which will particularly affect rural households) and everyone else who struggles to get a reliable broadband connection over their existing cruddy and outdated copper wiring which BT refuses to fix. I anticipate that BT won't care about any of these "uneconomic" customers who can't get a decent service from them, providing that most people can and more critically that BT does not lose too much market share to Virgin. If this is the route BT is going, we're going to need a very strong regulator and a Universal Service Obligation that does not fall behind where everyone else is to ensure BT is not permitted to make a large digital divide a permanent and enduring feature of the UK.
But perhaps the biggest loss will be removing the opportunity to actually transition the whole country from unreliable copper to a much more reliable and future proof fibre solution. Unfortunately, the public at large seems unlikely to put much value on having a more reliable and future proof connectivity solution. So we will all have to put up with BT giving us a cheap and sometimes dodgy service over our ancient copper lines.