Virgin Media Experimenting with 10 Gbps mmWave backhaul in UK fixed broadband FTTP trial

UK’s Virgin Media has been exploring possibilities of delivering backhaul traffic over the air (OTA) in a small village in the English countryside. Although this is something which Virgin Media has been doing for years, this time the company is experimenting with mmWave as opposed to microwave.

“As we invest to expand our ultra-fast network we’re always looking at new, innovative ways to make build more efficient and connect premises that might currently be out of reach,” said Jeanie York, Chief Technology and Information Officer at Virgin Media. “While presently this is a trial, it’s clear that this technology could help to provide more people and businesses with the better broadband they deserve.”

The challenge which seems to be addressed here is combining the complications of deploying infrastructure and the increasing data appetite of the consumer. As you can see below, the trial makes use of mmWave to connect two ‘trunk’ points over 3 km with a 10 Gbps signal. The signal is converted at the cabinet, before being sent through the last-mile on a fiber connection.Virgin Media

Although this trial only connected 12 homes in the village of Newbury, Virgin Media believes this process could support delivery of residential services to 500 homes. This assumption also factors in a 40% average annual growth in data consumption. With further upgrades, the radio link could theoretically support a 20 Gbps connection, taking the number of homes serviced to 2,000.

The advantage of this approach to delivering broadband is the ability to skip over tricky physical limitations. There are numerous villages which are experiencing poor connections because the vast spend which would have to be made to circumnavigate a valley, rivers or train lines. This approach not only speeds up the deployment, it simplifies it and makes it cheaper.

Looking at the distance between the two ‘trunks’, Virgin Media has said 3km is just about as far as it can go with mmWave. This range takes into account different weather conditions, the trial included some adverse conditions such as 80mph winds and 30mm rainfall, but radios chained together and used back-to-back could increased this coverage and scope of applications.

Countryside

Virgin Media has unveiled the results of a new trial using wireless to deliver broadband to customers in remote locations.

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With alt-nets becoming increasingly common throughout the UK, new ideas to make use of mmWave and alternative technologies will need to be explored. Traditional network operators will find revenues being gradually eroded if a new vision of connectivity is not acquired.

Of course, use of mmWave for fixed broadband internet is common in the U.S., but it is proprietary to the equipment vendor (no standards) and line of sight is required from the network operators equipment to an antenna mounted on the rooftop of the home  being served.

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Reference:

http://telecoms.com/498170/virgin-media-to-take-a-mmwave-approach-to-full-fibre/

2 thoughts on “Virgin Media Experimenting with 10 Gbps mmWave backhaul in UK fixed broadband FTTP trial

  1. Part I: Virgin Media Brings FTTP Broadband to Village via Gigabit Wireless

    A new trial has enabled cable operator Virgin Media UK to deploy a 1Gbps (150Mbps upload) capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP / RFoG) broadband network into the Berkshire village of Greenham near Newbury, which was made possible by feeding the network via a 10Gbps high-capacity millimetre wave (mmW) radio link.

    The mmWave bands (30GHz to 300GHz) aren’t terribly useful at providing wide area coverage but they can be handy for providing high capacity Line of Sight (LOS) wireless links over a shorter range. In this case Virgin’s trial used radio equipment from Ericsson to connect two “trunk” points over 3 kilometres with a 10Gbps signal, which was then converted within a local cabinet (DAA node) to help feed capacity for their full fibre network.

    The trial used E-band radios (ML6352 MINI-LINK) that operate in light licensed spectrum (UK regulator Ofcom governed) of 70-80GHz.

    As a result some 12 homes in the village of Greenham can now access download speeds of up to 1Gbps and uploads of 150Mbps, as well as the operator’s usual TV services, all of which are delivered via their existing Hub 3.0 broadband router and V6 set-top-box. The village itself is located just on the edge of the market town of Newbury (source of the radio link).

    The idea of feeding a fixed line FTTP deployment via a wireless link might seem odd to some but it’s been done before (e.g. Airband have a similar approach with Rural Optic but Virgin seem to be using a more advanced setup) and can save a lot of money by reducing the need for extensive civil engineering.

    To be continued…. see Part II.

  2. Part II: Virgin Media Brings FTTP Broadband to Village via Gigabit Wireless
    Virgin Media suggests that the “wireless backhaul could mean that trunk network build costs are reduced by up to 90%,” which in turn makes such deployments more economically viable (particularly for rural communities and some apartment blocks). “The connectivity could also be used to help connect mobile providers and business customers,” said Virgin.

    Jeanie York, VM’s Chief Technology and Information Officer, said:

    “As we invest to expand our ultrafast network we’re always looking at new, innovative ways to make build more efficient and connect premises that might currently be out of reach. While presently this is a trial, it’s clear that this technology could help to provide more people and businesses with the better broadband they deserve.”

    The operator notes that the 10Gbps link used in their trial may only connect 12 homes but they claim that this technology could “sustainably support delivery of residential services to as many as 500 homes when considering a 40% average annual growth in data consumption.” The radio link can also be upgraded to support a 20 Gbps connection (i.e. meaning 2000 homes could “comfortably be connected in one area“).

    The 3km distance is currently considered the “optimal target to guarantee reliability in all weathers” but like other wireless connections these radios can be “chained together and used back-to-back,” which increases the range and scope of connectivity without compromising capacity or availability.

    As part of the trial Virgin Media also tested and optimised the wireless trunk signal in a range of weather conditions, including 80mph winds and 30mm rainfall, to ensure the connection remained stable throughout. The operator said they expect to conduct further trials of this technology later in 2019.

    The operator claims that their trial marks the first time in the world that a wireless trunk link has been used to deliver services in a Distributed Access Architecture (DAA) model, which they say “decentralizes and virtualizes certain aspects of network functionality to create a more software-defined network and bring digital fibre signals closer to premises.”

    https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2019/06/virgin-media-brings-fttp-broadband-to-village-via-gigabit-wireless.html

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