Broadband based on VDSL2 helped by a technology called vectoring is taking off, while older members of the DSL family are getting less popular as users around the works crave more bandwidth.
The need for more bandwidth is driven by users watching more high-definition video delivered over the Internet to an increasing number of devices including laptops, connected TVs, smartphones and tablets. Fiber all the way is the best option, but costs are dampening its growth.
"Nobody can afford to deploy full fiber to the premises throughout their networks. So everybody is looking for ways to satisfy customer demand without having to dig up too many trenches," said Oliver Johnson, CEO at market research company Point Topic.
Here is where VDSL2 with vectoring comes in. Most households will be happy with getting download speeds at between 50Mbps and 60Mbps for the next couple of years, according to Johnson, and the technology has the capabilities to offer that.
Vectoring improves the performance of VDSL2 to 100Mbps over existing copper connections at up to 400 meters by removing crosstalk interference. It works by continuously analyzing the noise conditions on copper lines, and then creates a new anti-noise signal to cancel it out, much like noise cancelling headphones.
The technology has been available since late 2011, but has now started to take off on a larger scale.
"We see a very strong traction for vectoring," said Stefaan Vanhastel, marketing director for the Fixed Networks business at Alcatel-Lucent.
On Thursday, the company said it had shipped one million VDSL2 vectoring lines to 11 different service providers, including Belgacom and Telekom Austria.
But while VSDL2 with vectoring is taking off, slower versions of the DSL family including ADSL is slowly falling out of fashion. For the first time Point Topic saw an overall drop in subscriptions to what has been the dominant technology of the last 15 years during the fourth quarter, according to Johnson.
Fellow marketing research company Infonetics agreed with Point Topic on the future of DSL
"Despite the difficult road for DSL, VDSL remains a real bright spot, expanding among operators in Western Europe, North America and Latin America. Vectoring solutions and a long-term path to G.fast are driving sustained interest in VDSL2," said Jeff Heynen, directing analyst at Infonetics in a report published earlier this year.
G.fast is currently being developed and will use more spectrum than current DSL technologies to increase the possible bandwidth over copper to several hundred megabits per second, but the boost comes at a cost, according to Vanhastel.
"One thing to remember is the higher the frequency, the higher the attenuation. So the possible distance becomes shorter. One of the targets with G.fast is to get 500Mbps at up to 100 meters," he said.
The first commercial G.fast products are expected to arrive in 2015. Technical advancements and market realities means copper will be around for a very long time in some way.
"Copper isn't dead yet. Perhaps in fifty years we will live in a world without any copper in the telecommunications infrastructure but I wouldn't bet my broadband on it," Johnson said.
At the end of December, there were 644 million fixed broadband lines across the world and 367 million used copper all the way while 19 million used fiber all the way, according to Point Topic.
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