Copper still has a lot to offer broadband users, carrier exec says

Thanks to advanced noise-canceling technology speeds can be increased to 100M bps

Thanks to the higher speeds possible using a technology called vectoring, copper networks are still a viable option to cable and fiber, Deutsche Telekom says.

Rolling out fiber-to-the-home to all households in Germany will take too long and is too expensive; a better option is to upgrade current copper-based networks to offer higher speeds using vectoring, according to Deutsche Telekom, which talked about its broadband plans at the CeBIT trade show.

The technology improves VDSL (Very-high-bit-rate DSL) performance 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.

"With vectoring you get up to 100M bps in download speeds and 40M bps in upload speeds," said Niek Jan van Damme, member of the Deutsche Telekom board and head of the carrier's German operations.

For the next 10 to 15 years that will be enough for 90 percent of broadband users, according to van Damme.

Today, 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.

Just like any DSL technology, the speed users get is dependent on the distance and the quality of the copper. The 100M bps speeds can be offered at distances of up to 400 meters from the streetside cabinet, according to Alcatel-Lucent, one of the vendors offering vectoring products.

Before Deutsche Telekom can start upgrading its network to support vectoring, its upgrade plans have to be approved by the local regulator, Bundesnetzagentur.

"The latest information is that we will have the first answer by May this year. It could be a little earlier in April, but in May we should have answer. Whether it's a conclusive answer or not we have to wait and see," van Damme said.

What the Bundesnetzagentur decides can have an impact on broadband users in other countries, as well. If Deutsche Telekom's implementation of the technology is successful it could spur other operators to do the same.

While fiber is the best broadband bearer for high speeds, copper still dominates with about 60 percent of the worldwide market, according to ABI. The global fixed broadband market including DSL, cable, and fiber-optic services generated US$188 billion in service revenue last year, a 7 percent increase from 2011, ABI said.

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Mikael Ricknäs

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