UK XGS-PON market heating up with CityFibre launch

fibre broadband

UK altnet CityFibre has laid down the gauntlet to Openreach, launching a wholesale FTTH service that is faster than anything the incumbent currently has on offer.

Since last July, CityFibre has been busy upgrading its G-PON network to XGS-PON, which is capable of delivering symmetric peak throughput of 10 Gbps, a significant improvement over GPON’s asymmetric peak speeds of 2.5 Gbps download and 1.25 Gbps upload.

CityFibre this week decided the time is right to take its XGS-PON service to market, launching a 2.5 Gbps wholesale consumer broadband product.

The commercial rollout will begin in its most mature XGS-PON deployment areas, it said. It didn’t name the launch locations, but York is a safe bet for one of them. It has always served as something of a testbed for CityFibre, and was chosen as the location for a city-wide XGS-PON pilot service last year.

CityFibre aims to enable XGS-PON at 90% of its fibre exchanges by the end of this year, making 2.5 Gbps services available to approximately 20% of its addressable footprint, which currently sits at 2.5 million homes. At the same time, CityFibre said it will begin offering 2 Gbps downlink/1 Gbps uplink services via its GPON network, migrating these areas to XGS-PON when it becomes available.

CityFibre is also keen to emphasise XGS-PON’s eco-credentials. Compared to GPON, XGS-PON is twice as power efficient, and able to support more ONT connections per port, it said.

One thing that CityFibre doesn’t seem to be sharing at this juncture is how much it costs – merely claiming that everything about its new multi-gig offering – including price – is market leading.

Until XGS-PON technology matures and the network starts generating a return, the price is likely to be considerably higher than GPON. Its appeal might therefore be limited to extremely bandwidth-hungry users with deep pockets, and it will be interesting to see which ISPs take the plunge and launch a 2.5 Gbps service, and what the monthly costs are.

Having said that, the UK’s flourishing fibre market should help to keep prices in check. Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) began selling XGS-PON-based 2.5 Gbps broadband services in late June. Services will be delivered via a combination of its own infrastructure – which is in the midst of an upgrade from DOCSIS 3.1 to FTTH – and that of nexfibre, the wholesale joint venture between VMO2’s parents Liberty Global and Telefónica.

As CityFibre, VMO2, and nexfibre’s rollouts progress, Openreach will surely begin to feel the heat.

The incumbent tapped up Nokia for XGS-PON equipment more than three years ago, and ISPreview reported in February 2020 that Openreach had been trialling the technology with select business customers. In 2021, Openreach announced that it had even tried out XGS-PON’s successor, 25G PON, which supports peak speeds of 25 Gbps over a single optical fibre.

Despite all that hard work, Openreach hasn’t pulled the trigger on rolling out a commercial wholesale XGS-PON service. The fastest speed it offers is still 1 Gbps download/220 Mbps upload.

With two of Openreach’s biggest rivals comfortably beating it on connection speed, it will be interesting to see how the incumbent responds – if at all.

“With the launch of the UK’s fastest and most cost-effective connectivity products, we are demonstrating the benefits of infrastructure competition and raising the bar for all wholesale networks,” declared CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch, in a statement on Wednesday.

“Ubiquitous, high-quality, low-carbon connectivity is the keystone of all advanced and community-wide applications of the future,” he continued. “By working with our ISP partners to bring symmetrical multi-gigabit broadband consumer services to market today, with businesses to follow, the UK will finally have a network and services that will enable our future, rather than holding it back.”


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