With all the fuss about fiber, you might think that the research into improving speeds over copper lines was history; especially since we have heard that the big vendors are ditching their copper lines wherever possible.

That is not the case though, as the story from InfoWorld has a title letting us know that the vendors are closing in on 1Gb/s. That is no typo – they are continuing to work on DSL, but the story also gives no news about any usage in the United States specifically.

One thing about it, there are lots of copper pairs out there, in various states of repair, and using them for increased speed beats any wireless solution extant, and certainly makes high speed access available without the wait for the fiber to be rolled off the truck. (Remember hearing that Verizon was through, for the near future, on the rollout of fiber? They aren’t the only provider, but they are the largest provider and so when they choose to shut things down, lots of people will feel the pain.)

DSL vendors are using a variety of methods such as bonding several copper lines, creating virtual ones and using advanced noise cancellation to increase broadband over copper to several hundred megabits per second.

At the Broadband World Forum in Paris, Nokia Siemens Networks became the latest vendor to brag about its copper prowess. It can now transmit speeds of up to 825Mbps over a distance of 400 meters, it said on Monday.

However, the company isn’t alone in wanting to tell about the kind of speeds next-generation DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) systems can achieve. Last week, Huawei said it can transmit 700Mbps over the same distance. Today, Alcatel-Lucent said it has achieved 910Mbps in its latest round of tests over 400 meters, according to a spokesman.

I’m not sure how helpful 400 meters is, but if there were fiber to a substation, the last 400 meters at 910Mb/s would be acceptable speed, don’t you think? As long as there could be lots of those fiber substations, life would not be so bad for many in less dense areas of coverage.

To boost DSL to those kinds of speeds, the vendors are using a number of technologies. One way is to send traffic using VDSL2 (Very high bit-rate Digital Subscriber Line) over several copper pairs at the same time, compared to traditional DSL which only uses one copper pair. This method then uses a technology — called DSL Phantom Mode by Alcatel-Lucent and Phantom DSL by Nokia Siemens — that can create a third virtual copper pair that sends data over a combination of two physical pairs.

However, the use of these technologies also creates crosstalk, a form of noise that degrades the signal quality and decreases the bandwidth. To counteract that, vendors are using a noise canceling technology called vectoring. It works the same way as noise-canceling headphones, continuously analyzing the noise conditions on the copper cables, and then creates a new signal to cancel it out, according to Alcatel-Lucent.

To get really high speeds vendors are using four copper pairs, which will not be readily available among broadband operators. A more realistic scenario is using two copper pairs, which can still boost the bandwidth to 390Mbps over 400 meters, according to the latest tests done by Alcatel-Lucent. In general, vectoring can bring significant advantages at distances up to 1,000 meters, Alcatel-Lucent said.

Here in California, every house built in the last 30 years has two pairs to the house, GTE, and later Verizon, were thoughtful enough to plan for that extra phone, or addition of a dedicated fax, so channel bonding would work.

ZTE is taking an even more cautious approach, and said on Friday it can reach 100Mbps using VDSL2, vectoring and one copper pair over 300 meters.

Products are now entering field trials and operators will be able to start using them in commercial services during next year.

Copper is still the most common way of carrying fixed broadband, with a share of about 65 percent, compared to 20 percent for cable and 12 percent for fiber, according to market research company Point Topic.

Fiber all the way to the home is the ideal long-term solution for fast broadband, but the new technologies will help operators offer faster speeds using copper as fiber coverage is expanded over the coming decades, vendors agree.

So for those who want to have better service, and know that fiber is not coming to their area for some time, looking into channel bonded DSL might be worth the time it takes to ask the provider. Though you won’t get it on a per user basis, if enough people request it, it will come.

Remind them that the customer is always right!

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