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Chapter 2: Broadband Access

Broadband access
Since the late 1990s telecommunications network operators and Cable TV operators have been delivering high-
speed data services, primarily fast Internet access, to residential and small business customers – the so-called
‘broadband’ service. Cable TV operators provide broadband service to their subscribers by adding cable modems
to carry the fast Internet-access data over a spare TV channel. Telecommunications network operators have
deployed ADSL electronic equipment at each end of copper lines to convey the fast Internet access data channel
in addition to the telephone service. ADSL is the main method that incumbent network operators use to provide
broadband service to the residential and small business market. This new use of the copper local network
originally deployed just for the provision of telephony (i.e. so-called narrowband service) represents a significant
new lease of life for the copper cables.
There are a wide range of transmission systems technologies that a telecommunications network operator or Cable
TV network operator can use to provide broadband access to customers as shown below:

Figure: Broadband Options for the Access Network

 Copper pair cable
o DSL (Digital Subscriber Line)
 Hybrid optical fibre and copper pair cable
o VDSL (Very High Speed DSL)
 Hybrid optical fibre and coaxial cable (HFC)
o Cable modem
 Optical fibre
o Direct fibre (FTTH, FTTO)
 Microwave radio (generically known as broadband radio access, BRA)
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o LOS microwave radio
o Point-to-point and point-to-multipoint radio
o WiFi (IEEE 802.11)
o WiMax (IEEE 802.16)
 Satellite
 Broadband over Powerline (BPL)
Digital subscriber line transmission systems
Recent advances in digital signal processors (DSPs), have enabled high-speed digital payloads to be carried over
standard existing subscriber-line copper pairs originally provided for telephony only. There is actually a family
of such digital subscriber line (DSL) systems, known generically as xDSL.

The DSL Family

Each of the systems has the same basic architecture, i.e. digital send and receive transmission equipment located
at each end of the copper local loop. However, there are important differences within the range and maximum

Basic Rate ISDN, HDSL and SDSL are Symmetric varieties of DSL.
ADSL and VDSL are Asymmetric varieties of DSL

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ADSL (asymmetrical digital subscriber line) system
ADSL uses a filter at the subscriber’s premises and at the exchange end of the local loop to extract the standard
(4 kHz) telephony signal from the composite broadband signal; thus the telephony service can be used
simultaneously and separately from the broadband service. The latter comprises a medium-speed upstream data
channel and a high-speed downstream channel – hence the term ‘asymmetrical DSL’.
Duplex working, i.e. transmission in both directions over the single copper pair, is achieved using separate bands
of frequencies for up and down stream, a technique known as frequency division duplex (FDD).

Spectral Allocation for ADSL

Above figure shows the spectral allocation of ADSL, indicating the frequency spread of the low-band splitter
filter and the high-band data extraction filter. With perfect conditions, i.e. in the absence of interference, data
rates of up to some 2 Mbit/s can be carried over about 5 km of copper line, with up to 8 Mbit/s over lengths of
about 2.7 km.
VDSL (very-high bit rate digital subscriber line) system
VDSL is a derivative of ADSL which provides significantly higher data rates by restricting the use of copper line
used to just a few hundreds of metres. This requires the deployment of optical fibre from the exchange building
to the VDSL equipment housed in street cabinets.
This hybrid optical fibre–copper system provides data rates up to some 52 Mbit/s over 300 m of copper pair or
some 12.96 Mbit/s over 1.350 m of copper line.
Basic Rate ISDN (BRI)
Basic rate integrated services digital network (ISDN) is regarded by many as the “original” DSL. ISDN was
intended to provide a global digital network for the integrated transmission of voice and data signals. Basic rate
ISDN (BRI) is capable of transmitting up to 160 kbit/s, symmetrically, over distances of approximately 5.5 km
(18,000 ft) on a single span. The transmission bit rate is divided into two “B” channels, each carrying 64 kbit/s,
and one “D” (Data) channel carrying 16 kbit/s. The remaining 16 kbit/s are used for framing and control.
HDSL (high bit rate digital subscriber line) system
HDSL provides high-speed data transmission symmetrically over two or three pairs of copper cable. Rates of 2
Mbit/s symmetrical can be carried over three pairs up to distances of 4.6 km. Network operators typically use
HDSL to provide the local ends of digital private circuits (‘leased lines’) for business customers where optical
fibre local ends cannot be justified, or in advance of later deployment of optical fibre.

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SDSL (symmetric digital subscriber line) system
SDSL is a derivative of ADSL, but with equal (symmetric) transmission capacity upstream and downstream. The
ITU-T standard for symmetric bit rate, multi-rate DSL is referred to as single-pair high-speed digital subscriber
line, with the acronym SHDSL; the relevant recommendation is G.991.2, also commonly known as G.shdsl.
Cable Modem
Cable TV networks are able to provide a high speed data link over their network using one of the spare TV
channels. The technique requires a so-called cable modem, which converts the output of the computer into a
signal compatible with the TV distribution system.

As shown in the figure above, the computer is connected to a splitter-like device which segregates the received
TV signal from the broadband data stream at the subscriber’s premises, where both are carried as a composite TV
signal over the coaxial cable from the street cabinet. Since many subscribers are sharing the data modem channel
on the coaxial cable tree, some form of combining of the many signals is required; the street cabinet therefore
performs a similar aggregating function as the DSLAM. As with ADSL, the Cable TV operator routes the
aggregated data traffic over a data network to the connecting points of the appropriate ISPs.
Point-to-point optical fibre
Optical fibre systems offer the network operator the highest bandwidths of all transmission systems – potentially
up into the Tbit/s range. They were initially introduced as replacements for the coaxial metallic cable systems
carrying PDH payloads in the trunk network, but they are now used extensively throughout the national Trunk
and International networks and increasingly in the access networks, carrying SDH/SONET payloads. The basic
architecture of an optical fibre point-to-point digital transmission system is as shown in the generic picture above.
The carrier modulation system uses a LED or laser diode to pulse a single colour light beam at the send end and
Avalanche photo diodes or PIN diodes are used to detect the light pulses at the receive end. In addition, advantage
is taken of the transmission characteristics of the glass which offers different attenuation to light of different
frequencies, as illustrated in the following figure – the arrows indicate the two main windows at 1300 nm and
1500 nm for optical fibre systems.

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Figure: Optical Fibre Operation
Actually, the very-low rate of attenuation of modern optical fibre systems means that the regenerators can be
spaced at least 50 km apart – a figure that is continually improving with equipment development. Normally,
separate optical fibres within a single cable are used to provide the Go and Return directions of transmission. The
alternative configuration, i.e. the two directions of transmission carried as separate frequency bands (FDM) over
a single optical fibre, incurs extra electronic equipment costs and is only employed where the number of optical
fibres in a single cable are unduly restricted.
Dense wave-division multiplex system
The full economy of scale on transmission systems is only achieved if the transmission systems are fully occupied
by traffic. The later development work on fibre communication has focused on the use of several different
wavelengths of light, i.e. colours, as a way of increasing capacity on line systems beyond the 10 Gbit/s achieved
on one wavelength in 1995. These systems, which are referred to as ‘dense wave-division multiplexed’ (DWDM),
require very precise optical filters to separate the component colours.
Following figure illustrates the general arrangement for a DWDM system with n wavelengths. At the sending
end, n lasers are required, each generating a different colour (i.e. wavelength) of light. The optical fibre carries
the composite DWDM signal containing the n wavelengths. At the receiving end of the system a filter is required
to separate the n wavelengths and these are passed to n individual photodiodes to detect the set of sent signals.
For 16-wavelength system the potential capacity is 16 × 10 Gbit/s, i.e. 160 Gbit/s, which is the equivalent capacity
of some 2.4 million voice channels!

Dense Wave-Division Multiplexing (DWDM)

Passive optical network (PON)
So far, we have considered only point-to-point optical fibre transmission systems. Whilst this configuration is
appropriate for delivering large capacities between network nodes, or to those business customer sites requiring
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many broadband and telephony circuits, it is not economical for delivering small payloads. In particular, network
operators have been seeking a cost-efficient method of deploying optical fibre systems in the access network to
serve residential and small business customer sites. There are two main cost factors that need to be addressed: the
cost of deploying the many thousands of optical fibres from a local exchange to each subscriber premise, and the
terminating equipment at each end needed to extract/insert the signal to/from each fibre. Passive optical network
(PON) systems have been developed to address these factors.
The basic premise of the PON system is that the cost of fibre and electronics is minimised by using a tree and
branch configuration, whereby a single fibre from the local exchange splits several times in succession in order
to serve many subscriber premises. The splitting is achieved by fusing bundles of optical fibres so that the light
energy splits equally into each tributary. Since this is done along the fibre route without the use of electronics –
it is known as a ‘passive’ system. Following figure shows the basic concept of a PON system.

The optical fibre splitters are typically housed in footway boxes beneath the street. In the example shown, the
first splitter is 4-way, and the second set of splitters is 8-way; thus, 32 subscriber premises are served by a single
optical fibre spine from the exchange.
At the exchange end optical line termination (OLT) equipment associated with each optical fibre spine use 32
time-division multiplexed channels for 32 subscribers and broadcast over the PON fibre tree structure. Thus, at
each subscriber premises a terminal unit, usually called an optical network termination (ONT), extracts the
appropriate time slot from the received TDM broadcast signal. For the Return direction of transmission, each
ONT is allocated a fixed time slot during which a burst of the subscriber’s digital signal is sent. In effect, this is
a dispersed version of a TDM multiplexed system but with each of the 32 tributaries located in different subscriber
An important variant on this configuration, is the amalgamation of a set of subscriber ONTs in a single unit,
known as an optical network unit (ONU), which is located at a business customer’s premises where it serves the
many terminations via internal wiring. With the business configuration there is either one or no stages of splitting
in the network, with the necessary TDM channel extraction/injection performed by the ONU.
There are several types of PON-
 TPON: Telephony over passive optical network. First PON was designed for TPON.
 APON: ATM over PON is a broadband version using ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) over the PON
system to provide broadband service.

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 BPON: Broadband PON is an expanded version of APON designed to carry video. It make use of DWDM
to add a separate wavelength for the video services above the non-video traffic on the PON.
 EPON: Ethernet PON offers the LAN packet-based protocol of Ethernet to interface to the data networks
on business customers’ premises.
 GPON: Gigabit/s PON is the latest high-speed PON design, offering up to 2.5 Gbit/s symmetrically.
Microwave radio systems
Point-to-point microwave radio system (Line-of-sight microwave radio systems)
The basic configuration of a line-of-sight (LOS) microwave radio system is shown in the Figure below.

Microwave Radio Relay

In microwave radio relay, microwaves are transmitted between the two locations with directional antennas,
forming a fixed radio connection between the two points. Because of the high frequencies used, a line-of-sight
path between the stations is required. The requirement of a line of sight limits the distance between stations.
Because the radio waves travel in narrow beams confined to a line-of-sight path from one antenna to the other,
they don't interfere with other microwave equipment, so nearby microwave links can use the same frequencies,
called frequency reuse. Antennas must be highly directional
(high gain); these antennas are installed in elevated
locations such as large radio towers in order to be able to
transmit across long distances.
Point to multipoint microwave radio systems
An alternative configuration for LOS microwave radio
systems is point-to-multipoint, in which an omnidirectional
central antenna radiates uniformly to any antenna/receiver
in the vicinity. Such systems can be attractive in providing
subscriber access links.
PMP microwave is especially well suited to the majority of
urban backhaul and enterprise access deployments which
typically have a high proportion of short (<2km) and mid-
range (5km) links. PMP is 50% quicker to deploy than PTP
for the second and subsequent links making it one of the
simplest and fastest backhaul technologies to deploy.
Wireless LANs
There is a family of short-distance microwave radio systems designed for conveyance of data services between a
user’s terminal (e.g. a laptop computer), which is normally static, and some serving node in the network. Since
the configuration is really an extension of the LAN concept, the systems are known as ‘wireless LANs’. These
systems have been specified within the ‘IEEE 802.11’ range, a nomenclature which has now been widely adopted
worldwide. They are also popularly referred to as ‘WiFi’.
These LANs serve a group of terminals, typically laptops or PCs, each with a network interface card (NIC)
transmitting over a wireless link to a centrally located hub, the ‘Access point’(AP) as shown in the figure below.

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Wireless LAN (‘WiFi’)
The AP are linked by cable to an Ethernet switch. The NICs are able to determine the appropriate AP to join by
comparing the signal strengths of the various carrier frequencies within the WLAN.
Wireless MANs
A new generation of LOS microwave access systems has been defined which provides broadband data links
between LANs or between a LAN and a central server, creating so-called wireless metropolitan area networks
(MANs). The system is standardizes as IEEE 802.16 and popularly known as ‘WiMax’, offers the possibility of
ubiquitous broadband data access.
It conveys a broadband link from an exchange to an external antenna on a customer’s building and thence to a
LAN or other in-building network. Both unlicensed and licensed parts of the frequency spectrum may be used,
giving a trade-off between freedom of use and minimal planning but with greater chances of interference versus
more predictable performance, but with a greater degree of planning required, respectively. There are hopes that
the use of this radio technology will prove useful for providing broadband data coverage to many customers who
cannot be reached economically by copper cable and ADSL or optical fibre.
Just as satellites orbiting the earth provide necessary links for telephone and television service, they can also
provide links for broadband. Satellite broadband is another form of wireless broadband, and is also useful for
serving remote or sparsely populated areas.

The established system of telecommunication satellites uses a configuration of three satellites located equally
spaced on an equatorial plane at a distance of 36,000 km above the Earth. At this height the satellites spin around
the Earth at exactly the same rate as the rotational speed of the Earth, and they therefore appear stationary to
antennas on the Earth’s surface. This means a round trip delay is about half a second. Such a delay is noticeable
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to two people speaking over a satellite link, resulting in some difficulty in maintaining a natural conversation.
However, the delay issues with geostationary satellites is not a serious problem for one-way communication, such
as broadcast TV or data communication.
More recently, two new satellite configurations have been introduced: medium Earth orbit (MEO) and low Earth
orbit (LEO) systems, both of which incur less transmission distance and hence delay. MEO and LEO systems
comprise a constellation of satellites set in an elliptical orbit around the World, designed to give coverage only to
specific areas on the Earth’s surface. Since the satellites are not in a geostationary orbit they will appear to move
continuously across the sky; thus the Earth station antennas need to be able to track and move to receive the
satellite’s signal. Once a particular satellite has moved to the limit of visibility the Earth station antenna needs to
switch to a following satellite which should have just come into view. Typically each satellite in a LEO system
is visible for about 10 min, orbiting about every 120 min at some 780 km above the Earth. Alternatively, MEO
systems use orbits around 10,000 km. Unlike the three satellites necessary for full coverage with a geo-stationary
system, MEO systems require some 12 satellites, while LEO systems may require up to 200 satellites.
Broadband over Powerline (BPL)
A recent development in the broadband access field is the use of existing low- and medium-voltage electric power
distribution network for the transmission of broadband data. BPL is an emerging technology that is available in
very limited areas. It has significant potential because power lines are installed virtually everywhere, alleviating
the need to build new broadband facilities for every customer. BPL speeds are comparable to DSL and cable
modem speeds.
In addition to using the electricity supply network for access, there is also the possibility of using existing in-
home electric wiring as a form of local area network (LAN) in the home. However, a number of technical issues
still need to be fully addressed.
One of the major motivations for this approach is the ubiquitous nature of this network.

Deployment of Broadband Access

All of the above systems have differing characteristics in terms of bandwidth delivered, technology used,
operational and distance constraints, and – of course – cost.
In general, the unit cost of transmission systems deployed in an access network depends on the density of
subscribers served. This is because the cost of the electronics located in an exchange, and street cabinet, has to be
apportioned across the number of subscribers served within the equipment’s catchment area. Further operator
consider the potential revenues from the service delivered. A typical choice of access systems for the various
subscriber densities and market segments (indicative of the expected revenues) is illustrated in Table below. In
practice, the type of systems adopted will differ depending on the many operational factors relating to the network.

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Segmentation of Broadband Access Systems
WiMax may be directly deployed in this sector for some customers or may be combined with optical fibre.
SME: small-medium enterprise
The copper pair cable is still the main basis of all the World’s PSTNs, even though the technology and design
dates from the early 1900s. Although optimized for voice, the copper network has proved remarkably versatile in
its ability to carry ever greater bandwidths using the addition of electronic systems, such as ADSL, and so
continuing its utility in today’s ‘Internet age’. Nevertheless, the high levels of costly manual interventions
involved in the provision of service, rearrangements and maintenance of the copper access network has been a
driver for network operators to seek replacements with lower operational expenditure (‘opex’). Unfortunately, all
the potential alternatives (e.g. direct optical fibre, Hybrid optical fibre and copper pair cable, PON, multipoint
radio, etc.) have proved to be uneconomical as wholesale replacements of the copper network. This is due to the
difficulty in achieving capex and opex savings in practice with such conversions and the absence of sufficiently
large extra revenues from the new services that could be offered from the use of the new broader bandwidth
This problem has been tackled in some countries by the national governments assisting the move to a politically
attractive broadband-enabled access network by subsidising the incumbent operators in their large scale
deployment of optical fibre as a replacement for copper pairs. In the absence of such subsidies or a suitable killer
application (i.e. a profitable application or service that can be supported only by the new technology), the access
networks are likely to continue to have a large component of copper pairs, together with a mix of optical fibre
and radio systems for the near future.

 VALDAR, A R: ‘Understanding Telecommunications Networks’, IET Telecommunications Series 52,
 https://www.fcc.gov/general/types-broadband-connections

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