Israeli Gfast chip maker Sckipio Technologies has landed one of the world’s most prestigious ISP deals, at South Korea Telecom’s SK Broadband. Korea is famous for offering some of the fastest broadband speeds in the world on live consumer services, and will use the Sckipio chip to deliver true 1 Gbps speeds to MDU residents there.
Sckipio told us this was the first commercial deployment of Gfast using the full 212 MHz in Asia and it will start out in Seoul and Seongnam, in South Korea.
Back in 2016, SK chose Sckipio chips to deliver 500 Mbps over a vectored twisted pair to MDU homes, and said at the time that it could manage 1 Gbps over 2 pairs. The issue here is that a large percentage of the South Korean population live in cities and therefore in MDUs, and that both SK Broadband and its great rival Korea Telecom (KT) have focused on trying to push fiber all the way to the apartment in more recently built MDUs which have adequate ducting.
It turns out that amounts to around 34% of the MDUs and the remainder need to rely on existing copper connections – either coax or twisted pair. It was this problem that drove KT to jump the gun on Gfast and reach for G.hn technology from Marvell (now at Maxlinear) back in 2014, to push the headline speed of 1 Gbps to each apartment.
But critics of that system reckon the so-called G.Now system, which uses no vectoring (crosstalk cancellation), is somewhat limited. We have been told that it can achieve 1 Gbps, but that once another copper wire in the same binder begins to emit crosstalk, that slowly drops and if all of them are being used, it will fall close to 100 Mbps. In Korean newspapers we have seen it referred to as a 100 Mbps service, or 300 Mbps and 500 Mbps – because they are all potentially true.
Discussions with Maxlinear, which acquired the G.Now technology from Marvell in 2017, suggest that there is far less crosstalk in MDU binders than there are in those which go through distribution points direct to individual homes – the binders are sparse – usually only 24 per apartments per block.
Interestingly the Sckipio system operates with 4 separate 24-line distribution points, but the Israeli firm has a special crosstalk cancellation system which means that 4 x 24-line DPUs can be connected to one another to manage a single binder of 96 lines. This works as long as the connection between these systems is not too long (so all in a basement next to each other is fine) and because these then cancel crosstalk within all four DPUs. This 96-port system is what SK Broadband has settled on, as an upgrade to the 500 Mbps system that Sckipio chips enabled in 2016, which because Sckipio at that time did not have a 96-port system, may have still exhibited some crosstalk interference.
The local provider who built the system is Korean network infrastructure equipment maker HFR. HFR’s distribution point unit (DPU) serves 24 subscribers in a single DPU and adds cross-DPU vectoring up to 96 subscribers sharing the same copper binder. Sckipio is quick to point out that Gfast supports 96 concurrent gigabit subscribers, which is why no other Gfast chip provider could have supplied this particular system, including tough rival Broadcom.
There are around 3 million families living in MDUs in Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and around 66% of these will not be able to use fiber into the apartment so KT and SKT will scrap it out for the remaining 2 million broadband connections in this region.
Given that KT made its broadband decision back in 2014 before any Gfast chips were available, it may be that it will be forced to adjust its strategy in order to compete better with SKT, using a crosstalk cancellation system, to allow vectoring. That would almost certainly lead to them shifting to Sckipio chips or looking for a crosstalk enhancement from Maxlinear, or resorting to a Broadcom chip-based system, which currently cannot hit the 96 ports which are required. KT could also use the coax inside the apartments and look to an entirely different technology like MoCA Access or DOCSIS.
“By partnering with SK Broadband and HFR, we are accelerating South Korea’s lead in broadband speeds,” said David Baum, Sckipio CEO. This deployment demonstrates the clear use case for Gfast technology to deliver gigabit service to large apartment environments without needing to install fiber connections to each apartment.”
This month our research service Rethink TV will put out a forecast of 1 Gbps broadband services around the world, and can already see from our research that Korea is ahead in this as a percentage of its customer base, with the US now accelerating on the back of both fiber and DOCSIS 3.1 pushes, with many European operators well ahead in fiber to the home, such as in Sweden, Norway and France, which has 4 active fiber-laying telcos, and areas of Southern Europe such as Spain and Portugal are also very keen of late in fiber.