Bell Labs Could Be Giving Traditional Phone Lines a New Lease on Life

By Jakez (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jakez (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Technology keeps progressing at an accelerating rate. This is particularly true in the communications industry. Telcos have been upgrading the infrastructure and equipment to deliver better services. However, there’s something almost all telecommunication companies could not abandon: the traditional phone lines. For many of them, it is only through these traditional lines that they are able to deliver services to some relatively remote locations. Well, they may not really need to replace or upgrade these phone lines since these copper wire lines are also capable of delivering ultra fast Internet speeds, the new “in” service from telcos nowadays.

Researchers at Bell Labs, the research arm of Alcatel-Lucent say that they have achieved a new world record in broadband speed using traditional copper telephone lines. The speed: an astonishing 10 Gbps. They made use of copper telephone lines and a prototype technology that enables the delivery of 1 Gbps symmetrical ultra-broadband access services.

Breakthrough Approach

This is considered by Bell Labs researchers as a major breakthrough for copper broadband as this can enable operators to offer Internet connection packages that are comparable to fiber optics based connections.

The prototype technology used at Bell Labs is referred to as XG-FAST, an extension of the broadband standard that is set to become commercially available next year. operates on the 106 MHz frequency for data transmission, allowing it to deliver speeds of up to 500 Mbps over a distance of 100 meters. XG-FAST, on the other hand, uses a higher frequency (up to 500 MHz) to enable higher speeds albeit at shorter distances.

In the tests, the researchers were able to achieve 1  Gbps symmetrical connection over a distance of 70 meters on a single copper pair using the frequency range of 350 MHz. They were able to achieve speeds of 10 Gbps over a 30-meter distance using two pairs of lines.

Not a Fiber Optic Replacement

It is important to take note that this breakthrough is not really meant to bring the use of traditional phone lines back to trend. As noted by the Bell Labs researchers themselves, what traditional copper wire phone lines do is basically to serve as a bridge for high speed data connection cables where phone lines are already available but deploying fiber optic connections can be rather costly. They make it possible for fast Internet connection to be available for those who already have phone lines but are not reached by fiber connections yet. They can be a solution for areas where deploying fiber connections is not aesthetically, physically, and economically viable.

By Roens (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Roens (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Again, all these don’t mean that that copper wire phone lines will be taking the place of the new cables installed for Internet connection. Yes, traditional telephone lines can support data connection speeds that are hundreds of times faster than the national average but they do have a host of disadvantages. Nevertheless, the speeds achieved are definitely myriad times better than the dial-up connections that used to be associated with Internet connection through telephone lines.

Technology Comparison

The following table shows how fast Bell Labs’ XG-FAST technology is, as tested with copper telephone wires:

Technology Frequency   Maximum Aggregate Speed Maximum Distance for the Target Aggregate Speed
VDSL2 17 MHz   150 Mbps 400 meters
G fast phase 1 106 MHz   700 Mbps 100 meters
G fast phase 2 212 MHz   1.25 Gbps 70 meters
Bell Labs XG-FAST 350 MHz   1 Gbps symmetrical or a total of 2 Gbps 70 meters
Bell Labs XG-FAST with bonding 500 MHz   10 Gbps 30 meters

The figures for Bell Labs’ XG-FAST, however, are based on laboratory testing results. Hence, factors that affect connection quality such as the thickness of the wire and crosstalk between adjacent cables have not been taken into account in arriving at the speeds listed above.


Alcatel-Lucent’s Fixed Networks business president Federico Guillén commented how the XG FAST breakthrough can help telcos in accelerating their FTTH deployments. He said that by making gigabit symmetrical services over copper telephone wires possible, operators now have a way to ensure that no customer “no customer is left behind when it comes to ultra-broadband access.” It can enhance the penetration of high speed wired Internet connections for homes and offices worldwide.

By Björn Heller (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Björn Heller (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The XG FAST system provides a viable solution to minimizing rollout costs of high-speed broadband networks. While it may not make traditional phone lines the new standard for delivering high speed Internet connection to homes, it provides a new lease on life for these aging copper lines that have been dedicated to voice-based communications for decades.