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Let’s not obsess about FTTH – Broadband World Forum 2017

Franz Seiser BBWF 2017

The first full day of Broadband World Forum 2017 saw both operator and vendor keynote speakers explore strategies for achieving ubiquitous gigabit connectivity.

On the operator side Franz Seiser, VP of Core Network and Services at Deutsche Telekom (pictured) set the tone by urging the industry discard its legacy systems and habit in order to embrace the possibilities offered by 5G. “We can only enable the new if we throw away the old,” he said, adding that the current focus on enhanced mobile broadband is still too narrow.

Seiser also touched upon what was probably the central theme of all the morning’s talks: that it’s most unrealistic and blinkered to focus solely on FTTH as the answer to our future bandwidth needs. He noted that it would cost €80 billion to build fibre to every home in Germany, so that’s not going to happen anytime soon. To satisfy short and mid-term demand we need to be investing in technologies like G.fast and fixed wireless access.

This was echoed by the CIO of BT Group Howard Watson, when asked about G.fast, who agreed that the technology will do just fine for now, as BT has been insisting at this event for years. He spent most of his talk bigging up the work of his company and its subsidiaries EE and Openreach, as well as delivering a montage of recent BT press releases, but he also confirmed DT’s assertion that on the 5G side it’s all about eMBB for now.

The vendors were all keen to stress the multi-technology approach for satisfying bandwidth demand. Both Huawei and Nokia echoed a major theme of yesterday’s keynotes that wifi is an often-overlooked piece of the puzzle. Both companies now offer managed wifi solutions to their customers and seem to think that can be a differentiator.

Federico Guillén Nokia’s president of Fixed Networks, was especially keen to stress the need to embrace a number of technologies and strategies in order to solve tomorrow’s connectivity challenges. “The strategy of deploying fiber to the most economical point in the network is still valid, but the combination of fixed fiber, wireless and other access technologies is now even more crucial to the operator’s business case,” he said.

“Fixed networks are going to be essential for the growth of 5G, for example, as they will complement wireless for mobile transport. We will also see a combination of fibre and fixed wireless access to deliver ultra-broadband to the home using technologies such as WiGig.”

Guillén also insisted that virtualization has finally reached the mature end of the hype cycle and has become a reality, but we’re not sure all operators would share his bullish stance. He did, however, concede that virtualizing everything is not, by itself, the answer to our connectivity challenges, once more stressing the need for a hybrid approach.

The morning session concluded with a talk from Ronan Kelly, EMEA and APAC CTO of Adtran, who chose to reflect on the underlying trend of symmetry being introduced to previously asymmetrical industries, such as video entertainment being disrupted by user-generated content or the taxi industry turned on its head by Uber.

Telecoms are having to invest in capacity without getting any return because it’s all being used by OTTs that cut them out of the commercial loop – the old ‘dumb pipe’ dilemma. Kelly reckons greater flexibility of product offering – such as the ability to buy ad hoc increased bandwidth when needed – is going to be a key part of tackling that issue for CSPs.

On the whole this was a balanced, mature set of keynotes that avoided some of the buzzword hype of previous years and focused instead on looking facts in the face. Gone too is FTTH dogma, replaced by an acceptance that if alternative ‘last mile’ technologies like G.fast, DOCSIS 3.1 and FWA get people close to 1 Gbps fixed-line connectivity, then that will do for now.

  • Huawei

  • Nokia Corporation


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