Building broadband networks for next generation usage

The communications industry must prepare for a revolution in the way networks are designed because the users and applications of the future will be very different to those of today.

Keynote speakers on the first day of the Broadband World Forum talked about changing network architectures to build an internet better designed for a generation that has grown up with broadband access.

Erik Hoving, group CTO of Dutch operator KPN, likened the state of the industry, weighed down with acronyms – GSM, HSPA, LTE – to periods of technological revolution in the past when society simply didn’t have the words to describe such advances.

“Think about the terminology: magic lantern; horseless carriage; smartphone,” he said. “These words don’t really describe the technology they are attached to. Acronyms have been the essence of this industry for 30 or 40 years now but nobody on the street knows what LTE means, so we must be marketing it wrong.”

By moving to a fully integrated access play incorporating wifi, 2G, 3G, 4G, fibre and copper, “mobile broadband will be so big that access won’t be the problem anymore. But today’s internet is designed for ‘fixed’ usage. So in the future it needs to be redesigned for mobile because people will start to use broadband differently than they do now.

“We must change from innovating in the network to innovating on the network,” Hoving said, “because the average smartphone user interacts with their device more than 150 times per day. Service providers do not have teenagers on their advisory boards yet their knowledge of how the network is used is crucial to steering a telecoms operator.”

Kevin Lo, general manager of Google Fiber, the internet giant’s US focused internet access play, backed up Hoving’s comments and gave an insight into network rollout from a greenfield perspective.

To date, Google has rolled fibre out to users’ homes in Kansas City, Austin, Texas and Provo, Utah and is already seeing significant innovation in those areas as a result of high speed connectivity. “Fibre-ing up Kansas actually took the area to a point where it had more tech jobs than Silicon Valley,” Lo said. “And the next 100x improvement in speeds will lead to more innovation. We can’t even imagine what the next set of gigabit speed apps will do.”

Lo said that when dealing with existing communications infrastructure that was built bit by bit over the course of the last century the challenge is to redesign the infrastructure in order to coax more speed out of the network and drive more innovation.

“When we rebuilt Google Maps from the ground up in order to make it load faster, usage went up 25 per cent. So it’s a myth that consumers won’t pay for high speed broadband. We can say with full confidence that there is huge consumer demand,” Lo said.

So when Google wants to deploy fibre in a market the first thing the company does is sit down with the city’s authorities and discuss the pace of evolution, as only by making existing infrastructure available to new providers will new build outs be encouraged.

“Local government can actually play a large role in reducing the complexity of fibre networks just by giving new entrants access to maps of infrastructure, including maps of gas and water mains and things like expedited construction permits,” he said. “And as a result, community driven local initiatives can make a big impact in bridging the digital divide.”

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