Gigabit Broadband: Watching, Waiting, Wishing

With the current surge of Gigabit Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployments happening in the United States, and the resulting  1 Gigabit-per-second broadband services being offered, a lot of service providers are watching intently as they work through their own Gigabit plans. They are waiting for more data points regarding the tangible benefits being bestowed upon these broadband trail blazers. As they take stock of their current network capabilities, they are also wishing they could limit the inevitable network impacts and deployment costs tied to rolling out a wide-area Gigabit service to their subscriber base. FTTH Broadband, and more so Gigabit Broadband, comes with a cost. That said, not offering Gigabit Broadband comes with a cost as well.

So why Gig?

What are the tangible market drivers that are leading dozens of service providers to offer–and hundreds of communities to subscribe to–Gigabit Broadband? For me, there are four key drivers that push any network operator to invest in their network in order to offer new services – and Gigabit Broadband is no different. One could argue that in some ways it is a “poster child” of sorts for why innovate? Why invest? Why Gig?

  1. Economic and community development
    Broadband is as crucial to the lifeblood of a community as running water and reliable power. Dependable, ultra-fast broadband attracts new industries to town, supports higher wage jobs and underpins new educational, industrial and medical services advancements.
  1. Preparedness for future high bandwidth end-user applications
    It’s not all about supporting new, fatter UHD 4k video or unicast Over-the-Top (OTT) streaming being used by cord-cutters who are replacing their bandwidth-economizing broadcast TV. Cloud-based services architectures are highly disruptive and the bandwidth consuming innovation that will come from this will be mind-boggling.
  1. Competitive differentiation/market share capture
    Don’t wait – innovate. Avoid irrelevance by staving off the insurgence of Google, AT&T, CenturyLink, and Comcast. The last thing any service provider wants to hear is, “We already got Gig here – you’re too late. Move along.”
  1. Perceived leadership/marketing campaign to drive ‘halo effect’

Subscribers choose progressive, leading companies even if they’re just choosing the base broadband package.

Applying Experience, Incorporating Wisdom

The pace of change in technology is accelerating faster than ever before, being driven by social change and the need for community development in a hyper-competitive, hyper-connected world. Broadband investment is shifting from service coverage to delivering super-fast broadband speeds to serve communities as they upgrade technology. It has taken our industry nearly a century to realize there is an infinite demand for bandwidth and we must stop forecasting future network needs based on today’s application requirements. Many of us believe our industry is part of something bigger than we might imagine and Gigabit Broadband will be an integral part of that something, whatever it will be.



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Could Superfast Broadband be a UK Vote Winner?

Prime Minister David Cameron and thousands of other candidates will stand for election to the UK parliament on May 7th as the British public chooses its 650 local MPs and decides who will form a new national government for the next five years.

Will the party promising most on broadband get the keys to 10 Downing Street?

It seems unlikely; broadband isn’t featuring as more than a fringe issue compared to matters like keeping the UK’s membership of the European Union.

But perhaps the electorate and the politicians are looking at it the wrong way because health and education services, local transport infrastructure, job security and stable economic growth remain key battleground issues for every party’s campaigns.  Each of these is massively influenced by the presence of robust, ubiquitous superfast broadband infrastructure!  And that’s important because this is infrastructure that the UK doesn’t really have right now.

The UK lags behind many other European countries in average broadband speeds, largely because of the lack – until very recently – of mass rollouts of superfast deep-fibre broadband infrastructure.  In the latest FTTH Council ranking of FTTB/FTTH nations, the UK doesn’t even meet the 1% penetration threshold to qualify, while countries like Lithuania, Bulgaria and Macedonia do.

Successive UK governments have promised to arrest this imbalance by stimulating investment in broadband infrastructure – particularly in ‘hard to reach’ rural areas – and progress has been frustrating for many communities where broadband really has become an election issue.

No one yet seems sure whether current plans to see through a pilot project of providing the final 5% with basic broadband coverage by 2020 will be honoured in the next parliament.  Or the strategy to reach 95% broadband deployment to premises by 2017…

Anne McIntosh MP, who heads up the UK parliamentary committee on rural affairs, said this recently: “We are concerned that the current broadband rollout targets are based on inaccurate assumptions that universal basic broadband coverage has largely been achieved when the reality is that many rural communities are still struggling with no access, or slow broadband speeds.”

With BT and Virgin Media locked in an arms race for faster and faster speeds across the country – and many other providers committed to next generation and even Gigabit levels – the future looks encouraging for UK broadband.  For many in rural areas, the future seems less certain.  Here, superfast broadband has stopped being thought of as a privilege and is now considered a citizen’s right.


Ronan Kelly 150x150 Could Superfast Broadband be a UK Vote Winner?

Ronan Kelly is ADTRAN Chief Technology Officer for the EMEA and APAC regions


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The Benefit of Gigabit: Customer Insight

While the benefits of Gigabit deployments far outweigh any criticism, some skeptics question why companies would go to the trouble of rolling out ultra-fast broadband networks today. For those opponents, a recent announcement from Jackson Energy Authority (JEA), a municipal utility, should put to rest any concerns.

Just last week, it was announced that the city of Jackson, Tennessee and JEA have been named a US Ignite partner. The city wide fiber network provided by JEA, supports the community’s evolution into a globally connected commercial center.

Thanks to the announcement, JEA is attracting national attention as a direct result of its decision to upgrade its network  to deploy symmetrical Gigabit services to its 18,000 subscribers. Not only is JEA helping the local community prosper, but it’s being recognized for having the technology infrastructure in place to be an accelerator for economic, educational and community benefit.

Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist stated, “We compete against cities from across the country for economic development projects, and the recognition as a US Ignite city underscores the fact that Jackson is the best city for 21st century business and industrial recruitment due to the first-class fiber infrastructure that JEA has deployed.”

“The decision to deploy Gigabit services to our customers was easy. All we had to do was look at the incredible benefits, including stimulating economic development and how it could transform the community as a whole, to see that Gigabit was the way to go,” said Ben Lovins, senior vice president, telecom for Jackson Energy Authority. “The residential and business customers we talk to have high expectations for their Internet experience and this shows that we are on the right path to enabling future growth.”

Jackson Ignite – the city of Jackson and JEA’s partnership with US Ignite – delivers on the community evolution objectives from ADTRAN’s Enabling Communities, Connecting Lives campaign. So if after reading about the Jackson Ignite national partnership you’re still not convinced that Gigabit is valuable for the business case, continue checking with ADTRAN as more communities are set to be announced. Gigabit is the real deal and service providers are cashing in on new customers, new revenue opportunities and staying ahead of the competition.

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“And ponies! Free ponies for everyone!”

I had to laugh when I saw Marc Andreessen’s comment in a press release on “President Obama’s Plan to Regulate the Internet” issued by FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai’s office last week.  While most of the comments were along the lines of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, “global Internet will suffer”, lack of transparency and “an unusual attempt by a President to influence a legally independent agency”, I thought Andreessen’s “free ponies” comment pretty much sums up the current goat rodeo in Washington.

On Thursday February 26, we expect the FCC to agree to new rules that re-adopt and expand the previous Open Internet rules that were thrown out by the Court of Appeals in early 2014.   The previous rules were relatively simple and carried forward the policy of a “light regulatory touch” first articulated when Democrats controlled the FCC under President Clinton:

  • Transparency. Fixed and mobile broadband providers must disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics, and terms and conditions of their broadband services;
  • No blocking. Fixed broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services; and
  • No unreasonable discrimination. Fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.

These rules were all subject to “reasonable network management.”  The Court of appeals had vacated the discrimination/blocking rules, however, because the FCC claimed authority under Section 706 to adopt the rules, but those rules were “common carrier”-type regulations, which was inconsistent with the FCC’s classification of Internet access services as an “information service.”

In response to the court decision, the Commission originally proposed to tweak the rules so they would pass Court review consistent with the 2014 court decision and the FCC’s authority under Section 706.  Unfortunately, succumbing to political pressure, including unprecedented intervention by the White House, the FCC will decide instead to reclassify Internet access services as “telecommunications services” under Title II, and to apply the new rules equally to fixed and mobile broadband.  Such a reclassification does allow the FCC to impose utility-like regulations on Internet access providers, but also carries with it regulations applicable to telephone services dating back to 1934.  The FCC is attempting to limit the application of some of these anachronistic regulations by “forbearing,” but many of the more burdensome provisions — including after-the-fact rate regulation and the specter of class action lawsuits — remain.

The new rules specifically adopted in the FCC order to govern Internet access service would provide:

  • No Blocking: broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
  • No Throttling: broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
  • No Paid Prioritization: broadband providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration – in other words, no “fast lanes.” This rule also bans Internet service providers (ISPs) from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.
  • A Standard for Future Conduct: Because the Internet is always growing and changing, there must be a known standard by which to determine whether new practices are appropriate or not. Thus, there will also be a general Open Internet conduct standard that ISPs cannot harm consumers or edge providers.
  • Greater Transparency: The proposal enhances existing transparency rules, which were not struck down by the court.
  • Reasonable Network Management: For the purposes of the rules, other than paid prioritization, an ISP may engage in reasonable network management. This recognizes the need of broadband providers to manage the technical and engineering aspects of their networks.
  • Interconnection: For the first time the Commission would have authority to hear complaints and take appropriate enforcement action if necessary, if it determines the interconnection activities of ISPs are not just and reasonable, thus allowing it to address issues that may arise in the exchange of traffic between mass-market broadband providers and edge providers.

The Good

The good news is that the Tier 2 and Tier 3 service providers who are accustom to operating in a regulated environment should remain on track with their plans to leverage the Connect America Fund (CAF) subsidies. These subsidies provide funds to build out broadband networks to greater and greater speeds. The recent CAF 2 Order increased the required broadband speeds from 4/1Mbps to 10/1Mbps and the FCC recently changed the definition of broadband from 4/1Mbps to 25/3Mbps.

The Bad

The rules themselves create confusion because of their ambiguity.   An ISP contemplating a new offering cannot know whether the FCC will decide that the service “harms consumers or edge providers.”  For example, AT&T’s sponsored data plan, where the content provider pays the usage charges of the customer, has been challenged as violating “net neutrality,” despite the fact that it’s just like toll-free calls, which have been perfectly legal (and beneficial to businesses and consumers) since the 1960s.  In addition, the FCC would allow prioritization of “specialized services,” but that is another vague term.  In sum, the uncertainty of knowing what conduct/services may be deemed unlawful is likely to deter ISPs from making investments in new services.  The threat of after-the-fact rate regulation will also deter investment in new facilities.

The Ugly

The FCC’s rules are likely to be challenged at the Court of Appeals as there are significant problems with this FCC rulemaking.  On a number of occasions, the FCC had examined how to classify Internet access services, and each time they decided it was an “information service” and thus outside of Title II.  The FCC is reversing all of those previous decisions, even though none of the salient facts have changed.  In addition, there is a very difficult statutory problem with the FCC’s application of Title II to mobile broadband, because it is not connected to the Public Switched Network.  There may also be challenges to their forbearance decision, since the FCC is not following its own standards of undertaking a granular, market-by-market analysis.  On top of those substantive problems are the procedural irregularities, including the influence of the President (which is also the subject of a Congressional investigation).

Following the release of the Open Internet Order by the FCC, we anticipate that the Tier 1 Telcos, MSOs and Wireless industries will begin litigation. The FCC’s order will also be challenged by net neutrality advocates that want more extensive regulation, including unbundling.  We also believe that the FCC’s Order will be eventually found to be unlawful.  These industries will petition to stay the FCC Order but it is unlikely that tactic will be successful in the courts because of the high hurdle for such judicial relief.  In theory, Congress has been studying a legislative fix that would apply “light touch” regulations, but passage of any legislation these days is difficult, and would face a veto in any event.

The bottom line is that we expect the FCC decision on Network Neutrality to inject a lot of uncertainty and confusion into the broadband arena, although we won’t know important details of the new regulation until the text of the decision is released, which could take several months.  The long term problem we’re going to face as a telecommunications industry is that the FCC has, sadly, become just another pawn in the disconnected, partisan dog-and-pony show that Washington DC has become.

Gary Bolton is Vice President, Global Marketing for ADTRAN. 150x150 Gary Bolton “And ponies! Free ponies for everyone!”

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Super-Vectoring: Great for Central Europe, Less so for North America

This is the third and final installment to my blog series regarding an enhanced DSL technology known as Frequency Division Vectoring (FDV). This technology and other super-vectoring technologies are being looked at by operators to once again allow them to leverage billions of dollars (or euros) of investment in their Fiber-to-the-Cabinet, -Node and -Curb deployments.  These super-vectoring technologies can double the performance of today’s vectored VDSL2 supplying up to 300Mbps of broadband service. This allows operators to stave off both the Cable/MSO competition as well as the high cost associated with full blown Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployments.

Now that we’ve looked at some of the challenges in the market and the DSL acceleration technologies that have emerged to address those challenges, today we’ll explore what this means for service providers and the business opportunities ahead. Before getting into the operational benefits of deploying FTTx advancements, whether deployed in lieu of or in conjunction with a full FTTH deployment strategy, we will look at the market drivers for expanding premium broadband.

Today, in North America at least, the average peak demand for a residential broadband connection is approaching 50Mbps. At first glance, this seems hardly worthy of an investment in FTTH or these innovative 300Mbps FTTx technologies.  However, with disruptive cable operators investing in Gigabit service supporting networks via DOCSIS 3.1, and other disruptive new service provider entrants expanding their FTTH footprint, there is a need to compete with headline speeds. Many consumers simply pick the higher rate when comparing a similarly priced offer.

Emerging consumer applications– as always– will drive the demand for bandwidth and operators have to be ready to deliver or risk being marginalized by the market and competition. Cloud-based home backup and Ultra HD (4KTV) are poised to push the bandwidth demand to 100 Mbps or more per home in the next few years. The shift to cloud services, mobile broadband expansion, the growth of Internet of Things and the demand for community development all play a part in moving the needle.

Great for Central Europe, not so much for North America

To understand the business case advantages offered by these new FTTx technologies, we need to understand an important FTTx metric – copper loop length. This provides an important indicator of which geographic regions and which residential markets would be in favor of FDV and therefore most likely to champion the industry standardization and network homologation of such technologies.

There are longer FTTx loop lengths deployed in North America, whereas in central Europe they generally have deployed their services cabinets much closer to the customer, many of which fall into the loop length ranges that could take advantage of super-vectoring service rate gains. As a proof point, since I last wrote on this topic in December, there has been an ITU-T standards meeting in Geneva where European incumbent operator DT was proposing to create a new annex for enhanced data rates compatible with today’s VDSL2 17a services deployed in Europe today.

It is important to note that for any super-vectoring technology to be usable, whether FDV or another, it must be standardized and available from all of an operator’s vendors; must be deployable into existing cabinets and must run in parallel with the existing vectored VDSL2 services. Of course, the technology must also improve upon the performance of today’s vectored VDSL2 service rates at intermediate FTTx copper loop lengths, generally 200 – 400m from the customer. This loop length is too far for typical FTTdp/G.fast deployment scenarios but much closer than 500 – 700m distances…perfect for vectored VDSL2. Super-vectoring is all about squeezing more bandwidth out of these shorter copper loop lengths sitting in no-mans-land – too long for FTTdp and too short for vectored VDSL to take advantage of.

The Overall Cost to Pull Fiber

How committed a service provider is to their large investment in FTTN/Cab comes down to the cost of the alternative which is pulling fiber down or across the street, through a yard or wall and throughout a residence.  This cost is what is saved by leveraging next generation DSL technologies like FDV and G.fast as the premium bandwidth is already installed. New construction houses, condominiums and apartments, known as greenfield deployments, are strong targets for FTTH. We want to pull new fiber… not new copper. This means not just though the street but the building as well. This latter part has been a challenge as many new homes continue to be wired with CAT3 telephone wiring or 100Mbps CAT5/6 Ethernet cable. When service providers get involved in new residential development they plan for these new homes to be constructed with optical fiber through to the wall socket. Now what about the cost of upgrading existing homes with copper wiring to optical fiber?

The cost savings afforded by cabinet and distribution point FTTx deployments is based on the cost to pull fiber those last few hundred meters to and through the home. US$500 – 700 dollars per home is the range seen most often in published business cases. The cost to pull fiber can vary. It can be as low as $1 per ft ($3 per meter) when good quality duct and conduits exist, or it can cost a magnitude higher when boring is required. Boring can be required when ducts are full, do not exist or are in disrepair. This is the case for most homes over 20 years old and historic streets and buildings. North America has relatively newer buildings compared with Europe so lower FTTH connection costs generally apply. That said, according to the 2013 American Housing Survey from the US Census Bureau, the average residential dwelling was built in 1974. Less than 15% of homes are younger than 15 years old increasingly the likelihood of requiring higher priced techniques to connect homes with fiber.

Multi-dwelling units (MDU), apartments and condominiums house a large percentage of the population and offer a great opportunity to leverage existing fiber that often pass by these buildings. The cost to connect each suite can be costly and with 25% of the population living in MDUs and as high as 40% in many dense urban environments, MDUs must be a target for delivering premium broadband services. Leveraging FTTx technologies allow operators to quickly and cost effectively add subscribers. And unlike DSL technologies of the past, the existing phone wiring delivering broadband is owned and maintained by the landlord – not the incumbent telco allowing competitive service providers.

Super-vectoring as an accelerant to Fiber rollouts

DSL acceleration technologies have sometimes been criticized for taking resources away from – and ultimately delaying – the deployment of FTTH. G.fast and FTTdp has been the most recent target of that criticism. However, the prudent operator and careful observer of these technologies recognizes that when a FTTx solution can allow new bandwidth-intensive applications to be rolled out, this in turn drives demand for FTTH. FTTx deployment models allow operators to maximize fiber deployed in the street today allowing for an important return on that asset which raises monies to be later invested in FTTH.

In the same way super-vectoring should not detract from the momentum of other premium broadband deployment models like G.fast-fueled FTTdp and PON fueled FTTH. FDV meets this important requirement. FDV is aligned with the DSL technology roadmap. FDV leverages advances in G.fast chipset technology and is therefore synergistic with G.fast deployment plans being constructed by dozens of the world’s largest broadband network operators.

Super-vectoring technologies like FDV allow incumbent operators to deliver double the bandwidth currently deployable out of their existing cabinet infrastructure. Raising service rates from today’s 100 – 150Mbps up to 200 – 300Mbps. These rates provide important provider differentiation and in the case of FDV help accelerate the deployment of 500Mbps and greater FTTdp deployments by seeding G.fast components into the network.

As handheld and home devices and appliances become more powerful, more connected; As consumer and home automation applications become more cloud-based and more sophisticated, your residential broadband connection must become a high bandwidth, low latency cloud services conduit. FDV is another tool broadband network operators can use to meet this network performance objective.

Kurt Raaflaub, a 20-year telecom veteran, has global responsibility for directing ADTRAN’s carrier networks solutions marketing activities.

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