The FCC is continuing to push for expanded broadband coverage in remote and rural areas as part of its Connect America Fund (CAF) program. CAF provides billions of dollars of funding to carriers to support their delivery of 10 Mbps download with 1 Mbps upload (10/1 Mbps) speeds to bridge the digital divide. But as an executive at a rural carrier that I talked to pointed out, “How do you deliver affordable and reliable broadband to a customer who lives in a canyon, miles from your nearest cabinet, yet you are obligated to serve?” Though not the typical scenario, this is the conundrum that rural carriers have with expanding broadband coverage – ultra-long distances, customers that number in the single digits per square mile and a difficult terrain that makes new network buildouts difficult and economically unviable.
Arlynn Wilson of ADTRAN, participated in USTelecoms’ recent webinar, “Extending Broadband to America’s Underserved,” pointed out that fiber is the ideal option for broadband – but very expensive for low customer count. Wilson recommended looking at a broadband toolkit that includes copper-based ADSL2 and VDSL2 as well as fixed-wireless access (FWA) technologies that can be used to more economically deliver broadband coverage to lower-density, far-flung areas. The point should be made that “broadband” here means the 2015 FCC broadband definition of 25/1Mbps not the minimum CAF-funded rate of 10/1Mbps. Wilson shared several points worth noting:
I’d encourage you to check to out Wilson’s webinar in its entirety on USTelecom’s Events and Education page.
Nothing has the potential to shake up the telecommunications access world more than the Central Office Re-architected as a Data Center (CORD) initiative, which was launched last year by ON.Lab and is now part of the Linux Foundation’s many open-source initiatives to open up communications networks.
For decades, the access portion of telecommunications networks – as well as many other parts of the network – have been the domain of highly specialized and proprietary technology. The access network is crucial because it’s where important wide area network (WAN) services such as broadband and mobile get extended out to the customer. In the last decade, this has generally meant a mixture of passive optical networking (PON) and digital subscriber line (DSL) services. Now CORD can change the way these services are deployed.
In the CORD vision, all central offices could be standardized around a generic hardware infrastructure defining racks of servers and switches. These generic hardware modules will be controlled by software that can be programmed and run using a standard, Linux-based operating system. This is a radical shift from the past when access equipment was housed in proprietary racks of either optical line terminals (OLTs) or Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexer (DSLAMs). The CORD model will transform this, creating standardized generic hardware platforms.
Ryan McCowan, fiber access product manager for ADTRAN, recently participated in an UBB2020 webinar on mobilizing SD-Access with 10G PON. Having some prior knowledge of the subject at hand, I still find different points of view to be very informational as I continue to track these emerging technologies. Items I found particularly interesting were:
There is a lot of talk about software-defined networks (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV). But so far, the discussion has largely left out the access networks — mobile, broadband, and voice connections to the customer — which are crucial to building a full SDN and NFV platform. What exactly is required to build software-defined access (SD-Access)?
What good are SDN and NVF if they are incompatible with the technology that connects to the customer? Billions of customers worldwide require a connection to the first hop in the network, known as the last mile, which means that somewhere there is a piece of technology that must connect to the network from the customer premises, a device known as customer premises equipment (CPE).
To rapidly roll out new NFV services that can be controlled on an end-to-end basis, service providers need an open SD-Access platform that integrates with NFV. This platform needs to be open, flexible, and programmable, enabling configuration of the underlying access hardware to be made via software.
There is a huge trend underway in technology: The move from pipelines to platforms. Platforms have displaced pipelines to take the business world by storm – whether it’s a video platform such as YouTube or a housing platform such as Airbnb. The same trend is taking hold in the telecom world, where service providers need to respond by building open platforms for the telco cloud.
Let’s start defining pipelines vs. platforms. The concept has been described by authors Marshall W. Van Alstyne, Geoffrey G. Parker, and Sangeet Paul Choudary in the book, Platform Revolution, as well as in an article published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) last year, titled, “Pipelines, Platforms, and the New Rules of Strategy.” A pipeline, according to the authors, creates value by controlling linear activities in a value chain. Think of the way you buy a cable service, then get a cable box, then buy movies from the cable company. Platforms, on the other hand, connect producers and consumers with a higher value exchange. An example is the Apple App Store.
The most successful services today, whether it’s the iPhone, Netflix, or Airbnb, are platform models that have created rich ecosystems that deliver a huge amount of value toconsumers. The platform gives the consumer a tool to get access to what they want whenever they want it.
The diversity of today’s client device types has grown far and wide from Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) to Internet of Things (IOT) to Augmented/Virtual Reality with each its own unique connectivity and roaming decision making behaviors. Ensuring an exceptional Wi-Fi end user experience is challenging – especially when client devices, with their limited view of the network, are ultimately in charge of the decision of what access point (AP) to connect to, when to roam and at what speed.
ADTRAN’s Ronan Kelly looks at the European Commission’s objectives for a new telecoms framework, to be met by 2025. Mr Kelly, who is also president of the FTTH Council Europe, discusses what this framework covers and how it might affect UK households.
Political leaders have a fine line to tread when it comes to declaring their policy ambitions for future broadband rollout. Businesses and individuals expect to hear about faster speeds, and more widespread availability. The service providers who will deliver it need to champion realistic expectations, preferably under a regulatory regime that offers complete certainty.
You can’t blame the European Commission for trying to set the bar high. In its latest European commission broadbanddraft proposal published in September, EC President Jean-Claude Juncker has set out a more nuanced set of aspirations than we’ve seen before. Geared to the year 2025, the new strategy supersedes earlier targets for 2020, and should begin its passage through the European Parliament imminently. All being well, it could be adopted by early 2018.Reading between the lines, what’s striking is how it makes the case for a specific set of next generation broadband access technologies. In other words, to make the aspiration a reality, it is abundantly clear which new technologies the EC is effectively asking service providers to deploy. By the same token, without naming any names, it calls out other technologies as obsolete.
By the way, I don’t think any of this contradicts the European Commission’s constitutional commitment to technology neutrality. If the EC wanted citizens to eat more Omega 3 oils, then it would be a boon for fisheries and nut producers, and one in the eye for someone else. Aspirations naturally qualify appropriate means of realising them, at the expense of others.
At the centre of the new broadband proposals is a target to guarantee 100Mbit/s connectivity for all households throughout the European Union by 2025 – a significant uplift from the current 2020 target of 30Mbit/s for all. Crucially, it specifies that these connections must have an evolutionary path towards 1Gbit/s broadband services. Hence, the EC is able to describe its plan as the strategy for ‘a European Gigabit Society’.
Gigabit services are a commercial reality today, and a booming one at that. According to a Viavi report published in August, there are more than 500 Gigabit broadband deployments worldwide, and the number is expected to rise significantly in the future. The majority, however, are situated in urban centres. The question is how to make these financially viable and technically sustainable for suburban, rural and ‘hard-to-reach’ areas too.
VDSL access networks cannot meet this requirement, even with vectoring and super-vectoring improvements. Even G.fast networks – when situated at the roadside cabinet – can’t cut the mustard when it comes to Gigabit scalability in most residential scenarios, achieving the benchmark over tens of metres whereby the average distances between cabinets and homes in the EU can run into the hundreds of metres. Copper-based broadband access networks have been the packhorse for two decades of digital enablement, but their time – according to the EC – is all but at an end.
The one exception to this is where G.fast technology is deployed closer to homes, either from the distribution point (so-called FTTdp) or within multi-tenanted premises (Fibre-to-the-Building). These are deep fibre deployments, but they enable the service provider some latitude to continue exploiting existing copper assets, and defer the digging and installation costs associated with new Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) infrastructure to a more commercially sensitive point in time. Service providers can mix and match access technologies within the same locality by taking advantage of flexible broadband access platforms that support both G.fast and FTTH service delivery. This enables service providers to effectively guarantee the upgrade path from 100Mbit/s to 1Gbit/s, either by maintaining the subscriber on their G.fast connection (where this is viable) or migrating them to FTTH.
The new EC targets will also be music to the ears of the international bodies who have finished ratifying the latest generation of passive optical network (PON) and cable (DOCSIS) standards. Look away now if you can’t stand acronyms, or say hello to the likes of NG-PON2 and XGS-PON if you can. These are robust technologies that absolutely support the stated EC aspiration of ‘very-high-capacity’ networks.
The big question in all of this is, why should service providers pay any attention? Can’t they just carry out deploying the infrastructure they wish? First of all, any available government funding from member states (for example, to support rollouts in underserved areas where market forces have failed) will have these strings attached. Secondly, these are good, positive aspirations – not to mention, very sensible technology choices – and not a million miles from what large European service providers already privately enthuse about in their long term roadmaps. Thirdly, unlike the previous targets, aspects of the proposals are planned to be legally binding and inserted into legislation. Precisely how that legislation works in practice is a matter for the European Parliament and the courts, but we could see a situation where individual member states have a greater set of proverbial sticks and carrots than ever before with which to encourage change.
How likely is it that the proposed EC strategy will stick? “There is very broad support for these proposals, so I expect they will go through the process very quickly,” said telecoms regulatory expert and former advisor to the Commission, Tony Shortall of consultancy firm Telage, speaking at the recent ADTRAN Connect EMEA event. Deployment and upgrade programs already underway for SuperVectoring or cabinet launched G.fast are likely do be largely complete before these draft proposals are enshrined into EU legislation, thus providing operators the space to apply the targets to subsequent network upgrades and expansions.
The runners and riders are lining up. It’s time for service providers to place their bets.
As we enter the 2017, we are faced with a different landscape, one which will see changes in the economic rules of engagement with other European nations, and likely the United States. In this new era, in order to preserve competitiveness, it is vital that the leaders of nations recognise the importance of the next wave of digital infrastructure. Success or failure in the digital economy is what will make or break the economies of the future.