Broadband World Forum Summary Day 1: FTTH is now Global, but we’ve got to Stop Wishing Business Models and Start Building Viable Business Models on Top

The Broadband World Forum continues to grow with attendees from 120 countries, 280 speakers (most were operators), 150 sponsors and exhibitors, 400 service providers and over 7500 attendees.  Gavin Whitechurch and his team deserve much respect for transforming BBWF into the Broadband event of the year.  At the session I chaired on next generation broadband networks we were packed with hundreds of people, no standing room was left.  Most of the presentations were operator case studies.  It’s the only place where the complex broadband ecosystem meets in one place: covering fixed, mobile, convergence, IPTV, access, metro, core, service platforms, home network, BOSS, and more.

The event kicked off with a series of keynotes.  The supplier keynotes highlighted the challenge facing our industry with the continued marketing mantra of ‘believe don’t think.’  Their message was its complex for the customer to get all their stuff working together, putting the network in the middle using identity management, policy management, subscriber management and content delivery makes it easier for the customer.  This of course ignores the fact that device and web service providers have already made it easy for customers, like Amazon, Apple, Netflix, etc.   They also never adequately explained now the network really solves the problems facing customers, never mind whether they’d pay.  The chants on M2M, LTE, QoS, SLAs, convergence, ‘smart this and intelligent that’ were repeated many times, as if we say them often enough it must be true.  The message from operators is simple, we need to reduce costs, I hope next year the supplier keynotes focus is on what operators are requesting.

However, the convergence chant is definitely worth operator attention and we’ll come back to that when I review the NGN session where Matthias Linder from Magyar Telekom in Hungary gave one of the best case studies on the reality of convergence I’ve ever seen.

A technical point raised several times was ‘we have better latency, which matters…’ perhaps for some networked games, but that’s a relatively niche market with no operator making money today.  Skype, web browsing, YouTube, Hulu, BBC iplayer, email, etc. all work well without the latency advantage of new technologies.  And most customers only care firstly about price, next peak rate, and after that everything is just lost in the noise.

The more entertaining second half of the morning keynotes covered Kevin Lo of Google Access, Malcolm Turnbull (Australian opposition MP) and Eric Klinker of Bit Torrent.  Google demonstrated they’ve slowly learned the real world is a lot more complex than the virtual, especially when you don’t have a monopoly and can use free to engineer markets.  Malcolm gave a grandstanding political speech on the incompetence of the current Australian government’s NBN plan.  We’re seeing a variety of approaches being taken on national broadband plans, bottom line is as an industry we’re experimenting, it’s unclear who has the right answer if at all.  It will likely be more than a decade before we know if the Australian experiment is a success or failure.  Eric showed how their peer to peer clients enable the internet to be monitored and asked for the audience to send him ideas on how it can create value.  We need the supplier keynotes to inspire and entertain like Malcolm and Eric (as well as demonstrate they’ve listened to their customer), and not repeat the mistakes of the past in asking the industry to ‘believe don’t think.’

Over the afternoon (12:00-18:00) I chaired the NGN session, some of the highlights included:

  • There’s still much life in PON (Passive Optical Networks) with WDM, 40G, and long reach (100km+) PONs that have the potential to completely remove the metro part of most networks.
  • FTTH (Fibre To the Home) is being deployed widely across the Nordics, Mexico, Armenia, Lithuania, Mauritius, Indonesia and many other countries.  The driver is simply enterprise needs and consumer triple play.
  • FTTH is not an exclusive choice, it’s generally a hybrid approach encompassing FTTH, FTTN (Fibre To The Node (VDSL)), and wireless (LTE) for rural.
  • Some operators expressed a belief OTT (Over the Top) service providers will pay for QoS (Quality of Service).  Such belief appears at odds with the current market situation.  But in the limit its a commercial issue not a technical one, as if there’s business advantage and a clear business case then OTT will pay for QoS, however, currently there is no such advantage or case.
  • Total Pay (Mexico) gave a great presentation on squeezing out the cost in rolling out FTTH in Mexico, a great model for many developing markets.
  • Countries such as Indonesia and Mauritius are also deploying FTTH, initially led by enterprise needs.
  • Ucom in Armenia shared their FTTH deployment experience with about 10% penetration at the moment (across current coverage) with the aim to achieve 250k customers with a pay back period of about 8 years at that penetration.
  • MBB (Mobile Broadband) is a substitute for FBB (Fixed Broadband) today for some customers and that trend will increase, its not a one size fits all, segmentation is critical and xDSL will get squeezed.
  • Matthias Linder from Magyar Telekom gave an excellent presentation on the role of convergence, its all about saving costs.  Through their convergence project they’ve reduced the number of systems by 40%, and there’s much more savings to be had.  I’ll review Matthias’s presentation in a later weblog article.
  • We had a senior panel to discussion on universal broadband, and Edmundo Poggio, Telecom Argentina highlighted that universal access is not just about the pipe, the device is also an important component, there Telecom Argentina has focused on providing devices to students.

In the exhibition hall Adtran were demoing a great little customer powered unit for xDSL from the pole-top called Ultra Broadband Ethernet.  Its similar to what we created in BT, powering was a problem (we were looking at lamp post powering) now it can come from customer given the intervening 15 years.  My key take away is FTTH is here, its global, business needs and triple play are the drivers and it’s got an evolution path to support dedicated multi Gbit/s per customer.  xDSL will not disappear anytime soon, rather be squeezed out between FTTH and MBB over time.  That time will vary depending on country, from within a decade to longer than a lifetime in the case of BT.