BBWF 2012 Summary

Apologies for typos and lack of links in this article, Hurricane Sandy took out our power and broadband, so I’m on a congested 3G network with lots of time-outs limiting online editing.

BBWF (Broadband World Forum) continues to be a ‘sweet spot’ conference, not as big as MWC (Mobile World Congress) where prices are silly and domination by the big vendors makes operator meetings where possible all too brief, and not so small that it does not attract senior figures from around the industry.  Relocation of the conference from Paris to Amsterdam provides much more room, hotel prices around the RAI are quite reasonable, and its only one train stop from the airport, cost 2:50 Euro, that runs every 15 mins.

At the end of this article are some commented slides of interest from the tens of thousands presented through the conference.  And before getting into the meat of the conference review, congratulations to Jeremy Steventon-Barnes and his team for winning the BBWF Changing Lives Award for the Superfast Cornwall – a Public/Private Partnership between Cornwall Development Company and BT.  Jeremy and his team have invested several years of their lives into this project, and I think have some excellent experience and advice for the rest of the industry on how to deploy fiber with a fiber mind-set, not a copper mind-set, which has a critical impact on the projects ROI.

The operator and customer keynotes were good, the vendor keynotes left much to be desired.  If a platinum sponsor is spending 250k+ Euro on sponsorship, stand, and people the least they should do is have a good keynote.  So please Ericsson no more ‘billions of devices so give us billions of dollars,’ and Huawei ‘buy it all from us’, and ALU ‘people prefer broadband to sex!’  The keynote is NOT for you to not repeat the same tired old market messages that have never worked in the past and continue not to work.  Let’s face it you didn’t force operators to buy IMS, LTE, etc. sooner than they actually needed it, just wasted people’s time and your money.  Use the keynotes to demonstrate something amazing, it could be a real ehealth application that saved a life (an M2M vendor did just that at ITExpo), broadband connectivity to a village that changed a child’s life, or one of your customers showing real numbers on what they’ve done with your solutions.  As mentioned in the SDP Global Summit article, OpenCloud simply had Bouygues present their experiences in using OpenCloud’s service broker and it was by far the strongest vendor presentation slot.  Vendors – treat us like people who think for a living and like to see clear rationale arguments backed by real numbers and case studies.  Not something like: smart big data clouds of billions of devices making a trans-formative networked digital society – arghhhh!  But back to some of the highlights from the conference.

Ian Livingstone gave an excellent keynote presentation on the gaming industry, its history, and where it’s going.  His core message is they need more capacity, much more capacity.  The games industry is changing: to a network-centric model rather than disk-centric where a typical game requires 9GB of data just to download never mind play then the data is in TB, the rise of social and online gaming, High Definition and Ultra HD, and next gen consoles will still have a disk as simply because there isn’t enough network capacity.  From just one industry their message is clearly saying, “We need more capacity.”  From my own experience, with 56 Mbit/s internet we hit speed limits all the time, for example when my son starts watching a new episode on Netflix that slows the internet for me if downloading a PPT or watching the news on the BBC.  Ian drew an analogy to the 1860’s when Sir Joseph Baza lgette ignored all the critics when building London’s sewers. He insisted on making the pipes six times bigger than anticipated demand.  It’s a view I held when working on broadband PON (Passive Optical Network) twenty years ago, the challenge is simply telco board’s timeline is the next quarter so the investment keeps being deferred, we mortgage the future for today’s expediency.

The BBC keynote gave a great review of their experiences in supporting live OTT (Over The Top) video for the Olympics.  A great proof-point, if any were required, that OTT providers can support live TV.  They had some interesting data on when people use different devices, e.g. using the tablet to watch TV in bed.  They use Elemental as their adaptive rate encoders.  User experience is defined by the video quality and adaptive bit rate is essential to use the capacity available given the screen size / resolution / device, but no more capacity than is required else that’s wasting the BBC’s resources, as well as the network.  The slide deck at the end of this article provide a few commented slides from their keynote.

The Home Gateway remains an interesting discussion point in the industry, it’s been going on for over two decades.  In the slides at the end of this article I review some of the slides presented on this topic.  My main problem with the Home Gateway Initiative is its geeks talking to geeks in Service Providers, it lacks real Consumer Electronics backing, there’s a lack of marketing involvement and a lack of customer insight.  When I look at my own experience, I have no gateway, I have a fat pipe from my devices in the home to stuff in the cloud and a fat wireless network in the home that connects some of the devices within the home.  I do not need an operator managing the network, in my experience calling an operator for support is a singularly negative experience.  Now with that said for video services operators do a good job, and they can build on that for a niche of customers, it’s not a general purpose platform home network, rather extending from a control point, the STB (Set Top Box).

Software Defined Networks (SDN) was definitely on the hype upswing at the conference, the slides at the end of the article discuss this in more detail.  Within the data center the role of SDNs is clear, squeeze out Cisco.  Within operator networks I struggle on the quantifiable benefits, there’s lots of qualitative claims, though the Group CTO for Deutsche Telekom clearly stated SDN is a cornerstone of their strategy.  There’s lots of hype like real-time OSS associated with the introduction of SDNs. Which given the slow pace of OSS innovation, e.g. the painfully adoption of an enterprise bus architecture, it going to take some quite dramatic changes (that previous comment was British understatement).  The term SDN was used when a number of other technologies are required to cover what was claimed in many presentations, including cloud and self-organizing networks (SON).  The SDN functions primarily in the core transport part of the network. The SDN characteristics are configurable settings and functions to create a flexible infrastructure. SDN aims to make networks open, programmable and application aware; without compromising on security, resiliency and maturity. SDN promises to simplify operations, increase flexibility, and create new business opportunities.  The concept of SON was extended from the wireless access into the core using SDN, but I think this step will lock-in operators to vendors across their network.

In discussions at the conference I’m seeing operators wind-back on their revenue projections across: connected car (really most of revenue is transportation segment which is well established), M2M (devices / solutions providers are in control), eHealth (money is in the devices / medical services), etc.  A comment common to many of these emerging business areas is the key to controlling value / revenue / margin is being the one that controls the customer relationship, especially in emerging areas where solutions have a fair degree of customization.  Hence why we’ve seen many operators aggressively acquire businesses that provide that direct customer relationship, e.g. Verizon buying Hughes Telematics.

Neelie Kroes, European Commission presented the CEF (Connecting Europe Facility).  Neelie is the one who ended the roaming rip-off in Europe.  However, some countries are dense and rich enough that they can afford without aid, so its best done on a country by country basis.  The end goal of fiber is clear, the challenge is how to get there as customer needs continue to grow.  In discussions with operators their copper plant is a mess, so they often have to do rehabilitation.  A big problem with FTTH roll-out is the need to change the access design rules, completely new access plant, new people, new rules, empowered, not dumbed down so that no intelligence is required.  Rather employ good people that can react, build out optimally for fiber, not the legacy copper cabinet / DP infrastructure.  Some payback periods for fiber build-out where the operator is only acting as a wholesale provider puts the payback 12-15 years!  Its good we can squeeze out more bps out of copper as fiber build out accelerates, but to pay for all this investment services are essential.

In a session I chaired on service delivery two presentations that stand out as great examples of what the conference is all about, sharing practical IMS deployment experiences.   Tomas GrineviDius from TEO and Pieter Veenstra from KPN  provided case studies on their experiences in building new services for customer susing IMS and how to use knowledge in the network to improve both customer HD voice success rates and improve network performance.  The slides provide more details.

Overall, the conference achieves what I find MWC has lost, the frank practical exchange of experiences on how to achieve service and network success.