News from 2016 Broadband World Forum in London

Last week I attended the Broadband World Forum in London. It was another great chance to take the pulse of what is happening in different broadband markets around the world.

I participated in a couple of events including an interesting keynote panel on “How We Can Prepare for the Demands of the Connected World”.

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I naturally pushed my standard line that competition between private telcos is the best driver for investment in deep fibre networks and if that fails then governments need to fill the gap with subsidies and direct fibre investment funding to keep economies competitive.

There was general agreement that private telcos will only invest if they can see a good return on that investment in the medium to long term. If not then investment will stagnate and customers will become frustrated and force governments to act.

My experience with both private competition models in Hong Kong and government funded fibre rollouts with NBN Co in Australia clearly illustrate the two different models. Unfortunately, the Australian model has been watered down to less fibre and more monopoly rules which will mean Australian taxpayers will still be on the hook for a significant investment in fibre infrastructure down the track.

I also did a presentation covering the very successful year Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) has had on the back of our total embrace of Over The Top video with TVB and Le Eco.

On the panel directly after this presentation I put forward HKBN’s unique change from being an IPTV provider to a OTT partnering model and why this makes so much sense for a challenger like HKBN.

On the technology side the conference covered a wide range of themes in mobile, IoT, smart cities and the like.

On fixed broadband and the deployment of fibre it was interesting to see a general consensus that the networks need to be designed to exceed 100Mbps now and target 1Gbps for the future. In Hong Kong we have achieved this many years ago – 100Mbps in 2000 and 1Gbps in 2008.

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This continuing investment in fibre is not only important for fixed networks but also mobile with the new 5G network architectures relying on fibre backhaul to many more cell sites in the future. Nokia are predicting that the number of cell sites for 5G will grow a hundred fold (100x today’s 4G network requirements).

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This year, like last year, much was made of G.Fast as a technology that can look to smooth the migration to full fibre networks. Swisscom is leading the way with commercial deployments now during 2016.

In the UK there is significant pressure on British Telecom from government and competitors to improve speeds. BT’s wholesale network arm, Openreach, is planning to deploy G.Fast from street cabinets (not distribution points like Swisscom) to try and keep up. But Openreach’s CEO and the UK’s Digital Minister both called out G.Fast as an “interim” technology on the way to FTTH (see more at http://www.channelregister.co.uk/2016/10/19/matt_hancock/)

BT have announced plans for 2 million FTTH premises by 2020 and Virgin Media are targetting 1 million FTTH premises by the same approximate time. Another example of competition driving private telco investment in fibre networks.

Australia’s NBN also got a run with the project’s use of the full range of fixed broadband technologies (VDSL, DOCSIS, G.Fast, GPON, LTE and Ku-Band Satellite) being described correctly as unique to any telco in the world. The rollout in the FY17 financial year is all about building scale with a target increase of 2.5 million homes passed of which 800,000 will be using HFC DOCSIS technology.

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However, NBN as a government monopoly has no incentive to provide FTTH services unless the government directs it to build more. With the partisan politics of broadband in Australia this is unlikely to happen unless there is a change of government. As a result Australia looks like being the only developed market where government funds are being directed towards VDSL and DOCSIS rather than towards a full FTTH deployment for the foreseeable future.

All in all it was another great event to catchup on what is happening around the various broadband markets. And the word is next year’s Broadband World Forum will be in Berlin.

 

 

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