Which key fibre-related developments have you seen over the past year?
“The most notable difference is positive momentum. Ratification of the European Electronic Communications Code is a massive step in the right direction. National regulators are now legally obliged to ensure definitions of Very High Capacity Networks (VHCN) are imposed on network infrastructures supported by Government funding or regulatory relief. However, there is still much work to do. Some large EU economies still require government and regulatory backing for Full Fibre, giving investment communities confidence in safe returns.”
“Historically, the Nordic countries have led Europe’s fibre industry. However, Portugal, Spain and France are moving towards ubiquitous availability, and momentum continues to build in Italy, with large anchor customers such as Sky announcing partnerships with OpenFibre. The UK market, which I see as the next frontline in the battle for Full Fibre, has exploded with investment and activity, resulting in real service disruption. Unsurprisingly, in the face of such competition, incumbent Openreach’s attitude towards Full Fibre investment has changed. Funds are being diverted from their G.fast deployment towards full FTTH. My native Ireland is not progressing as fast as I would like, unfortunately. Momentum is building, but much more investment is required. Hopefully, Germany and Poland, where current penetration rates are disproportionately low, will stimulate fibre investment.”
What are the main issues influencing fibre rollout right now?
“The biggest challenge the industry faces today is misleading fibre advertising. Over 98% of any population are not technologists. They don’t have the knowledge to dissect deliberately misleading marketing campaigns that use the word ‘fibre’ to describe inferior services. In every other consumer sector, advertising standards authorities protect consumers from misleading claims. I can only assume that these watchdogs, like consumers, do not properly understand the benefits of Full Fibre versus metallic-based alternatives. The FTTH Council Europe is actively working with our fibre-focused operator members to raise this with the relevant authorities wherever we see such practices.”
“On a positive note, consumers are becoming more aware of the important elements of broadband. When I over hear my 10-year-old son Elliot relaying details regarding his latency to his online friends, I understand that ‘digital natives’ will not tolerate inferior services. For them it’s the difference between life and death - at least within their favourite online game.”
Which developments will drive fibre uptake in the coming years?
"Broadband, like electricity, needs to be invisible in our lives. I shouldn’t have to worry about the fact that it takes longer to upload important work files in the evening as the kids engage in their connected lives. The media richness we experience today as a result of our broadband connections is only the tip of the iceberg. This will continue to evolve toward ever-higher resolutions and larger screens. 4K screens are the de facto standard and mass market screens are now of a size that would have been considered obscene five years ago. 8K TVs are emerging and smartphone, tablet, and laptop screen resolutions are moving to 4K, which is already standard at the premium end of the market.”
“We are also seeing voice-controlled assistants such as Alexa, Google and Siri in our homes, in our pockets and on our wrists. Digital natives are rapidly embracing this more efficient interface into the world of cloud data. In the near future, assistants will be able to apply environmental context to the questions being spoken, using video, while also proactively offering input or alerts about the environment. Telesecurity is also becoming increasingly popular. As the cost of very high-resolution cameras continues to fall, barriers to adoption are disappearing. As with TVs, the resolutions of home security cameras will follow the path of sports action cameras to 4K.”
“The demise of the smartphone could be imminent, as that market approaches its late maturity stage and market saturation is being reached. This could be a substantial driver of new innovations as the world’s largest technology firms seek to replace declining revenues. I remember seeing the Apple watch aligned with a pair of Apple’s AirPod wireless earphones in a 2017 presentation by Apple’s Tim Cook. Combine this with augmented reality glasses, and that could signal the end of the smartphone. A consumer electronics giant might surprise us with a similar combination sooner than we think. All these developments will drive the need for more upload and download capacity, along with low latency connections, to service real time interactions.”
“Implications for Governments are far reaching. Obviously, they must put in place policies and regulations that permit safe investment in fibre infrastructures. This will allow substantial bandwidths needed in the near term to be delivered to the masses. Adhering to the Electronics Communications Code will go a long way towards ensuring governments get their fibre policies right. What’s more, data privacy requires close government attention. More and more information, including audio and video, is making its way into the cloud and analysed by AI. That increases the risk of misuse or loss. It is important that governments strike the right balance between digital innovation and protection of citizens’ privacy."
Last year’s FTTH conference looked at new Gigabit connectivity targets and the EC proposal for a new European telecoms rulebook. Have there been any developments in these areas?
“Absolutely, 2018 saw unprecedented breakthroughs within the EU Commission. Leadership and determination demonstrated by Vice President Ansip, supported by the FTTH Council Europe’s constant lobbying, has allowed us to preserve all of the key ingredients within the final ratified version of the Code, as it is known. This came into force on the December 20 (with a two-year transposition period for Member States). It has vast implications for Europe over the next decade, where a fibre first sentiment will underpin national regulators decisions. Operators insistent on investing in legacy metallic network technologies should not expect favourable regulation or government funding.”
Why is fibre essential to 5G and where do you see synergies?
“The Council has seized the opportunity to compile defendable facts and figures about the real benefits of converged network design for 5G and Full Fibre access. Without significant fibre densification, we will never see Gigabit mobile connectivity. Small cell densification with fibre backhaul is mandatory for this use case. Early findings by the FTTH Council study on 5G and Fibre convergence confirmed that with early planning and design consideration, the additional cost to address both 5G and consumer fibre access from one network was very modest. Particularly when compared with the cost of building two separate networks."
What can you tell us about the study on copper switch-off?
“Copper switch-off won’t occur overnight. Rather, it will take many years to reach completion. However, as with all major projects, it must begin with a commitment to start. A great example of this is Telefonica’s Faro project. Telefonica will shut down one of 653copper-based switchboards each day between now and 2020. A good indication of the sheer scale of the task most large operators will face. Within the FTTH Council Europe, we are delighted now that ‘The Code’ has been ratified and is making its way into law. The conversation within Brussels is shifting towards discussing copper switch-off, which is that important first step. We think ‘The Code’ will help catalyse the decision for other operators to align their fibre build outs, with copper switch off, similar to Telefonica.”
What are the main focus points for the FTTH Council for the coming years?
“Of course, we aim to have the most successful conference. Our team, under the leadership, of Director General Erzsebet Fitori, have once again done an outstanding job in attracting prominent C-level speakers and panelists. We are also eager to strengthen the voice of the FTTH Council by increasing our membership and further raising our profile as a trusted advisor into Brussels. We remain committed to instigating change amongst national regulators and national advertising standards authorities with regard to creating and enforcing guidelines about which types of services can be permitted to use the word Fibre in their positioning. We will closely watch markets beginning their shift towards Full Fibre and champion them where we can, while continuing to build momentum behind the Copper switch-off discussions.”