Broadband World Forum

RAI-Amsterdam

Dominic Black, Market Analyst at illume research, takes our press pass to the recent Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam to exclusively report on the key issues of the day.

The recent Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam was still as popular as ever with over 300 world-class speakers delivering a wide variety of industry knowledge. The main discussions focused on how providers kept up with and monetised the demand for Superfast Broadband, how providers look to evolve their networks towards virtualisation and SDN and how providers look to deliver high-speed mobile broadband services.

How to keep up with the demand from Superfast Broadband

A main talking point that came out of the conference was how to cope with the increasing demands for superfast broadband and the difficulties that there are going to be in keeping up in what Tom Stanton, CEO of Adtran, described as ‘infinite’ demand. With demand for streaming services and other high bandwidth activities increasing, Tom argued that the demand for higher broadband would need to increase every year, as consumers will always be using more bandwidth. This ‘infinite demand’ for broadband argument was countered however by representatives from Alcatel-Lucent who predicted that a household would be hard pushed to require more then 100Mbps download speeds, as it would require a number of devices simultaneously streaming data to reach this kind of level.

Providers are looking still looking at ways to reach 50 to 100Mbps speeds that are cost effective and quick to deploy. Huawei announced at the conference that they would be holding a technical trial with BT of G.FAST fibre to the distribution point (FTTdp) which has the potential of offering speeds of 1Gbps over copper lines up to 250m. Huawei is already offer vectoring which can utilise existing copper infrastructures which can be deliver speeds of up to 100Mbps but with an existing copper infrastructure in the UK. A large number of the exhibitors were focused on addressing this issue with a variety of technologies and techniques and it does appear to be a key area of competition.

SDN and Virtualization 

Software Defined Networking or SDN is an approach to networking that is differs from conventional networking as the control of the network is not within the hardware but within a software application. The benefit of this is that engineers will be able to control traffic from a centralised control console without having to change any of the hardware. This means that changing business requirements and switching rules can be changed immediately prioritising and even blocking some types of packets enabling the administrator to manage traffic in a flexible and more efficient manner.

SDN was another hot topic at the BBWF with many of the seminars and conferences focusing on the possibilities of SDN. David Ward from Cisco kicked off the discussion on SDN with a talk on virtualisation which many seem to think will be the first outcome of SDN as he predicted that virtualisation is about the need for everything to go faster. Virtualisation would be a driving force in increasing performance and efficiency, with Antonio Manzalini of Telecom Italia echoing these thoughts. Antonio saw virtualising as a way to enhance organisations, as ‘the virtualisation of everything would see the automation of everything’. Although many see the biggest opportunity for SDN to be in the cloud, others were arguing at the conference that SDN would be used in data centers to start with as it is a ‘tool’ to extend virtualisation but will really be used to connect the network to applications requirements. With the open compute project, a project started at Facebook almost two years ago with a pretty big goal: to build one of the most efficient computing infrastructures at the lowest possible cost, the data center built is 24% less expensive to run and 38% more efficient.

Virtualising and SDN can be done together but this will only make sense through the cloud. With more intelligence being put at the edge of the network with the end user defining requirements. With the cloud, NFV and SDN working together, Antonio Manzalini sees this as the only real way to unlock revenues for providers.

Importance of Offloading to Wi-Fi

With the emergence of 4G mobile data services, providers are talking more and more about how they can integrate Wi-Fi into this offering to offload customers from the network. Wi-Fi offload was discussed at length at the conference with heated debates between mobile providers and fixed or hybrid providers offering both mobile and fixed services to customers.

Graham Cove of EE highlighted that he did not see that is was EEs role to have a Wi-Fi strategy, stating that their strategy was for venue owners to offer EE customers Wi-Fi for offloading purposes. Other companies highlighted the need for integrated Wi-Fi offload strategies for all providers. Hossam Salib from Comcast stated that 70% of all traffic currently was directed over Wi-Fi and growing demands for high-speed access, especially with LTE spreading across the country would see current networks unable to cope without integrating WIFI.

As consumers will rarely pay to use Wi-Fi (80% of hotspots in the UK are free), venues that offer Wi-Fi will have to use innovative ways to offset the cost of offering free Wi-Fi such as taking the details of users phone numbers for marketing opportunities like Asda is currently doing in the UK. EE argued that LTE offers better speeds and resilience then Wi-Fi for mobile and tablet users but didn’t have a plan on how users were going to keep down their usage so that bills did not become too expensive, something that Wi-Fi offload offers to the customers. Comcast argued back that there is no point in users being able to access 4G if they cannot afford to take advantage of the possibilities it brings like streaming services.

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