Managing the Next Generation

David Brunnen, Leader of the Network Services Group at the Communications Management Association (CMA) has reported back on two events he chaired this month.

“Network managers know only too well that daily pressures often get in the way of those rare opportunities to sit back and consider the future. But they also know that the light at the end of the tunnel is more than likely to be the headlights of BT’s 21CN train rushing towards them. So despite the daily distractions there was a keen turn-out for both of CMA’s June events.

The Fibre Futures seminar brought together some of the more-forward of forward thinkers with presentations that would never have been risked by traditional suppliers. Going well beyond the questions of whether anyone really believes the data for UK broadband availability, the case was well put for scrapping the existing Universal Service Obligation. Few would disagree that the current obligation – that the entire nation should have the right to functional Internet access at 28Kb/s – is seriously past its sell-by date. But if we argue for a commitment to Universal Broadband Access, just how broad should that be and who exactly should be obliged to provide it? .

The Fibre Futures event amply demonstrated that the old notion of the incumbent Telco as the infrastructure provider of last resort was also fading into history. In France the iliad Group has demonstrated that consistent profitability is possible – even when DSL access prices are at rock bottom – but only if you focus on the quality of useful services. CMA Members were fascinated to hear the background story to iIliad’s achievement from their softswitch supplier, Thomson Cirpack. A recent report from the research group Analysys suggests that illiad is almost unique in achieving consistent profitability in the financially fragile European unbundling market, so perhaps it’s no surprise that they are far more confident than older Telco’s about investing in FTTH (Fibre to the Home).

The CMA’s Next Generation focus day had, among others, strong support for presentations from Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Nortel, Mitel, THUS, BT and HP-Procurve. Next Generation communications managers, according to the keynote speaker, Phil Sayer of Forrester research, will need to be squeaky green. There’s a great case to be made for communications saving the planet from global warming (particularly with less commuting and a shift back towards hosted services) but our industry still needs to do much more in the way of power saving and recycling.

Ofcom’s decision to raise the power limits for fixed wireless access services at 3.5GHz may have cheered the promoters of WiMAX but the prospect of new spectrum at lower, far more practical and economic, frequencies has taken a step backwards. It seems that the current 3G licence holders were none too keen on Ofcom’s strictly observed ‘technology neutral’ policy when it comes to licensing the ‘promised’ 3G extension bands.

While much of the existing 3G spectrum remains under-utilised the decision on new licences has been put back to next year. Maybe, perhaps, this was in some way linked to wrangling last month at the ITU over whether the WiMAX brigade could join the ranks of the IMT/3G family for spectrum allocation purposes? Meanwhile in Ireland (and NI) it looks as if an altogether different mobile broadband technology from Japan will deliver all-Ireland business-user Internet access without the hassle of accidental international roaming across the border. From a channel perspective, at least in Ireland, this opens up new opportunities for retail partners specialising in IP business solutions and fixed mobile convergence.