Fixed broadband investment trends

Fixed broadband
Vimal Kumar Kothandaraman, Presales &Customer Delivery Lead, Fixed Network Division, Alcatel-Lucent India, says the growth in digital dividend is driven by the basic broadband infrastructure to carry the data towards consumers and businesses.

While the debate continues in our country if Fixed Broadband makes sense owing primarily to operational and economic hurdles to deploy the infrastructure, fundamental changes implicitly or explicitly are being undertaken by policy makers in other parts of the world to ensure that these hurdles are removed.

While world over the trend has been to move towards 1Gbps service with 100Mbps as more less a norm, in India a large percentage of households are still being serviced with 2 Mbps fixed broadband options or lower, even though recent trends show some improvements in high density urban clusters. Fixed broadband has been a neglected domain owing mainly to operational and economic challenges which did not provide sufficient incentive to turn on Fixed Broadband comparable to worldwide standards.

The good news is that there’s a clear momentum in the market to change this status. Open access infrastructure providers enabled this as first movers, where large housing complexes could derive the benefit of high speed broadband networks at home. Cable companies took parallel steps to ensure dense urban clusters are serviced followed by traditional fixed broadband service providers.

There are also a number of Local Cable Operators (LCOs) and smaller ISPs who have realized potential of additional revenue streams from offering high speed connectivity to households that they are already serving or can make a simple extension from their existing operational areas. We are also anticipating new operators in fixed broadband space, who are expected to launch Fixed Broadband in a massive scale.

To understand the trend further, it is a given that there’s relentless growth of data traffic and primary contributor to that growth, based on several worldwide and in country trends, has been for data in Video form. Video content by itself has undergone changes starting from SD to HD to UHD/4K and by 2020 anticipated to be on 8K resolution. This high resolution content needs high bandwidth technologies which needs deeper fiber penetration.

In addition to this, as mobile devices get to higher bandwidth consumption, the requirement to backhaul such bandwidth on to a nearest available fixed network becomes imperative. There’s always the impending question on which technology to use given the growth of data at such phenomenal rates driven by video content. Such phenomenal data growth driven by video consumption makes it imperative to have a fiber based network, with a question of whether it shall be fiber all the way to the home or there could be some reuse of existing copper for the traditional services providers who are still serving home broadband based on copper networks.

In terms of technology trends, the classical options have been based on medium of connectivity for fixed broadband networks mainly on Copper or Fiber. There are three forms of copper technologies current in use based on the form type of copper in India.

Firstly we have a pair of twisted copper cable entering each house for basic fixed telephone line or DSL connectivity. Secondly there is Coaxial cable which offers broadband on CMTS. And thirdly there are a few households which have category 5/6 copper cable connectivity from within a few hundred metres of the serviced household.

Predominant deployment of Broadband in India is based on ADSL2+ with maximum speed of around 20Mbps possible depending on Copper loop distance and quality. However, in most countries where reasonable quality of copper loop is available, VDSL Vectoring based deployments has started providing close to 100Mbps speed on a pair of twisted copper cable at 400-500 metres of last mile copper.

More recently, technology based commercial trials have yielded close to 1Gbps at about 100 metres of last mile copper. Due to the nature of shorter loop length offering larger bandwidth speeds, remote nodes (remote from the Central Office) of smaller form factors are gaining traction, which are in turn backhauled to fiber networks.

As for Fiber Broadband technologies, the above reuse of last mile copper is dovetailed into the deployment of Fiber rollout whereby remote nodes supporting Vectoring and can be backhauled using Fiber network. In areas where reuse of Copper is not feasible, Passive Optical Network (PON) based Fiber rollout for residential, enterprise and mobile backhauling is deployed, whereby up to Gigabit speeds per individual homes are being deployed. Many countries in APAC region have started 1Gbps service among them Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and so on. As more and more homes are converging to Gigabit services, evolution to NGPON2 with 10Gbps downlink have started commercial trial in some geographies.

Having said this, the biggest aspect of a Fixed Broadband network deployment is to crack the Out Side Plant (OSP) deployment challenges. Be it Copper networks backhauled on Fiber or FTTH networks, the operational and economic dependencies play a key role. Usage of Aerial fiber to reach homes is becoming more popular in newer deployments and ensures lesser deployment constraints than laying underground access medium.

Another aspect of the deployment and operations is the end user management, both at the network level and at the home level. Today, there’s limited focus in this area in Fixed Broadband networks in India. Preventive analyses of network quality and customer experience management are not yet in advanced stages in our deployments. As competitive landscape of Fixed Broadband improves this area is bound to be a key differentiator to ensure customer stickiness and avoid churn.

Finally, today’s fixed broadband networks in India are predominantly providing a bandwidth plan, in other words a data pipe to home, but as competition increases, the services offered shall also be a determining factor to ensure a successful fixed broadband business case.

In summary, we have clear momentum in our market to mass rollout high speed fixed broadband networks to connect residential, enterprise and mobile end points. Key factors influencing today and in near future rollouts are OSP optimization, capacity (bandwidth options), choice of technology, user experience management and services on offer.
Alcatel-Lucent Vimal Kumar Kothandaraman
By Vimal Kumar Kothandaraman, Presales & Customer Delivery Lead, Fixed Network Division, Alcatel-Lucent India