Belgacom Preps VDSL2 Vectoring Deployment

PARIS -- Broadband World Forum -- Belgian incumbent operator Belgacom SA (Euronext: BELG) is the first operator to announce a planned deployment of the VDSL2 vectoring technology unveiled last week by Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU). (See AlcaLu Speeds Up Its VDSL2.)

The operator, a long-time AlcaLu collaborator, has already tested the technology in its live network and Wim De Meyer, Belgacom's VP of business transformation, told analysts and press early Tuesday morning that its trials "confirmed the potential for large bandwidth gains" on the copper connections that run from its 19,000 fiber-to-the-curb street cabinets to customers' homes and offices.

Currently, Belgacom has about 900,000 of its 1.57 million broadband customers hooked up to dedicated VDSL2 connections that deliver up to 30 Mbit/s downstream, enough for two high-definition IPTV streams. With the extra vectoring capabilities, which cancel out the noise interference on the copper lines, Belgacom can deliver a consistent 40 to 50 Mbit/s downstream, enough for multiple high- and standard-definition IPTV streams as well as simultaneous high-speed Internet access.

It's that type of services package that De Meyer and his colleagues believe can make a difference in the battle for triple-play customers in a market that includes fierce cable competition, particularly from Telenet .

So is Belgacom ready to upgrade its street cabinets with vectoring? Not yet. De Meyer says that commercial services based on the new technology will certainly be available by 2014 and probably a bit earlier.

But that's years away -- why the wait? The technology works and the upgrade doesn't require the operator to do any more expensive trench-digging -- its street cabinets are already hooked up to fiber that provides Gigabit Ethernet backhaul connections, so it's just a matter of swapping out remote DSLAM blades and replacing the customer premises equipment (CPE).

The reason for the conservative rollout timescale, it seems, is not technical but rests with the business case. Cable operator Telenet is yet to upgrade its network to provide more consistently higher broadband speeds to its customers, so currently isn't able to deliver an equitable service on a mass scale, while Belgacom's existing VDSL2 customers, which each have dedicated (not shared) connections, are already getting a decent triple-play service.

And when Belgacom does upgrade to VDSL2 with vectoring it will incur costs that, presumably, will need to be reflected in its tariffs. In addition, Belgacom's marketing team will need to dream up some new compelling services packages that will make the optimum use of the additional downstream bandwidth.

For Belgacom, then, the challenge of deploying VDSL2 with vectoring is not so much technical as commercial.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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