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Cable Tech

Broadband’s future goes beyond speeds and feeds

The cable industry's path to "10G" has much to do with delivering multiple-gig symmetrical speeds. But engineers continue to stress that other elements and features that are part of the broadband future, including increased reliability and lower latencies, are just as important as speed.

The industry's engineering and marketing focus needs to broaden well beyond just raw, billboard speeds, Gavin Young, head of the Fixed Access Centre of Excellence at Vodafone, said this week during his keynote discussion with Alan Breznick, Light Reading's cable/video practice leader, at the recent Cable Next-Gen Europe digital symposium.

Even as 1-Gig speeds start to make way for high-end tiers delivering 2-Gig and more, "Netflix isn't going to look any better," Young explained, noting that customers will be hard-pressed to pay for more speed if there's no obvious benefit or additional value. In turn, offering those higher speeds is not a good use of capital for an operator if the payback is limited.

"We have to look at other dimensions of the customer experience beyond speed," Young said. "If you focus on one parameter, you reach a point where it's good enough for most people … We need to think about what else we can do to delight customers."

He said lockdowns during the earlier stages of the pandemic have taught operators that broadband reliability (including the deployment of more overall capacity rather than just higher service speeds) and lower latencies are among the key elements about the service that customers have become more aware of.

"I don't think we should be satisfied with just making broadband networks faster," Young said. "We need to make them invisible to customers so they think they are directly connected to an application server or the content they want."

He's not alone in that thinking. Tony Werner, a former Comcast exec who is now on the board at Wi-Fi tech specialist Plume, expressed as much in a recent interview.

"Customers still want massive speed," Werner observed. "But I think the trend toward massive reliability is really important. Much of that [is about] reliability of the entire network, end-to-end, which includes every last link the in the local area network."

10-Gig speeds good for bragging rights, not much else yet

As for the speed promise of 10G, there's unified agreement that the need for 10-Gig speeds is hardly pressing, even if the latest generation of fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks is already capable of delivering on it.

"We don't need [10-Gig] speeds yet," Celine van Leeuwen, senior manager, fixed access and HFC, at Vodafone Ziggo, said on a follow-up panel focused on 10G. "But we want to stay ahead of what we need."

"From a customer standpoint, we don't need it at all," agreed Anders Bloom, senior systems architect, broadband, at Tele2 Sverige AB. He likened it to showing off a race car in the driveway that doesn't get used.

Angel Campos, group network design and engineering manager, NGA evolution, at Vodafone Spain, noted that there's still no clear application for 10-Gig speeds.

The industry's 10G program is agnostic in that it's focused on multiple access network technologies, including hybrid fiber/coax (HFC), FTTP and even wireless.

The HFC piece of the 10G puzzle is DOCSIS 4.0. Vodafone Ziggo will likely deploy 10G and DOCSIS 4.0 on a "showcase basis first," with deployments expected to begin around 2024 and 2025, van Leeuwen said.

In line with that timeframe is Colin Howlett, CTO of Vecima Networks. He expects early field testing of DOCSIS 4.0 to start in 2023, with deployments starting in 2024. "It's not a question of if; it's a question of when," he said of DOCSIS 4.0.

But the potential hurdles ahead for 10G have more to do with underlying operations than network equipment, according to Tadeusz Ciesielski, CTIO at Falcon V Systems, a venture of Liberty Global and Vector Group focused on an "open" distributed access architecture (DAA) platform.

Most cable operators silo their access and core network teams, and need to have them start working together as cross-functional teams, Ciesielski said.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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