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Cable/Video

FTTH Requires Culture Change, Carriers Say

LAS VEGAS -- Deploying fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) is as much a culture change as a technology change for carriers, according to leading players here at the FTTH Council Conference.

Companies that have tried to sell the new service in traditional ways haven't always found success.

For example, Telefónica Brazil put its FTTH infrastructure into place before preparing its services, customer service, IT, and back-office operations, said Andre Kriger, the carrier's FTTH director, in a keynote speech here. And that initial attempt at a massive new service rollout fell flat, he said.

Following that experience, Kriger said that Telefónica Brazil visited Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Portugal Telecom Inovação SA (PT Inovação) , and others to see how they had made FTTH work and came to the conclusion that all systems have to be go before the service itself can be launched.

"Fixed service operators are not used to doing this -- we have to learn to think like a startup," Kriger said. "Wireless operators do this all the time, they have learned how to launch new networks."

Before Telefónica Brazil relaunched its service, the carrier put in place an IPTV platform, with a multi-room DVR that its cable competitors can't match, and a much more aggressive customer service and installation plan that includes 30-day intensive training courses for their installation technicians.

By pulling marketing, back office, and technology teams together, Telefónica Brazil relaunched its service and now has almost 4,000 FTTH subscribers, as it continues to ramp up, Kriger said.

Bell Aliant took an even more aggressive approach to reshaping its culture in order to launch its first all-FTTH city, Fredericton, New Brunswick, by creating what it calls the Factory model. Beginning in late January 2009, the Canadian carrier brought together a small but dedicated and "passionate" team of people, swore them to secrecy, and put them to work together in one facility, said CTO Ivan Toner.

"We had IT folks, engineers, customer experience people, and marketing all working as one team under cover," Toner said. "We called it exCITE for center for information and technology excellence and we collocated everyone -- engineering, IT, marketing, network ops, customer service, OSS/BSS people, and did combined planning and implementation as one team."

Their goal was to build the business case for launching a city-wide FTTH deployment in Fredericton that would convince the company's board of directors to approve the capital spend, and then launch service by Oct. 1, 2009 – a very aggressive schedule. By having everyone under one roof, taking ownership of their part of the project, Toner said, Bell Aliant was actually able to complete the project two weeks ahead of schedule.

Part of that process was having a huge schedule on the wall of the warehouse in which the team worked that tracked the project's progress on all fronts.

"Everyone knows the homes passed last week, and people take ownership because they don't want to miss targets," Toner said. "Right up front, everyone is shown the big picture, they know how important this is to our business."

Traditional areas of conflict -- between employees and contractors or between management and labor -- didn't arise, he added, and the oft-used approach of "throwing it over the wall" to let another department solve a potential problem wasn't an issue because everyone was on the same team.

"We think having that collaborative environment made a major difference," Toner said.

Bell Aliant already had extensive video experience within its ranks, having launched IPTV in 1999, first on ADSL, using software from iMagicTV -- a company in which NB Tel, now part of Bell Aliant, was a majority shareholder. Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), now Bell Aliant's middleware vendor, later acquired iMagicTV, and that is still what the carrier uses.

Bell Aliant agreed to wire the entire city of Fredericton, "not take the swiss cheese approach," Toner said. The carrier got municipal officials involved early on as well, working with them to create buzz for the service. The carrier is taking the same approach with its next two cities, Saint John and Moncton, New Brunswick, and expects to hit 600,000 homes passed within the next two years.

In Fredericton, Bell Aliant is offering Internet access at speeds up to 170 Mbit/s downstream and 30 Mbit/s upstream for $250 a month, as well as services with speeds up to 60 Mbit/s downstream (15 Mbit/s upstream) and 70 Mbit/s downstream (15 Mbit/s upstream).

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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