An Ultra-Broadband Future for Asia/Pac

Earlier in July, I hosted Huawei's first-ever Asia/Pacific Ultra Broadband Summit, which took place in Bangkok, Thailand, and drew more than 400 attendees from operators and government officials from throughout Asia/Pacific, including from India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

The goal of the conference was to work toward ways of achieving the ITU's ambitious Connect 2020 agenda. ITU Connect 2020 calls for connecting 55% of home users to the Internet and achieving 90% coverage in remote areas (including wireline and wireless) by 2020. Achieving these goals will require significant cooperation and investment among governments, network operators and equipment suppliers.

The Asia/Pacific Ultra Broadband Summit focused specifically on the role of fixed broadband networks in this future, and presentations and discussions divided along two main sub-themes within the conference:

  • Driving affordable fixed broadband penetration across developing nations, primarily through adoption of national broadband network policies and strategies; and

  • Moving from today's fixed broadband rates to next-generation ultra-broadband rates of 100 Mbit/s or higher in developed nations.

Developing nations have been rapid adopters of mobile technologies, to tremendous benefit for those countries and their citizens. Yet there was general agreement at the Summit that mobile broadband alone is not sufficient for Asia/Pacific nations to achieve their broadband goals. While mobile broadband is good for achieving wide basic coverage and is affordable for subscribers, the speeds do not compare to fixed broadband speeds -- particularly when looking at fiber optics or next-generation copper advancements, such as G.fast.

Operators (and nations) that invest only in mobile broadband coverage will lose out on the benefits of ultra-broadband -- particularly in video, which is moving to HD and ultimately 4K. Saran Phaloprakarn, senior vice president with leading Thai mobile operator AIS, cited these reasons specifically when describing his company's recent decision to move into fixed broadband with FTTH deployments.

For developed nations (in Asia and elsewhere) operators are focused on how to increase their revenues and profitability, looking at new services, new business models and ever-faster connectivity speeds. Developed economies -- such as South Korea and Japan -- have greater financial resources and are building their next-generation broadband networks on top of already well-established infrastructures, where developing nations in Asia/Pacific are often starting from points of very limited fixed networks.

However, Huawei's fixed network business unit CTO Daniel Tang raised the valid point that there is also an opportunity for developing nations to leapfrog technologies and move directly to the best and most advanced fixed technologies available -- such as GPON/FTTH. Developed nations are often forced to continue to invest in their legacy copper networks, because the installed base is so large, even though copper is inferior to fiber and very costly to maintain. This is the greenfield builder's advantage.

A third theme that became apparent throughout the conference is that the challenge ahead is not really about technology. Leading-edge nations have already shown that 100 Mbit/s (or even Gigabit) fixed broadband speeds are achievable with current technology. And while heads generally nodded in agreement about the economic and quality-of-life benefits of national broadband networks and an ultra-broadband future, the real challenges of finance and execution remain. These are the key issues that need to be tackled before 2020.

— Sterling Perrin, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

This blog is sponsored by Huawei.

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