Huawei Ultra Broadband Forum 2018

Stuck in the 80s

Norway may be one of the wealthiest countries per capita on the planet, but itís also one of the most challenging for a company investing in fiber networks. Broadnet spends about NOK500 million (US$77 million) a year on building metro rings and backbone infrastructure in the Nordic nation, but Per-Morten Torvildson, the operator's chief technology officer and deputy chief executive, is far from happy that Norwegian authorities are still regulating the sector with a 1980s mindset.

"The regulator was created in the 1980s to control the old telecoms monopoly, but a lot has happened since then," he told attendees at the Ultra-Broadband Forum in London in September. "Its role now should be to make sure networks are robust and developing on behalf of all citizens, but that would be a huge change from how it's acting today."

One of Torvildson's main gripes is that a very decentralized democratic system has given rise to a huge amount of red tape for infrastructure players. Despite being home to just 5 million people, Norway has some 428 municipalities, each with its own distinct rules on civil-engineering work and building permits. Costs vary dramatically from one municipality to the next. And while some municipalities allow work to begin hours after receiving an application, other take months even to respond. "A common regulatory approach is needed," said Torvildson.

Compounding these difficulties are Norway's geographical and demographic circumstances. As the Broadnet executive notes, from the capital city of Oslo, the north of the country is as far away as Greece, and population density is just one inhabitant per square kilometer in these frozen wastes. Due to snow and ice, Broadnet's civil engineers are able to work in these areas for only between three and six months of the year. So if a planning permit takes weeks to materialize, the operator can have a long wait on its hands.

Critically, although 120 Norwegian companies are building fiber networks locally, there is a lack of central planning and regulatory oversight. "Companies are rolling out more fiber using the same ducts and infrastructure as before, but overall robustness is not improving," said Torvildson.

Norway may already have suffered major disruption because of this vulnerability. Last year, according to Broadnet, a fire in one city took out just one point of presence, but this put all of the local telecoms networks out of service for an entire day.

So what would Torvildson recommend? As he sees it, the best approach for Norwegian authorities would be to co-ordinate public-sector investments in the interests of creating more robust nationwide networks. Norway currently spends about NOK24 billion ($3.7 billion) annually on buying network services, but in a very haphazard fashion. "If you converted this into a structure where it was used to better develop physical infrastructure, it would help a lot," he said.

Interestingly, Torvildson held up the UK as an example of one market that has taken giant strides in this regard, citing work that fixed-line incumbent BT has done for the Ministry of Defence (MOD)

Under its Defence Fixed Telecommunications Service agreement, BT has replaced 19 networks used by various bits of the armed forces with a single secure platform, claiming to have saved the MOD more than £700 million ($1.1 billion) in the process.

"Using the purchasing power of the public sector has been a huge success for digital in the UK," said Torvildson. "That's the kind of role that regulators should play in the future."

ó Iain Morris, Site Editor, Ultra-Broadband

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