Swiss Sunrise to Sunset Copper Broadband in Huawei-Led 5G Plan

Iain Morris
11/20/2018
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LONDON -- Huawei Global MBB Forum 2018 -- Swiss operator Sunrise is to replace its copper-based broadband services with a 5G-powered mobile alternative using technology developed by China's Huawei, CEO Olaf Swantee revealed today.

The service provider, which competes against Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM) and cable operator UPC Cablecom in the Swiss telecom market, had hinted at the plans in a press release published in June, when it said private customers would potentially be able to use 5G instead of fixed-line ADSL and VDSL services. (See Eurobites: Sunrise Welcomes 5G Dawn.)

But Swantee went much further during a presentation he gave at Huawei's Global MBB Forum on Tuesday afternoon, saying the goal was to substitute 5G for those ADSL and VDSL technologies -- which deliver residential broadband over last-mile copper connections -- in most places.

Sunrise Communications AG would continue to focus on its all-fiber strategy in more densely populated urban areas, where the operator's FTTH [fiber-to-the-home] network now covers about 35% of households, and use 5G in suburban and rural areas, said Swantee.

"We want 5G to replace most of the ADSL and VDSL stuff and at the same time to compete against cable," he said. "That is what we want to do and we are going to try to do it as fast as we can and with the availability of systems from Huawei."

Swantee's announcement came after Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. claimed to have shipped as many as 10,000 5G base stations to customers in Europe, the Middle East and South Korea, exceeding at least one analyst's shipment expectations at this stage. (See Huawei Has Shipped 10K 5G Basestations Outside China.)

Sunrise said it had put the country's first 5G antenna into operation in June when it first suggested that 5G could be used to support residential broadband services in Switzerland.

The Swiss operator is one of a growing number of European telcos that see potential in 5G as an alternative to high-speed fixed lines for residential broadband services.

British operator Three UK, which similarly counts Huawei as a 5G supplier, recently flagged plans for a 5G-based home broadband service covering most of the country, while Orange Romania has been carrying out 5G broadband trials in Romania. (See Three UK to Go Big on 5G for Home Broadband and Orange Ups 5G Broadband Stakes in Romania.)

Open Fiber, a state-backed Italian wholesale operator, last week said it was looking into using 5G for broadband in areas it cannot economically cover with fiber-optic networks. (See Italy's Struggling Wind Tre Eyes 5G Rollout in Late 2019.)

Swantee told attendees at Huawei's event that he was focused on the broadband opportunity largely because Swiss regulations would pose a hindrance to other types of 5G deployment.

"The only other country where antenna regulation is so strict is Belgium and our antennas have regulation that is ten times stricter than what the WHO [World Health Organization] deems acceptable," he said. "You have to make sure you stay in the strict radiation regulation of Switzerland and in cities, it is even harder because the antennas are more overloaded."


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He added: "5G for machines would require full nationwide coverage and because of antenna regulation that would take longer. It may be that regulation will change but, in the meantime, we are providing 4G for machines because we have amazing coverage."

In its June press release, Sunrise also complained that "rigid administrative and technical implementing provisions and lengthy mobile network approval procedures… [threaten] to delay the introduction of 5G and its related performance enhancements until 2020 and beyond because the existing infrastructure is prevented from being expanded much further, especially in urban areas."

In moving away from ADSL and VDSL technology, Sunrise would become less dependent on infrastructure owned by incumbent telco Swisscom, from which it buys wholesale network services.

Sunrise had nearly 449,000 fixed broadband customers at the end of September when it served more than 2.36 million mobile subscribers. Sales of Internet and TV services totaled 72 million Swiss francs ($72 million) in the recent third quarter, while overall revenues were up 2%, to CHF469 million ($471 million), compared with the year-earlier quarter.

Swantee was formerly the CEO of EE, a UK joint mobile venture between Germany's Deutsche Telekom and France's Orange. He left EE in early 2016 shortly after it was acquired in a landmark £12.5 billion ($16 billion, at today's exchange rate) deal by UK telecom incumbent BT.

— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading

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