A series of "small disruptions" have transformed the fixed network business in the last 18 months, according to Nokia fixed networks CTO Stefaan Vanhastel.
The arrival of 5G and XGS PON, the growth in national broadband networks and operators' more active WiFi strategies mean telco bosses are thinking and planning very differently from a short time ago.
"If you look at the past 12-18 months it's actually quite shocking how much things have changed in the network space," Vanhastel said.
"There's not a single massive disruption, but there's been a lot of small disruptions that have all come together at the same time."
He said 5G had become a powerful new tool for telcos. It's not a direct substitute for fiber, but telco execs know they have the option of deploying 5G, for example, where fiber is too slow or expensive to deploy.
"Operators are now figuring out whether to deploy 5G or fiber, and that has created a whole new dynamic in typical workshop conversations you have with operators," Vanhastel told Light Reading.
The evolution to XGS PON from GPON is also having an impact. While the volumes are still quite low, almost every operator now has big plans, he said.
"Operators are thinking 'what else can I do with that fiber network?' Business services? Enterprise? Can I do 5G transport? So the typical discussions we have in the industry today are completely different from just 18 months ago."
Meanwhile, operators have decided WiFi is far too important to be left in the hands of modem suppliers.
"They have decided that they need to manage the WiFi experience and the WiFi environment for the home simply because of the number of calls that they receive.
"It has such a huge impact on the customer experience. If you have WiFi problems, you're not going to be happy, and the operators weren't able to fix those problems."
Broadband providers are now using carrier-grade mesh WiFi and new management tools to guarantee quality of experience and fix issues when they occur.
Vanhastel said a looming disruption to the fixed network business is SDN for access networks.
"The network is getting complicated. Operators are mixing and matching these different technologies in different areas. One part might be FWA [fixed wireless access], another might be Gfast, and so on.
"You want to deliver the exact same service over these different technologies. SDN in the access network can actually help by abstracting and hiding the technology layer."
He said work is still going on in standards organizations to define the new SDN specs.
"All of this leads to a very simple model where you don't have to worry about the specific technologies being used in your network.
"The network will automatically translate whatever you want to do into a specific instruction for the installed kit. They don't have to micro-manage all these different technologies."
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading