Why Fixed Broadband Is More Important Than Ever
Much of the telecoms industry's focus has been on mobile broadband in recent years, but fixed broadband is still increasingly vital to telecom operator strategies.
In this interview, Fang Hui, Vice President of ZTE Corporation and General Manager of ZTE Fixed and Multimedia Product Line, explains the important role that fixed broadband plays in the communications networking and services industry and talks about the key considerations that network operators should address.
Question: Gigabit broadband services are being rolled out in multiple markets around the world by many major network operators. Is there demand for such services and/or strategic reasons for operators to offer such services?
Firstly, UHD video services such as 4K/8K/VR promote the broadband upgrade to Gigabit. Video service has become a major complement to the operators' basic service and bandwidth provision. Ultra-high definition video services including 8K and VR will be an important application of 5G and Gigabit broadband. According to the forecast from IDC，the global VR market is expected to reach US$174 billion by 2023, bringing new sources of revenue to operators.
Secondly, the competitive demand and national broadband strategy promote the FBB network to be upgraded to Gigabit. The competition among global operators has increasingly intensified, and the FMC (fixed mobile convergence) packages have become a key means for the operators to prevent user churn and to increase ARPU (average revenue per user). The integrated service operators including Orange, Telefonica, SingTel and China Mobile have launched 500 Mbit/s to 1000 Mbit/s packages, and the mobile operators including Vodafone, AIS and Viettel are joining the FBB construction.
A number of countries including China, Singapore, and the UK have set clear national goals for Gigabit broadband buildout and popularization.
Q: What technology options can operators consider for their Gigabit broadband service delivery? Do network operators need to run fiber to the customer's premises in every case?
Gigabit broadband can be achieved through optical fibers and copper cable technologies. In China, Singapore, Japan and Spain, where FTTH has been widely deployed, the migration from EPON and GPON to 10G-PON would be a natural choice. Combo PON reduces network construction costs through on-demand upgrade of ONT devices at the user side without changing the existing optical distribution network (ODN), so it becomes the first choice for operators to upgrade their networks to Gigabit networks. In some European markets where operators have abundant copper resources and the investments in new-built FTTH optical access networks are too high, the operators can make full use of the existing copper resources to achieve Gigabit broadband. In June 2019, ZTE and NetCologne(German) deployed the world’s first G.fast @212MHz network to deliver nearly 2Gbit/s access bandwidth over copper cables.
Fiber is not the only choice for operators in every FBB construction, but the mainstream choice. According to the latest data from IHS Markit, the deployment of 10G-PON technologies witnessed strong sequential growth in Q2 2019, shipments of XGS-PON ports increased by 246%, and the total shipments of PON OLT ports increased by 18% year-on-year.
Q: What do network operators need to consider as they plan to deploy such technologies? What can they do to make their networks future-proof and ensure they can meet the future demands of all types of customers?
The operators need to choose Gigabit broadband technologies and network construction solutions by considering the situation of the existing networks, network smooth migration and construction costs. A future-oriented broadband network must have three features: ultrafast speed, convergence, and premium experience.
Ultrafast Bandwidth Is the Foundation. The future-oriented broadband network must be able to continuously upgrade to the ultra-fast bandwidth. For the optical fiber technology, the operator's broadband network must be able to upgrade from GPON to 10G PON or even 50G PON in the future. Smooth network evolution is another key issue that operators need to consider, the operators can leverage the Combo PON technology to achieve smooth migration of CO-end equipment and on-demand upgrade of ONTs without changing the ODN.
Convergence is the direction. FMC packages have become an effective means for the operators to reduce user churn and to increase ARPU. By using the existing FTTx ODN network to achieve 5G transport, operators can reuse existing optical fiber resources of access network to achieve fast and low-cost deployment of 5G networks. Latency-sensitive services such as 4K/8K and VR video require that MEC CDN functionality be further pushed to the BRAS/OLT to reduce the uplink traffic and improve the service experience.
The premium experience is the core. Operators can provide experience assurance from home network, access network, and O&M layer. Smart Wi-Fi networking technology can deliver seamless gigabit coverage for home network. For the access network, operators can use intelligent tools to boost the accuracy of data on optical network resources and raise the quality of optical links. In the operation and maintenance (O&M) layer, operators can use AI and big data analysis to enable the visualization and management of the quality of end-to-end services, locate network faults in seconds, and achieve 100 percent identification of users with poor quality of experience (QoE).
Q: What impact does a Gigabit broadband service have on customers? Is it just a case of having a faster connection to their premises or are there other advantages?
Gigabit broadband not only provides higher-speed broadband connections for broadband users, but also improves users' experience. It deeply affects broadband services and constantly enriches broadband business models. The deployment of Gigabit broadband further accelerates the popularization of 8K and VR UHD videos and the expansion of smart home networking as well as smart home appliances to extend value of the network. Deutsche Telecom, China Telecom and SingTel have increased their investments in video and smart home. Premium Gigabit home broadband provides better QoE to users. POL and industrial PON solution based on Gigabit broadband access capability coupled with low latency and massive access capability of 5G will help operators expand the applications in industry and industrial park scenarios.
Q: Are these next-generation broadband networks suitable only for retail broadband services or do they serve multiple purposes? Are they linked in any way to 5G strategies?
A next-generation broadband network featuring ultrafast speed, convergence and premium experience not only improves the competitiveness of operators' home broadband services, but also helps them expand network value and service scenarios. ZTE has been actively working with operators to explore this area. ZTE's innovative Light Cloud solution embeds blade servers in the OLT to add edge computing and NFV capabilities to the access network, thereby accelerating video services and enabling the deployment of multiple VNFs and applications. The solution has been commercially deployed by China Mobile. Operators can reuse the fiber resources of the FTTx ODN to carry 4G backhaul, 5G AAU fronthaul and DAS systems, which allows them to deploy 4G/5G networks faster and at a lower cost. Based on this FMC approach, ZTE has helped Telkom Indonesia build the world's largest FTTM network. ZTE's POL solution can help operators develop government and enterprise services.
The relationship between FBB and 5G is more about convergence, coordination and complement. 5G provides users with Gigabit peak bandwidth, but is challenged by limited equipment room space, power supply, fiber and cost. However, fixed network access is able to provide stable Gigabit broadband capabilities, and support smooth migration to 10 Gigabit. The operators are building wireless networks, and at the same time make efforts to build FBB to meet the requirements of UHD video services. Compared with base station investments of 5G, FBB has advantages in network construction cost, usage, operating cost and deployment flexibility. The application scenarios of optical access and 5G are complementary.
In the 5G era, the operators can use high-bandwidth and wide-coverage optical access network resources to implement integrated construction of home broadband, enterprise broadband and 5G mobile transport over one network or even one fiber, so that the network construction costs can be reduced.
— Fang Hui, Vice President of ZTE Corporation and General Manager of ZTE Fixed and Multimedia Product Line
This content is sponsored by ZTE.