EC Rules to Narrow Tech Options for Telcos

LONDON -- Adtran Connect EMEA -- The European Commission's latest regulatory framework has enormous implications for the fixed-line network strategies of the region's telcos and will drive them towards a narrow selection of very high-speed technologies, according to a leading regulatory expert and former advisor to the EC.

Tony Shortall, a director at consulting group Telage, says that, while purportedly "technology neutral," European authorities expect 87% of connections in the region to be supplied using FTTB/P (fiber-to-the-building/premises), G.fast from distribution points near buildings or DOCSIS 3.1 technology by 2025.

The aim is to ensure that all consumers can access a 100Mbit/s service, ultimately upgradeable to 1 Gbit/s, by 2025, said Shortall, who was speaking at a "Connect EMEA" event in London this week hosted by broadband equipment supplier Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN).

The framework is clearly at odds with the current investment strategies of some of the region's biggest operators, and could drive those players to re-examine their plans. "They are aiming to ensure that some legacy approaches don't make the grade," says Ronan Kelly, Adtran's chief technology officer for EMEA and APAC. "The impact of these proposals is going to shape people's thinking with regard to medium- and long-term investment strategies."

Kelly reckons that, when deployed from street cabinets rather than distribution points, G.fast technology would not pass muster, while Shortall says vectoring-enabled VDSL also falls short of requirements.

That is despite the claims of some operators that such technologies are capable of delivering 100Mbit/s connections. The UK's BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), for instance, aims to provide 300Mbit/s services over a G.fast-from-the-cabinet network, while Germany's Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) thinks 100 Mbit/s is achievable using vectoring.

Accused by some operators of developing a framework that is not really technology neutral, senior EC officials have responded that "three or four" technologies could be used to satisfy requirements, according to Shortall.

Ideally, however, authorities would like to see efforts channeled into FTTP/B deployments given the supposedly "future-proof" nature of these technologies.

According to an impact assessment carried out by the EC, and cited by Shortall, the target is for 55% of broadband connections on FTTB/P by 2025. Adtran reckons the current figure is just 7%. "It's a big step up," said Kelly.

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The proposals also appear to carry a lot more weight than previous declarations from the EC. "It will have an impact on how [national] regulators treat your existing network -- there is not an actual suggestion that they will penalize people who have other networks but regulators now have something in their investment target they didn't have before," says Shortall. "That is quite a big change."

As noted by Adtran's Kelly, where public funding is on the table, organizations leaning toward access technologies other than FTTB/P, G.fast from distribution points and DOCSIS 3.1 could lose out.

While FTTB/P would see fiber taken up to buildings, G.fast works by extending the frequency range over which broadband signals travel on short copper loops. Due to signal attenuation, however, it loses potency over long distances.

DOCSIS 3.1, meanwhile, is a next-generation technology in which cable operators are investing to boost broadband speeds.

EC interest in DOCSIS 3.1 will be welcomed by the European Cable Operators Association, which complained during a Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. event last week that European regulators had previously overlooked the contribution made to broadband targets by cable technologies. (See Hey Euro Politicos – Don't Forget Cable!)

The European framework also sets out proposals for encouraging investment and improving competition in various types of geographical market across the European Union.

The EC is expected to send its proposals to the European Parliament this month and Shortall expects them to be adopted in 2018. "There is very broad support for these proposals and I expect them to go through very quickly," he says.

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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