Getting to the Gig

The following is a guest post from Mathew Pitt-Bailey, Director Product Communications, Alcatel-Lucent

Matthew Pitt Bailey Headshot 1410The fixed broadband industry’s flagship event, Broadband World Forum, is almost upon us. Year after year, the show wows us with innovations, technology debates and nice looking boxes hanging on walls.

Two technologies in particular look set to be the highlight of the show – G.fast and TWDM-PON – and I’m really interested to see which vendors will be making related announcements at the show. Both technologies play a key role in bringing better broadband services to more people, more quickly.

But the current buzz surrounding them has been heightened by the rise of gigabit broadband. And this is really what I’m hoping to see at the show; how will these technologies help the industry move towards a gigabit future?

While there’s still debate about the immediate need for gigabit broadband, there’s no denying that interest and even demand is starting to build, notably in the U.S. thanks to you-know-who. But at least the giga-hype – or awareness building, if we want to be more generous – is sparking debate and helping the educational process of what gigabit networks are, what benefits they bring, and when we’ll really need them.

But there’s one very obvious reason why I think our industry needs to keep a focus on gigabit services, and that is because we’re notoriously bad at predicting the future.

If we can be sure of one thing, the future will require way more bandwidth than we think. OK, we can probably predict the next few years because the apps that will take hold – like 4K TV – are already with us. But beyond that, who really knows? Just look at how a PC starts to struggle as every new release of apps and OS require more and more resources. By the same token, we will need gigabit broadband sooner rather than later. And that means we need to start investing today because it takes many, many years to deploy a widescale gigabit network.

But there’s another very good reason why we should start investing today; if we do it right, today’s investments can actually create more revenues and better return on investment for operators.

Here’s my analogy. Say you live in a shoebox in the city but dream of a big country mansion. Do you stay in your box and wait 20 years until you’ve saved up enough? Or do you buy a slightly bigger place in a nicer part of town and enjoy the benefits, re-use that investment to upscale again in a few more years, then again towards your dream place?

That same principle can work here. The trick is to ensure that every investment an operator makes in ultra-broadband contributes towards the ultimate end-goal: a full FTTH network supporting gigabit broadband. And that’s where the latest technologies come in to play.

For greenfield deployments, FTTH is a no-brainer. Today, PON; tomorrow, TWDM-PON, with its superior capacity and flexibility enabling more services, more revenues and more connections. In brownfield, however, a FTTX deployment using VDSL2 vectoring or G.fast can give customers the ultra-broadband speeds they need in a fraction of the time it takes to deploy FTTH. Consequently, operators can start earning incremental revenues much more quickly. And the return is also better because the initial expenditure is lower than FTTH. The profits help fund longer-term FTTH deployments and – an added bonus compared to my mansion analogy – much of the equipment and infrastructure can be re-used later when an operator is ready to extend fiber from the X to the H.

As an industry insider, I love the technologies that make us dream of amazing speeds and services of the future. And as an industry as a whole, we’re now in a fortunate position where technology is no longer a barrier to ultra-broadband deployments. No matter how remote or how urban a customer, there exists a mix of copper and fiber technologies that can make the business case work.

But I think we also have a great opportunity if we act now. We can use the excitement around gigabit broadband to increase the speed at which we deploy broadband in general. Remember, there’s still a vast proportion of the world’s population (4.4 billion people, according to McKinsey), who don’t have any Internet access at all.

Getting to a gig is the next frontier for the fixed broadband industry. While we travel there, let’s use the journey to bring as many people up to speed as possible.

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