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Sun 18 Oct 2009 04:00 AM

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Gaining an edge

With next generation broadband networks gaining ground around the world, Hilal Halaoui, principal, Booz & Co, tells CommsMEA about some of the technological challenges telecom operators face in their deployment and operation.

Gaining an edge
Hilal Halaoui says governments are increasingly encouraging FTTH.
Gaining an edge

With next generation broadband networks gaining ground around the world, Hilal Halaoui, principal, Booz & Co, tells
CommsMEAabout some of the technological challenges telecom operators face in their deployment and operation.

Has the technology behind Next generation national broadband networks (NGNbns) matured?

It seems that at this point in time on the fixed side, fibre has proven itself to be, at least for the next few years, the technology of choice.

There appears to be some stability on fixed line broadband technology and this is comforting for operators in general and this is why we are starting to see governments push in the direction of fibre more confidently.

However the main challenge that will be faced is on the access side and is related to cost. Most of the cost of deploying a network lies on the access front, reaching every house and every building and every company, in addition to the logistics that are involved with that. That is also what usually takes a lot of time to deploy.

Who usually picks up the bill for the cost of next generation broadband networks?

Many governments are involved in next generation broadband networks from the cost side. They are trying to support the incumbent or the selected national broadband operator with the financial support to be able to deploy the fastest possible network, and to be able to set up the right consortium that will be able to execute the deployment of the network as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Do wireless technologies also have a place in NGnBNs?

Rather than governments trying to push a particular technology, they often push a particular level of service to be offered in different geographies. So they would say that in rural areas you need to have a broadband speed of 1Mbps or 2Mbps and it is up to the operator to decide on what technology to use.

Some operators might consider wireless technology as a component of NGNBNs when they do their cost benefit analysis.  In many situations where you have a lack of density, wireless can be more attractive, particularly for last mile access.

Also, wireless is no longer viewed as a narrowband technology, with UMTS you can easily offer speeds of up to 0.5Mbps or 1Mbps if you have the distributed users and you would offer this with voice as well at very convenient rates.

There is no shortage of available technology. However the best use of these technologies for different demand situations is what will allow operators to make money from them.

What challenges do operators face in terms of the actual operation of the network?

As technologies continue to expand, using the right mix becomes increasingly important for economic attractiveness. Using multiple technologies, however, also increases the complexity of the management systems or Operations Support Systems (OSS), which now have to cope with multiple access technologies (both fixed and wireless) as well as advanced services and applications such as VoD, IPTV, and IP-telephony.

OSS gives rise to certain challenges. This is an area that didn't evolve from a technology perspective in the right way, so rather than evolving as a full architecture and in a holistic way, the evolution happened on different fronts and step-by-step. For example, while there was an improvement on the provisioning systems, some of the legacy solutions used on inventory systems remained.

Today many operators that are migrating to next generation networks have invested to revamp and rebuild their next generation OSS because now they have bigger and more advanced networks, and they all need the right tools to monitor what is happening on the network.

When you start adding content and applications over your fibre network then you are playing a different game, because the quality of service can be completely different.

It eases the complexity, specifically on the operational side of the network. It is like the difference between managing a small street and a highway, because you are now using your network for different purposes. The content and applications, they both require a different quality of service which needs to be addressed.

What challenges do operators face in terms of the physical roll out of the network?

This is the main logistical nightmare that operators tend to face when they are deploying broadband networks. They realise that rather than facing challenges of telecoms technology in general, they face problems with civil works such as the right of way and the need to co-ordinate with other infrastructure providers.

That is why if we look at who has been awarded contracts to build NGNBNs, it is mainly the incumbent operators or the operators that have a large access network. Governments are aware of the fact that if you already have copper or fibre or whatever technology buried in the ground, you will be able to make use that initial scale to proceed further.

Civil work and construction could constitute around 60% of the total capital expenditures needed to deploy a fixed network. As such, the use of existing ducts or networks could significantly improve the business case.

Can operators also leverage existing infrastructure, such as copper, for NGNBNs?

Sure, Telecom Malaysia is one example. The operator was awarded the contract to build an NGNBN, however they are not using a lot of fibre. They are improving their copper distribution so that they shorten the last mile in order to be able to give higher speeds, and they are deploying most of the fibre in the back end to make sure that they don't have a problem with things like aggregation.

 Many operators are using multiple technologies, at least copper and fibre, they are going together hand in hand. If you look at high rise buildings, it probably makes sense to have a connection going directly into the building and then you have distribution fibre to the home because it makes more economic sense. But if you go into less dense areas, the fibre will probably reach to a certain distribution point in the vicinity of homes and then you use the existing copper to reach each home.

Unlike fibre, with copper you tend to lose on the ability to offer higher speeds. As the length of the copper increases, the broadband speed declines, so operators try to aggregate the copper to closer distribution points to homes, allowing them to offer the same high speeds. You can change the design slightly with intermediary points so that the copper to the home is only 1-2km instead of 5km.

How can operators and vendors work together to implement and manage NGNBNs better?

We see a lot of partnerships between different vendors in these areas, so it used to be that operators would work with box movers to get them different systems and solutions and they would operate these systems before operating the network.

Now we are see that operators have partnerships with telecom vendors and IT vendors that have been involved in this area to make sure that their architecture is evolving based on and responding to the network's needs.

Operators are working closer with vendors and have handed over greater responsibility beyond the capex that is deployed in the access, and have tried to put more effort on the central network and manage this in partnership with others.

Wireless versus fixedWireless technologies, especially broadband wireless technologies such as HSPA and the upcoming LTE could be economically attractive in cases where reasonable speeds and low usage requirements are sufficient.

However, the drive for fibre and fixed broadband, in general, continues to be driven by traffic growth expectations and the emergence of high-bandwidth applications and services in the near future, according to Hilal Halaoui.

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