When it comes to broadband connectivity, network service providers (NSPs) — including cable providers, telcos and multi-service operators (MSOs) — have never had more options for ensuring high-speed access is delivered to connected home subscribers. A tremendous amount of progress has been made on the cable front with DOCSIS 3.1, as major breakthroughs are announced on a nearly daily basis on the gigabit passive optical network (GPON) and 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) front.
While most people love choices, the variety of alternatives for operators has introduced a new level of complexity that will have to be managed from a strategic, operational and technological perspective. This is especially true for the growing number of NSPs that are mixing and matching multiple ultra-broadband technologies to meet the needs of subscribers who find themselves in different geographic and topographic environments. It creates an interesting dilemma — how and when NSP leaders should choose the best broadband technologies.
To explore the options and conditions that drive these decisions, we sat down with Mercedes Pastor, Senior Vice President of Global Customer Unit at VANTIVA, as the team prepared for the VANTIVA brand that will replace the Technicolor corporate name at the end of September.
Here is what she had to say:
Q: How do you see the 10G dilemma manifesting for subscribers who demand high-quality broadband access?
Mercedes Pastor: Currently, the general Eurasian market has extensive 1G coverage, and 2.5G connectivity is beginning to get traction. The eventual goal of 10G will require multiple technologies and multiple offerings to co-exist together to cover residential, enterprise, and wholesale markets.
In this sense, the 10G dilemma is already a reality for most NSPs in the market. In recent years — especially through the pandemic — the industry has demonstrated a high level of creativity in selecting a broad array of high-speed access technologies to meet the expectations of a digitally dependent society.
It was not that long ago that broadband access services offered to subscribers were driven by the category of service provider from which services were delivered. Cable operators offered coaxial-based services that have evolved under the DOCSIS standards. Telcos offered digital subscriber line (XDSL) or fiber-to-the-home, depending on the infrastructure that was available. Dish-based operators offered satellite connectivity.
Today, the lines of distinction that determine what broadband access technologies are offered by different segments of the provider community are blurring. Cable operators are exploring the potential of GPON, the standards community in RDK-B is extending the functionality of their standard beyond cable operators. And everybody is in a position to leverage 5G FWA to fill in gaps that cannot be addressed effectively by conventional terrestrial networks. It is forcing NSPs to develop a broader set of skillsets.
There are a couple of reasons for this.
The first is consumer behavior. The pandemic lockdowns resulted in a huge shift to work from home. This has had a tremendous impact on how NSPs strategize and manage their business objectives. In 2020 we saw broadband consumption in the home shoot up by 60% per person from the pre-pandemic period. More recent reports suggest consumer consumption has in 2022 reached 71% per person from the pre-pandemic. This confirms we are living in the new normal and that NSPs will need to continue delivering highly reliable high-speed connectivity to the home.
The second factor revolves around cost. Now that all major broadband technologies (cable, fiber and 5G FWA) are on the table for all classes of service providers, each NSP will have to engage in a careful analysis of what technologies fit best — from a cost and performance perspective — in complex and dynamic market conditions. This is changing how investments are planned and implemented to upgrade NSP networks that need to handle future 10G (or at least high-speed) requirements.
Q: How would you prioritize the order in which 10G connectivity will be delivered to connected homes across Eurasia?
Pastor: There is no single answer that will be right for all operators. Market demographics, population densities and terrain will help to dictate many decisions. That said, I think many operators will eventually pursue a hybrid path to 10G.
This is because multiple access technologies can provide consumers with ultra-broadband speeds. Cable operators, for instance, will deploy DOCSIS 4.0, while telcos continue to make advances with GPON technologies.
It is interesting to see how both cable and telco NSPs are beginning to embrace 5G FWA to complement their existing networks and rapidly expand into new markets. But 5G FWA is also opening the door for new disruptive players to enter the broadband connected home market — even if they lack an extensive fiber or cable infrastructure.
There is also interesting work being done to integrate terrestrial broadband access with 5G FWA to provide enhanced, super-fast experiences to consumers. This combination of technologies will truly accelerate and maximize the addressable market for bandwidth-intensive applications — such as healthcare, gaming, augmented reality and immersive education.
The US is ahead in 5G adoption rates because it has extensive deployments from Verizon and T-Mobile. European operators are still in the very early stages of deploying 5G fixed wireless access, so it will most likely not be the leading technology to deliver connectivity to connected homes in the immediate future. We do, however, expect 5G to be complimentary to fiber deployments in rural low-density areas throughout Eurasia.
DOCSIS 4.0 is the natural evolution for cable operators interested in supporting 10G speeds. Cable Labs released this technology in March of 2020, but it will still require a few more months for preliminary trials to be released to make it ready for commercial distribution. The critical question is whether cable operators will continue this natural evolution on DOCSIS 4.0 or if they will use it as a complement to investments in fiber technologies.
While it is not realistic to think that all networks will evolve to fiber technologies right away, there will be more ecosystems that have more complex architectures to support different elements in the network. Getting the architecture right will be a key requirement for bringing a unified experience to the consumer.
Whether or not to deploy fiber isn’t really an option in the EuroAsian market anymore. The majority of copper networks are rapidly evolving toward fiber. We have seen rapid growth in the deployment of fiber to cover the last mile of connectivity.
Q: What is happening to wireless connectivity at the local area network within residences?
Pastor: This is an extremely important point because as the speed between the network and the CPE increases, there is also a need to improve the way services are delivered inside the home. Wi-Fi 6 is now the defacto standard for wireless connectivity within the home. However, Wi-Fi 7 is on the horizon and we expect that technology to be relevant in late 2023 and 2024.
This is a very important set of developments because it is not enough to simply bring high-speed access to the home. NSPs are under increasing pressure to ensure and manage seamless connectivity within the home. This will be even more important as we approach 10G connectivity objectives.
10G-based applications will not only require higher data throughput but also lower latency. This means that high performance will need to be in place across the connected home LAN and NSP WAN environment. NSPs are in the best position to deliver the capacity, efficiency and security for consumers connecting to the internet environment at 10G speeds.
It will be a big step forward in supporting new services that require high-end bandwidth — like cloud computing — and it will be capable of supporting new video quality services while providing connectivity to the ever-growing and complex device environments.