Multivendor Networks Key to Optimizing the Fiber-broadband Business Case
The potential to use equipment from multiple suppliers for fiber-to-the-x (FTTx) networks will help drive innovation, speed up deployments and reduce costs for both operators and vendors, according to research conducted by Informa Telecoms & Media.
Informa Telecoms & Media surveyed 237 broadband industry stakeholders and conducted one-to-one interviews with 10 senior executives working for four broadband operators and four equipment vendors for the study, which was commissioned by the Broadband Forum.
Over half of all survey respondents (54%) rated equipment interoperability as one of the top three challenges facing superfast broadband deployments. One in four operators (25%) rated equipment interoperability as the number one challenge.
"The industry should innovate in order to capitalize on, rather than resist, the transition to multivendor networks," says Rob Gallagher, Head of Broadband & TV Research for Informa Telecoms & Media and the project lead. "Operators need to collaborate more to create scale for their requirements, while vendors should restructure their offerings to offset potential lost sales with revenues from new opportunities related to interoperability."
Interoperability of gigabit passive optical network (G-PON) technologies will be particularly important. According to Informa, fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) services overtook xDSL to become the fastest-growing segment of the fixed-broadband market last year, and will continue to grow rapidly, accounting for 328 million subscriptions, 34% of total fixed-broadband subscriptions, by the end of 2018.
In 2016, G-PON will become the dominant FTTP architecture, and will reach over 200 million subscriptions two years later to account for three out of five FTTP subscriptions worldwide.
But a lack of clarity over equipment interoperability means most G-PON lines in service rely on the same vendor for both the network equipment, known as the optical line terminal (OLT), and the customer premises equipment, known as the optical network unit (ONU).
This limitation has inhibited operators' ability to introduce new services and devices and drive down equipment costs by working with multiple vendors. The lack of clarity also means operators are spending significant time evaluating and testing new products and software.
Ultimately, success will depend on the industry's ability to convince a critical mass of operators and vendors that they have more to gain than lose. One operator's plans will have a huge bearing on how the situation plays out: China Telecom.
The operator's aggressive rollout has already delivered the bulk of new subscribers which made China the world's largest FTTP market earlier this year; it is also some way down the road to a multivendor G-PON deployment. By the end of 2018, Informa forecasts that the operator will be responsible for more than half of the 131 million G-PON subscribers in China, equal to two out of three of the global total.
"It is significant that the independent research of Informa Telecoms & Media has confirmed the rationale behind the Broadband Forum's ONU Certification Program (BBF.247). A clear appreciation of the requirements and motivations of the operators and vendors is key to advancing the broadband industry", says Robin Mersh, CEO of the Broadband Forum.
Informa's research suggests that operators and vendors are confident that they can derive mutual gains from G-PON interoperability and Broadband Forum certification schemes. The certification of products as interoperable could help, or has helped, reduce ONU selection and testing processes by about 40% on average, said service providers and vendors.
"Skeptics may say they've heard it all before, but more pieces seem to be in place to make multivendor G-PON deployments happen this time around," says Informa's Gallagher. "A number of major service providers are moving towards multivendor networks, while challenger vendors see interoperability as a way to get a foot in the door. Even dominant vendors see interoperability as a means to drive sales and speed up deployments."