interview


Achieving a fibre-enabled future: realising the potential of FTTH

fibre cable 2
TE Connectivity's Dieter Verdegem

TE Connectivity’s Dieter Verdegem

VENDOR SPOTLIGHT – TE CONNECTIVITY

In recent years, fibre to the premises or home (FTTP or FTTH) has become an increasingly discussed option for addressing the overwhelming growth of data consumption. Traditionally, the copper-based last mile severely restricts download speeds for consumers, and providers are seeking alternative means for optimising the access point between the premises, access point and the core network.

By taking fibre straight to the customer premises, service providers are presented with the opportunity to both reduce longer term operating costs, introduce innovative service offerings (such as multiple high-definition TV viewing platforms per household), and move ahead in increasingly competitive markets.

TE Connectivity, a provider of fibre-based solutions for the broadband service provider community, reckons that another 256 million FTTH customers will be connected by 2019, in addition to the existing 124 million customers worldwide today. Dieter Verdegem, TE’s Director of Product Management, believes that FTTH is the most viable technology moving into the next generation of broadband.

“I’m convinced that FTTH is the most future proof technology, and it’s also the most advisable one,” he says. “I also think there are a lot more products coming into the market which make the business case a lot more viable than it used to be.”

In recent years, several operators have been looking to drain every last drop of value from existing copper infrastructure, but the momentum is changing now in favour of FTTH. “It all comes down to reducing the total cost of ownership of an FTTH deployment for carriers,” says Verdegem. “This means you have to work on a set of parameters which make the business case work. You have to minimise the capex for the carrier while building the network, and minimise the opex and annual maintenance costs after the network has been switched on.”

For all of its potential in delivering almost uncapped broadband speeds, fibre is an extremely delicate material which requires a highly experienced and knowledgeable pair of hands for deployment. This in itself is an obstacle for carriers, and Verdegem believes that simplifying the role of the civil engineering process is at the epicentre of making FTTH a feasible possibility.

“You have to decrease the skills needed to deploy the network, and people often forget that to conduct a mass rollout of FTTH, you need a tremendous amount of skilled fibre technicians. Don’t forget, you need to pull a single fibre to every single home in a given geography. That could easily be millions of homes,” he says. “If you’re looking to do that in a reasonable time frame, say two to four years, there’s a massive amount of work to do and you need a massive amount of highly trained technicians.”

“The fibre is thinner than a hair, so you need to be extremely careful when handling it, and in most countries you don’t have sufficient fibre specialists to do so. Solutions should be focussed on lowering the required skill level for technicians to conduct FTTH rollouts. That’s one of the many aspects we’re focussing on, making fibre roll outs simpler so that a regular electrician can do it.”

“Traditionally, fibres were spliced into a network, and that is a highly specialised job where you strip a fibre cable clean and carefully splice two fibre ends together. The melted connection is thinner than a hair, and you have to protect it to make sure it’s not damaged. That’s so time consuming and expensive, because of how specialised it is.”

While highlighting the travails of engineers attempting FTTH deployment, Verdegem identifies an alternative, an initiative TE is working on at the moment. He refers to it as “hardened pre-terminated connectivity”, which he says avoids the need for splicing altogether.

“Instead of doing the very difficult splicing job, you have pre-connectorised cables, which are fibre cables with the connectors already attached. That’s then hardened to make it durable to suit outdoor environments.  You can just plug them in, almost just like a power socket,” he says. “There are no skill or specialist requirements involved, so any engineer can do it. It’s literally a plug and play solution. In terms of time saving and required skills, this is a dramatic simplification of how you deploy the last end of fibre between the terminal box in the field and the subscriber home.

Alternatively, another scenario could see fibre connections stored near the premises in a reel, much like a garden hose. Verdegem says this could allow for fibre to be rolled out and connected locally on an ad hoc basis.

In multi-level offices or apartment buildings, this could be seen as a feasible means for connecting multiple premises in a straight forward fashion, and with it minimise the need for disruption to the customer’s home.

“From the carrier perspective, they can offer a fibre service boasting superior headline speeds and TV packages, because the fibre infrastructure will enable the delivery of multiple high definition television services, which obviously consume a high amount of data.”

“For that reason, carriers can generate higher revenues if their competitors are unable to match their services. That being said, what we’re seeing is that if one carrier deploys fibre to the home, competitors are following suit very quickly. They realise that they’ll be in a very unfavourable competitive position, which is unacceptable. If the first market player buys into it, the avalanche effect comes into play and multiple other carriers get on board very quickly.”

Speaking of said avalanche effect, Verdegem concludes by rounding up where the global industry is today with rolling out live FTTH deployments.

“Already we’re seeing full FTTH rollouts today. Good examples are FTTH deployment by the incumbent operator in Spain which was followed by several competitors. Also in France there’s millions of homes connected. “But let’s not forget outside of Europe, where’s there’s arguably been more progress. There’s Verizon in the US that has a rollout of millions already, as well as several countries in Asia, like Japan and South Korea, where most of the country is FTTH enabled.”

When considering the civil engineering logistics, engineer training and expertise necessities, competitive pressures and the capabilities of existing infrastructure investments, there appear to be a few hurdles to clear before the widespread adoption and pervasion of FTTH is possible.

However, initiatives being taken by some of the world’s biggest carriers are starting to drive the aforementioned snowball effect. As consumer demand continues to escalate, the industry is moving towards a growth period for FTTH, which has the potential to see a rapid uptake in ultra-fast, nigh-on limitless broadband access speeds.


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