Ultrafast broadband is an emerging broadband telecommunications technology that delivers speeds of 100 Mb or more and is designed to meet the growing demand for broadband content and services, as well as deliver a higher quality of experience (QoE). The technology can use fiber-optics all the way to the home or a hybrid solution of part-fiber services, as well as other technologies including Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS), an international standard that permits the addition of high-bandwidth data transfer to an existing cable TV system, and G.fast, a digital subscriber line (DSL) protocol standard for local loops shorter than 500 meters.
Tony Strutt, Technicolor’s Vice President of Sales, Connected Home, for Northern Europe, spoke with us about the current market for ultrafast broadband in that region, how it is evolving, and how Technicolor is working with service providers to optimize how ultrafast broadband is delivered and used in the home.
Strutt: By definition, if we look at ultrafast broadband — that’s the name given to speeds of greater than 100 Mbps — the main technologies for delivering those speeds are through fiber, DOCSIS, G.fast, long-term evolution (LTE). If we look over a span of 18 months, in Europe, and take G.fast first. That’s being trialed in the United Kingdom, and it can support speeds up to 500 Mbps. That depends, of course, on the length of the copper wire that connects the fiber to the gateway in the customer’s home. And G.fast is seen as a good entry step to all fiber deployment. And we think that in the United Kingdom and other Northern European countries, G.fast is going to play a crucial part in enabling service providers to hit their targets for ultrafast broadband rollout in the next three to five years.
We’re also seeing some interest and movement in DOCSIS across northern Europe. Moving past DOCSIS 3.0 — which is already pretty well-established — many operators are currently investigating the rollout of DOCSIS 3.1 in 2017 onward.
DOCSIS 3.1 is a massive change from DOCSIS 3.0 because 3.1 can offer “fiber-like” line speeds of up to 10 Gbps downstream and 1 Gbps upstream. So, in the past 18 months, we’ve seen significant moves in terms of ultrafast broadband technologies in the region.
Strutt: The majority of operators in the region are playing in a very competitive environment. End users — the consumers — are becoming more savvy when it comes to shopping around for the best deal. And operators are being put in the spotlight more than ever before. End users expect good value for money, fast broadband — everywhere in the home, by the way — and uninterrupted services.
Enabling ultrafast broadband plays an essential role in meeting the expectation of those users, which is good. It’s important for the operators in terms of customer retention and customer growth through new-subscriber additions.
Strutt: Everything’s operating at different speeds in different countries. We will get there [all fiber] eventually, but for the foreseeable future in the majority of the countries, we’re looking at a hybrid environment [for Telcos], so technologies such as G.fast form an important role in bridging that gap.
That said, delivering fast broadband to the gateway in the home is one matter, but that can become irrelevant if that fast broadband cannot be distributed effectively to each and every device and every user in the home. And that’s where good Wi-Fi performance comes into play. There are other, technically good ways to distribute data throughout the home, such as Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) networking and broadband over powerline, but in terms of end-user convenience, Wi-Fi has to lead the way.
To fully utilize the ultrafast broadband delivered to a home, the gateway in the home must feature the best-in-class Wi-Fi design. And that’s typically dual-band, four-by-four and in some cases, we’re even developing 8x8 antenna configurations. And that Wi-Fi has to be thoroughly tested and optimized before launching the product. Some operators take a step further to ensure full home coverage by providing Wi-Fi access points and repeaters, which supply full Wi-Fi around the home to every device and every user.
Strutt: Absolutely. And this is where a really good, experienced CPE vendor comes into play. It’s not good enough just to copy the reference design and to paste that into our [product] design. It’s the placement of the antennas in the device. The design of the gateway device itself and the optimization of those are critical. And we go to extreme lengths through our test facilities to make sure the Wi-Fi design is fully optimized and tested before we actually launch the products.
Strutt: If we look at the latest gateway developments, where we’re integrating various Wi-Fi technologies and various antenna configurations, we’re now looking at an all-home Wi-Fi design that doesn’t just look at the Wi-Fi in the gateway itself. The design also takes into account the Wi-Fi extenders and access points throughout the home, because they all need to operate seamlessly with one another. And that’s where the software comes into play.
Technicolor has developed Wi-Fi Doctor and Wi-Fi Conductor. These are cloud-based services that enable an operator to visualize the Wi-Fi performance that’s occurring in the customer’s home and make suggestions — some involving customer interaction, some self-optimized — to fully optimize that home’s Wi-Fi performance. Wi-Fi Conductor takes it a step further by enabling Wi-Fi roaming from one device to another in a seamless operation in the home.
Strutt: Well, as operators increased the speed of bandwidth to the home, they realize that we’re reaching a point where just having Wi-Fi integrated into the gateway device itself and expecting that to provide full Wi-Fi to the home isn’t enough anymore.
That’s where we’re starting to look at Wi-Fi repeaters and whole-home Wi-Fi. Operators realize that customers are becoming more and more demanding and know how to test for good Wi-Fi. Users get frustrated when they can’t access content in a seamless way in every room. And that’s where operators realize they have to make these additional investments to provide full-home Wi-Fi coverage, to really utilize the full potential of the ultrafast broadband being delivered to the home.