Broadband Forum kicked off the new year with six new areas of focus, debuting the first of many new programs on Wednesday with "Broadband Quality Experience Delivered," which is designed to go beyond speed to measure providers' infrastructures' value and attributes such as latency and reliability.
Forum members Vodafone and Predictable Network Solutions (PNSol) lead this initiative, which uses quality attenuation to create a so-called "invisible" network to improve the quality of experience broadband networks generate. In a world of gigabit broadband, speed increasingly is less of a differentiator, said Geoff Burke, Broadband Forum's marketing director, in an interview with Broadband World News. Yet providers and customers want and need other ways to determine how and why their broadband options differ, he said.
"It moves broadband from a measure of speed into some very specific standards and documentation and frameworks around latency and all the other aspects of measuring and delivering a high-quality broadband experience," Burke told BBWN.
Last year, Vodafone trialed Quality Attenuation on an array of fixed access technologies within its infrastructure, using it to identify performance characteristics that remained hidden when the service provider used traditional packet layer performance techniques and tools, said Gavin Young, head of Fixed Access Centre of Excellence at Vodafone in a video interview.
"There are other issues you need to focus on... and that's where [PNSol's] work came into this," he said. "Historically, we have looked at data rate and ping time but now, as new applications place more strain on networks, we need to make the network invisible, so users don’t even know it is there; we want to get to a place where everything just works. That means we need to improve other aspects of quality such as latency, consistency, predictability and reliability, ultimately moving from a fast network to an invisible network."
The partners' work will result in a document that provides an overview of Broadband QED and its value to broadband networks and providers. Topics will include theory, measurement techniques, use cases and benefits, according to the Forum. In the next phase, participants will consider specific applicability of Broadband QED to the Forum's focus on quality of experience.
This includes standards in Application Layer Testing (ALT), which ultimately would equip operators to create a more consistent end-user quality of experience, Burke said.
Building on operators' infrastructures
In addition, Broadband Forum will focus on Access Next, or expanding traditional access technologies to ensure they work together, he said. This will address copper- and fiber-based solutions including next-generation PON (XGS-PON and NG-PON2, for example), VSPN-focused solutions (like Gfast amendments such as G.HN and prior iterations of Gfast), 5G and R-hybrid access, said Burke.
"I can't think of any large operator that doesn't want a multi-access strategy," Broadband Forum CEO Robin Mersh told BBWN. "But I think operators really want choice. There are various, different ways they can get to gigabit connections. For smaller operators, I think there is more of an education [needed], showing them there is more than one way to get to one-gig connectivity. How do you reuse what you've got? What is the path to follow? It's not at all a question about fiber to the home: Yes, it's gigabit and yes, it's fiber. But how do you do this in a cost-effective way?"
Multi-dwelling units, for example, can leverage fiber to the curb or premise but bringing fiber to every single apartment, coop or condo is an expensive, time-consuming and unlikely proposition for many residents around the world and the service providers looking to bring connectivity to the more than 50% of people who dwell in MDUs, added Burke. That's where other technologies -- perhaps Gfast, 5G, fixed-wireless access (FWA) or an alternative -- come into play, both executives agreed. Broadband Forum will build on its initial collection of use cases to help operators choose the best-suited tech approaches for each given situation, Mersh said.
For its third major initiative, the industry organization will address 5G: The Forum soon plans to share recommendations with mobile broadband standards group 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) about wireline and wireless converged networks and related topics, said Burke.
"This comes down to specifications around what 5G access gateways need to look and feel like, how the fundamentals of 5G can be applied and implemented," he said. [It's about] making sure the 5G network is transport ready for deployment, right? We have a number of projects that are developing and building around that front, which are also complementary. That is the focus on cloud."
Open to cloud...
The Broadband Forum continues its work on cloud, software-defined networks (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), cloud central office, Yang and related technologies, noted Burke. This segues nicely into another subject: Smart or connected homes, which many members on both the provider and vendor side, are involved in or investigating as the successor to TR-069. The user services platform (USP) will gain momentum this year, allowing operators and their end-customers to use a "multitude of connected devices" by leveraging WiFi and WiFi mesh networks and the platforms' ability to speak an array of IoT languages, said Burke.
Open broadband initiatives that embrace agility and open standards, along with open broadband access abstraction and open broadband multi-access points, remain an ongoing initiative, emphasizing the importance of non-proprietary, standardization to the overall industry, he continued.
Underscoring the global nature of broadband, the Forum will open new broadband labs around the world as a "catalyst for service providers around the world," said Burke. One already is established in Beijing, with another in Germany slated for formal announcement "imminently," he added. (See EANTC Joins Broadband Forum's Approved Lab List for CloudCO Tests.)
"The footprint is a bit different with this," said Mersh. "The one in Beijing has been doing a lot of testing against Cloud CO... with a number of operators.
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