In 2017, more service providers used a wider variety of tools to deliver high-speed broadband to a wider range of subscribers across the world, a trend that will continue to gather momentum in the next 12 months and beyond. During this time, operators also extended their adoption of software-defined networks and SD-access to further enhance agility, improve competitiveness and remain competitive.
While the past year saw a greater number of operators pledge their wholehearted fidelity to fiber -- only fiber -- it also saw many recognize they need multiple tools to address every connectivity opportunity or challenge, said Kurt Raaflaub, head of global marketing at Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN), in an interview. (See Verizon & Altice Agree: Fiber Is King.)
Deutsche Telekom, for example, sees great need for fiber overbuild, but also uses technologies such as vectoring and Gfast with dynamic time slot allocation to expand bandwidth at a lower cost, accelerate implementation and reach more potential subscribers, Raaflaub said.
"You put all these things in your toolbox," he said. "What they're doing is putting all these technologies in a pot, as it were, mixing them around and having lab tests to see how far we can extend fiber access point-of-presence to extend DT's constituents."
Stefaan Vanhastel, head of Global Marketing for Fixed Network at Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), agreed: "Most operators have now embraced the concept there is a toolkit of various technologies -- fiber, various DSL technologies, [DOCSIS] upgrades -- and most operators are selecting the best tool for the job, based on a specific neighborhood or street or even a specific building. What's new this year is that operators are looking to add fixed wireless into the mix."
The last 12 months saw increased curiosity in NG-PON2, almost single-handedly propelled by Verizon's often public testing of its solution and partnerships with both ADTRAN and Calix. Widespread availability of components may be a little far off but if operator demand grows, no doubt component makers' manufacturing plans will change accordingly.
"NG-PON2 is all set to take off, with solid commitment from the world's biggest operators and leading equipment vendors," Dan Grossman, contributing analyst at Heavy Reading , told UBB2020. "But the component supply chain, especially for cost- and performance-critical ONT optics, isn't ready. I've heard estimates ranging from six to 18 months to the point of having general availability, qualified, volume production parts on the open market. My view leans toward longer than shorter. It will be at least another three years before pricing falls into a reasonable range."
Virtualization fest continued
Operators' networks have been getting more complicated: They've been moving toward one network, doing 5G fronthaul, addressing home WiFi complexity by implementing mesh networks and adding on new broadband access tools, said Nokia's Vanhastel. Increasingly, operators use virtualization to manage and hide the complexity, he adds. Access networks may have been one of the last areas service providers tackled with virtualization, but this really took off in 2017, he said.
"Fixed network operators are pretty skeptical. They are interested in very concrete use cases -- show me what it can do, show me how it can save money, show me how it can simplify life," said Vanhastel.
Software-defined access gained traction, both in knowledge and adoption, said Geoff Burke, senior director of corporate marketing at Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX), in an interview.
"Service providers really began to embrace this transformation from physical connectivity to that agility that's now part of software-driven networks and see it not only as a way to be much more competitive, but also drive out costs," he said.
Likewise, operators' implementation of cloud continued to increase over the past 12 months. The powerful role of analytics in driving digital transformation fuels operators' hunger to invest in relevant cloud-based tools for internal and customer use, said Burke.
On the premises side, the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) has placed extraordinary pressure on the residence itself and owning the home connection, Burke said. Service providers are masking the complexity using mesh networks, he said, and they are also moving to one over-riding operating system to manage smart devices and focusing on customer experience to retain ownership of the residential customer and control the burgeoning smart-home market. (See Customers Want Internet of Solutions, Not Things.)
— Alison Diana, Editor, UBB2020. Follow us on Twitter @UBB2020 or @alisoncdiana.