Archive for the 'Next Generation Network' Category

Where will the Internet go next?

I once read a book called Futurize your Enterprise back at the turn of the decade. At the time, it was seen as very ‘far out’ in it’s thinking, as it demonstrated the way the Internet may be used in future times. For example it displayed a future where everyone had their own domain and their own website. This site would not only display personal contact details for the user, but would also display their vital statistics, medical history, possessions and geneological history. The thinking behind this was that everyone was connected, and if for example, I had an accident when holidaying in Alaska, a local GP would be able to bring up my medical history at the touch of a button. Bearing in mind this was published just after the dot-com crisis, this seemed fanciful. However fast forward a number of years to a time where we are a lot more aware and protective of our privacy and you can see the issues that this concept had. Saying that, one of the other main concepts from the book was the fact that machines would use the internet more than humans, to commmunicate with each other. An example being that a fridge would order milk from the local supermarket when it sensed you were running out.

With the advent of mobile broadband and in particular LTE, this is not very far off. Machine to Machine (or M2M to add yet another acronym into the mix) communication is a technology that many see as the next logical step in the evolution of the Internet. And personally, I feel it offers many exciting prospects for entrepreneurs and integrators alike for the future. Carl-Henric Svanberg, the ex Ericsson Chief made the prediction that within the next 5-10 years, there could be as many as 50 billion sim cards embedded into ‘intelligent devices’. And where he says ‘intelligent devices’, he means items as mundane as doors and fridges. Others such as Juniper research predict that by 2014, there will be almost 412million M2M mobile subscriptions. Of course there are already a number of applications that connect to the internet. Fridges come with Ethernet ports allowing you to browse the Internet when choosing what flavour juice to have in the morning. However the main distinctive factor will be in the take-up of a universal language for machines to adopt when communicating with each other.

The fascination of this is the business model behind it, and the challenges it presents to network operators. Firstly for service providers, it offers a compelling way to cover the decreasing revnue from voice services, as these are increasinlgy delivered by IP. Secondly it means that service providers need not concentrate on selling services and bundles to ‘humans’ in a bid to increase ARPU. Whereas for many, there has come a natural saturation point as to the affiliated services you can bundle with connectivity, as to appeal to a mass market, you can only charge so much for a bundled package. Personally I don’t think M2M will change this markedly. Instead it will focus on areas within businesses that can be enhanced with remote support, as the potential number of devices that can be woven together is endless. This fits in nicely as companies look to cut costs by deploying a remote working environment as opposed to having physical branches.

Secondly the affect on network operators will be huge. One only needs to look at the issues O2 faced with the mass take-up of the IPhone. Personally although LTE will help the end user, it will not help the operators, as they will be tasked with delivering more bandwidth (and more expectation) to their subscriber base. One possible method to help this could be in mast sharing. Vodafone and O2 have done this in the past. Tom Alexander, CEO of Orange mentioned this was also a driver for the UK merger between Orange and T-Mobile. However a more compelling method would be the use of fixed line DSL, Ethernet and Fibre to backhaul mobile bandwidth as opposed to the legacy routes taken currently. In this respect, O2 owning thier own network (through BE) puts them in the enviable position of potentially being closest to delivering this ideal.

The future of the internet is a subject many more learned people than myself have spent time debating. A common theme is that we will move away from having a standard interface to the internet (being the browser) and instead will be able to interact through many different appliances. Also there will be a marked rise in traffic between machines. As always though, the main challenges to overcome will be how to facilitate this. Hopefully the launch of the Cisco’s CSR-3 will help to rectify that in the future.

To Infinity and beyond?

Fibre to the Cabinet

Well the trials have finished and amid all the fanfare, BT have officially launched their brand new FTTC service, providing up to 40Mbps down and up to 10Mbps up. Named BT Infinity (surely ironic) this promises to be quite a compelling offering for both domestic and business users hoping to adopt applications that require a large amount of bandwidth to be transferred across the last mile.

Now I’ll be honest in saying that I’m not the biggest fan of BT. However they deserve praise in being fairly quick to market with this. BT retail pricing seems competitive against the main competiton (being Virgin Media’s 50Mb service) whilst although geographic penetration is very limited, there are already over 100 enabled for the service, with quite a few exchanges planned for roll out. However saying that, there are still a few things that deeply concern me about the service.

Firstly it’s key to remember that essentially Infinity is a VDSL based service, meaning that BT will rely on their copper infrastructure from their local cabinets. This means that end user sync rates are still determined by the same factors that determine DSL. However even more important to note are their roll out plans for cabinets attached to exchanges, as even thought BT say they’re to enable a certain exchange for FTTC, it does not mean that they will enable all cabinets associated to that exchange. There are already stories of certain exchanges enabled where only half of the cabinets will be able to provide the service. Not good

Secondly it will be interesting to see how the underlying bandwidth is managed. It’s a well known fact that 21CN has been having some well documented congestion issues, and there is little doubt that Infinity will not help if BT can’t sort out the current issues that the’re already having. Infinity can only have a larger drain than the current access methods used. BT have gone some way to negate this being an issue, by deploying the same usage policies applied with thier ADSL2+ sericves. For the consumer, this has the added threat of reaching your limit faster than previously, due to having the ability to download a lot more.

Thirdly as expected, this will have very little impact on those in the not-spot areas around the country, as BT only plan to enable current market 3 exchanges. Therefore it won’t make major inroads into the USC set within the Digital Britain report. Further woe for those in rural areas.

However from my perspective, the main thing to take away from this is the fact that we are starting the process in moving away from copper in the last mile to fibre. This move will be painful for most, as we discuss the most viable ways to deploy it whilst making the end user propositions cost effective. However as it is used more and more within certain political party manifesto’s, it is sure to become a bigger plane for debate within various wide ranging communities. Hopefully this will mean more wide ranging action.

BE launch 40Mb bonded DSL

With the New Year fast becoming a distant memory, there have already been some interesting developments in the broadband landscape. From my position, BE launching bonded DSL from the exchange is one of the more interesting propositions, as it further pushes the limits of copper above and beyond it’s current uses.  Current headline speeds will be up to 40Mb down and up to 5Mb up. However although similar in delivery to EFM, this will be available immediately across BE’s network of c.1250 exchanges. Currently this is in final trials, meaning commercial details and compatible CPE are still to be set in stone. However it is planned that these trials will last for up to 2 months, before they start to roll this out through all channels, including wholesale.

Of course this has many appliances, and sits neatly in the sphere between legacy SDSL connectivity and fibre leased lines. Currently many of our wholesale partners are multi-linking DSL tails and this can be seen as a direct replacment for this. Bonded DSL will also negate the need to force sessions onto a single LNS, enabling partners to efficiently operate a resilient multi-LNS environment. Combined with Seamless Rate Adaptation, Bonded DSL can now be seen to offer a true alternative to an ISDN30.

The main downside to this is that it will not be available in rural areas, thus not offering any help to users in traditional ‘not spots’ and not wholly aiding the ability to obtain the USC/O of 2Mbps stipulated by Digital Britain. Saying that, one possible application could be in instances where an end user is far away from their local exchange. Whereby with one DSL, they may only obtain a sync rate of 2Mb, they now have the possibility to double this in favourable conditions. It will be interesting to see how other carriers react to this news.

A look back on 2009

This is an article that I have written for print publication. Any feedback would be appreciated.

2009 has been a strange year for carriers providing last mile DSL access. Back in January in the midst of the recession there were worrying times being forecast for carriers as they struggled to get to grips with the financial downturn. With networks struggling to plug widening deficits, previously planned network expansion was put to one side, as capital was shunted to other areas seen as more important to stopping the rot.

At the turn of the year, there were 4 main wholesale DSL carriers: BT Wholesale, Cable and Wireless, the Carphone Warehouse Group and Tiscali. Due to the recession, BT Wholesale were stalling with the roll out of 21CN, Cable and Wireless were just re-entering the channel after a strategic exit only a few years back, Tiscali were involved in a very public tug-of-war between Sky, Vodafone and the Carphone Warehouse Group whilst the latter themselves had only just entered the wholesale market via their wholly owned subsidiary Opal Telecom. As the year progressed and we started to move towards a brighter financial climate, the industry took a marked turn for the better. Many people debate about the exact period when we started to look more optimistically at the future. However I believe that when Brown put the ball in the court of the Telco’s by stating that the infrastructure behind Digital Britain would spur growth in the economy, there was a paradigm shift, as the masses adopted what we had already realised; that telecommunications was a fundamental component to the kick-start of the British economy.

Throughout the course of the year, the broadband landscape has changed considerably. The main difference being the acquisition of Tiscali into the Carphone Warehouse group and their subsequent ambitious plans for 2010. Whether they will demonstrate the traditional pains of large scale acquisition traditionally felt by other large carriers such as Tiscali and C&W is yet to be seen. BT Wholesale has also started to gain traction with 21CN and in particular their WMBC offering. Cable and Wireless can also pat themselves on the back as having a fairly successful year, as they managed to win the Tesco contract, whilst deploying their much heralded MSP platform. However one of the big changes to the market has been the introduction of BE into the wholesale arena.

BE have always had a very compelling consumer offering; being the first to market with Annex M ADSL2+, whilst having one of the largest coverage areas of the tier 1 DSL networks. With a topology designed to underpin high bandwidth usage, they were setup from the onset to provide ADSL2+ to their subscribers. BE have entered in a very timely fashion. One of the key topics of the year has been the increased financial burden of bandwidth costs on service providers due to applications such as iPlayer and Pirate Bay. This has led to in depth debates including key industry and government personnel about how best to manage the use of bandwidth intensive applications. Solutions such as bandwidth caps, application charges and even application restrictions were mooted. Due to their mesh dark fibre-based VPLS core, BE can legitimately claim to provide solutions future-scaled to support the continued rise in bandwidth by end users. Also with a commercial model that alleviates central based usage charges, they’ve provided a low cost-of-entry into the ADSL2+ market for channel partners.

As we move into 2010, the wholesale broadband market is much changed from that of 12months prior. Both Carphone Warehouse and 21CN have ambitious growth targets planned for 2010. The latter introducing wholesale Ethernet-in-the-first-mile and fibre-to-the-cabinet trials. Many people have stated that the window of opportunity for new wholesale partners is fast closing due to this. However in my position, the consolidation in the industry has reached a natural plateau, with all the main DSL carriers now proving to be more mature in systems interface, product portfolio and commercial model used. Even BE as the new player can be seen to have an edge in some aspects of their proposition. By using ISAMs (Intelligent Service Access Managers) at the exchange with the capability of terminating Ethernet and seamlessly training the DSL to work at its optimum performance (known as seamless rate adaption) they have made the step to solidify their position as a force in the market both now and for the future. By also providing unparalleled visibility and control of their ISAMs to all service providers, they have allowed tecchies to fault find, diagnose and alleviate traditional 3rd line issues, which in turn has led to a vast reduction in the number of support tickets raised with them.

Even though this has been in the market for roughly 6months, already the features are proving compelling, even as compliment to a 21CN novation plan. With products such as bonded DSL and symmetrical DSL soon to be available from the port, they’ve positioned themselves as a prominent player in the next generation access sphere. Add into the mix backhaul capacity capable of supporting their lofty ambitions and the capital of their more illustrious parents, it’s no wonder BE are proving to be more than just an interesting alternative in the wholesale broadband market.

Leased line services on copper?

Over at FD Wholesale, we’ve been doing some trials in our R&D department bonding Annex M tails together and we’ve been able to get throughput normally associated with leased lines. We’re roughly 1.5Km from our local exchange, and when bonding 2 lines, the total sync rate was 26.7Mbps down and 4Mbps up. When we bonded 4 lines, we obtained 56Mbps down and 8Mbps up.

The applications for this are wide ranging. Consider having a client who lives 5Km+ from their local exchange. 1 DSL would offer them little throughput to sustain a number of users. Aggregate 2 or 3 together and suddenly they can start to look at IP applications that may improve business processes such as SIP or Video conferencing. Another example may be where a client can’t gain wayleave agreement to obtain a fibre run. In this instance, they can have a bonded Annex M service offeirng up to 80Mbps down and 10Mbps up. Obviously these are headline speeds and are dependant on quality of copper and line length, but in all but the worst circumstances, a bonded Annex M service can start to become a compelling alternative to EFM or FTTC. Using the BE network, this is also available immediately, nationwide. No waiting for 2012 to have a coverage of c.300 exchanges.

Currently this is something that all our channel partners are utilising, as it gives them a cost effective alternative to a leased line. Based on the Cisco proprietory protocol, traditionally the stumbling point has been the high initial price point associated with the routers. However, we’ve been conducting some trials with a manufacturer called Virtual Access using their GW7000 boxes, and they’ve been very successful in terms of throughput and stability. However, even more compelling is the fact that they lower the initial price point of the solution to sub £500.

Personally I feel that bonding Annex M tails, at the core is a lot more resilinet solution than trying to aggregate them at the client end, using an external aggregator, as it means that there is little overhead, lower packet loss and less latency. In my opinion, the main thing to take away from this is that even though fibre will still have it’s uses, the applications for DSL are ever increasing. Whereby traditionally a leased line was the only method available to provide large amounts of throughput, the landscape is ever changing to incorporate DSL.

How businesses evolve

It’s useful to understand how over the recent years, big businesses have reinvented themselves. I was reading an article recently on the departing Ericsson CEO Carl-Henric Svanberg, which gave an insightful account of the issues facing Ericsson after the dot-com bubble had burst. His model solely focused around consolidation, whilst others in their market either spread themselves extremely thin in looking for new markets to expand into (see Marconi) or acquired rivals to try and quickly expand (see Alcatel-Lucent). What Carl-Henric Svanberg did with Ericsson was to really consolidate, concentrate on their core business of building networks and inevitably cut costs. This worked, and he now leaves Ericsson today in the healthy position of having 40% of all mobile calls made on their network. I think a lot of companies get excited by the profits and market share available to them when they look outside of their domain. 2 large enterprises who are having mixed results are Google and Cisco. Although Google is still king of search, it’s increasingly more lucrative and more prestigious projects such as Google Books are starting to sap resources from it’s search empire. This has had the effect on competitors like Bing taking more market share.

It was also interesting to see how emerging technologies helped to spur growth in the ailing company. Although a large proportion of their spending is still attributed to legacy networks, opportunities increasingly present themselves to expand into so-called next generation networks. 3G networks are fast becoming their bread and butter, with customers such as Three (3) and T-Mobile in the UK having Ericsson infrastructure to power their data networks. Moving forward, with the advance of M2M, Carl-Henric Svanberg thinks that there is the potential for roughly   sim cards to be embedded into devices as seemingly mundane as fridges, microwaves and washing machines. This is where he envisages Ericsson’s next market shift. There’s no doubting the strength of the mobile data market. Whether it hits a natural saturation period or whether advance such as LTE will help it break through it’s glass ceiling are anyone’s guess. However one thing is certain. Due to the requirement for people to be connected on the move, this is definitely a market that will be key for a long time.

The grubby world of exhibitions

It seems like we have entered the grubby season of the exhibition. I say grubby as some of the exhibitions I’ve been to previously have consisted of nothing more than a myriad of stands of vendors who don’t understand what you do, trying to sell you something that you inevitably don’t really need.

With the recent ‘Margin in Voice and Data expo’, there seemed to be a distinct change in direction towards a more focused show. I personally saw it as a good time for event organisers to re-evaluate their expos. However with the economy showing signs of picking up, there has been a return to the scene of the big all encompassing show stopping exhibition. Last week I went to the IP expo. Usually filled with big stands with big companies with even bigger egos. However this year was different. I only went for a morning on the first day, but what I found was an exhibition with a clear theme; Virtualisation. Previously where there were 4 expos centered around different aspects of cloud computing. This had now been amalgamated into one big show. Personally it was interesting to have a chat with different network operators, followed by walking across the room to discuss compatibility issues with specific vendors and system application developers. I found this a lot more worthwhile and was able to get a good level of understanding as to how different vendors/suppliers plan to incorporate a cloud based service into their product portfolios.

I then recently went to the ‘Convergence Summit South‘ run by Miles Publishing. This is specific to the channel within the telecomms industry and by their own admission has been their most successful summit for a while. As exhibitions go, it was exactly as expected. However the shining light of the expo was the seminars. Personally there was a great debate early on between Tim Hubbard of BT Wholesale, Neil McArthur of Talk Talk and Steve Gallagher of Cable and Wireless about what constitutes a ‘Next Generation Network’, and how their respective organisations are striving to compete. In my view, the term NGN is extremely mis-leading and one used purely for marketing spin. To see these industry heavyweights vying with each other about their own USP’s, whilst surveying the potential future landscape of the telecomms market was exciting, as little more than 5 years ago, BT would not have had to defend against such strong competition. The expo also saw an interesting feature, whereby hosted VOIP providers were given 20 minutes to setup from scratch their hosted platform in front of a packed audience. The one that I saw was successful and proved the ease of use and speed of the platform.

In all, expo’s can provide a valuable insight into your chosen market. Going back to the convergence summit, it was interesting to see how many big mobile carriers were present, as they tried to embrace the shift to FMC by traditional voice and data integrators. It’s a shame that the example set by the ‘Margin in Voice and Data’ expo earlier in the year was not followed, and I’m sure that as we emerge from the recession, various exhibitions will only continue to get bigger and probably more brash.


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