Rethinking Broadband with intelligent access

Telecom Asia Special Project Team
06 Feb 2018

Consumers have fully embraced internet-driven and always-connected lifestyles, thanks to the ubiquity of broadband. However, their demands keep rising and they’re unafraid of switching operators to get what they want. To keep customers happy and competitors at bay, operators need to combine intelligence with mobile and fixed technologies using a holistic approach. Nokia calls this intelligent access.

Take for example, broadband speeds. One hundred Mbps is becoming an industry standard for broadband services in first-world cities. In turn, it raises consumer expectations that the same speeds should be available everywhere.

Delivering high speeds consistently across a vast geography is complicated and costly for broadband operators. They need to install fiber deeper in their networks at a time when they are battling falling voice revenues. Also, they have to deploy multiple last-mile technologies to connect more customers or risk being held responsible for poor performance. These initiatives then increase the number of active nodes that operators need to manage and, hence, the overall complexity of the network.

Nokia intelligent access takes a holistic approach to addressing these challenges and broaden future opportunities. “Look ahead to 2020, and the fixed access network is going to look very different from today. Networks will combine multiple technologies – fiber, DSL, cable, and wireless – to connect everyone and everything. They’ll converge fixed and mobile. They will go from best-effort megabits per second to delay-critical gigabits. Nokia intelligent access takes operators into that future,” David Eckard, CTO Fixed Networks, Nokia said.

Sizing Up the Challenges

Nokia intelligent access aims to address major challenges that broadband operators face. Nokia’s white paper Dealing with the four main challenges of fixed broadband marketing (English | Japanese | Korean) highlights four key ones.

First, Nokia believes that fixed operators need to understand the real impact of mobile broadband. For years, many predicted that the rise of mobile broadband would lead to the demise of fixed broadband. Given the amount of news coverage mobile gets and the emphasis on smartphone usage in emerging economies, it is easy to think this is true.

But the reality is more complicated. Simply put, mobile is not replacing fixed broadband – at least not anytime soon. Nokia studies show that not even 10% internet traffic is currently or will be from mobile networks, even in emerging countries where mobile technologies are dominant.

More apps, like Netflix, and bandwidth-hogging devices are coming online and driving demand for faster in-home broadband. This puts the focus on Wi-Fi offload, which makes fixed, rather than mobile, play the more significant role.

Also, while high speeds such as gigabit services can attract new customers and retain existing ones, consumer behaviors are changing drastically.

According to the same white paper, operators must consider the evolution of devices and applications that are bandwidth hungry. Smart TVs, virtual and augmented reality devices, will, of course, ramp up demand for more bits and bytes. But it is not just download speed that matters here; rather it is the overall customer experience. To achieve a seamless experience, operators need high-speed, low-latency connections in both directions (downstream and upstream).

Another challenge is that operators need to address is multiplay. In the past, fixed service providers locked in their customers through triple-play (fixed voice, data, and video). Today, it is quad-play, with the addition of data. Some operators are already supporting quint-play with smart home services such as in-home security.

Whatever your play, multiplay works. Take, for example, "Tuttimus" from Belgian service provider Proximus, which uses a multiplay approach that focuses on fixed-mobile convergence that goes beyond bundling voice, data and video together. Financial results prove that the approach is working. According to Nokia’s white paper, Tuttimus helped to scale down customer churn to less than 3% and raise overall average revenue per user (ARPU).

Lastly, like Proximus, every operator is looking to up their ARPU game. To tackle falling ARPU figures for fixed service revenues (often due to reducing voice revenues), most operators are following the multiplay path. This can include converging fixed and mobile, pushing affordable standard packages, then upselling and uptiering, exploring new business models in the Over The Top (OTT) space of a virtual and augmented world, smart applications and so forth.

Forget Mobile ‘or’ Fixed; It’s time for ‘And’

It was only a few years ago when many people predicted that mobile services would supplant fixed networks. But as we’ve seen, the opposite is true. Mobile operators realize that meeting rising mobile demand is no longer possible using mobile networks alone. In fact, the increase in street cabinets and nodes as fixed operators deploy fiber deeper in their networks exactly matches the cell densification strategy now being pursued by mobile operators.

In the white paper Two worlds collide (English | Japanese | Korean), Nokia noted that Long Term Evolution, LTE Advanced (pro) (4.x) and 5G standards introduce new architectures and interfaces with a new set of requirements. These are challenging current transport networks to deliver more capacity with lower latency. Also, operators realize that RAN (radio access network) modernization requires innovative fiber transport solutions to keep costs under control.

"The strategy of deploying fiber to the most economical point in the network is still valid, but the combination of fixed fiber, wireless, and other access technologies is now even more crucial to the operator's business case," said Federico Guillén, President of Nokia’s Fixed Networks Business Group, at his keynote conference session at Broadband World Forum 2017 (Click here to watch Guillén elaborate on Nokia's "The power of AND" stategy).

Nokia intelligent access combines mobile and fixed broadband solutions to tackle real-world operator challenges. For example, leveraging an existing fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network offers the most resource-efficient approach for mobile transport. It can serve as an enabler in areas where 5G capacity will be needed the most and makes fiber access networks a strategic differentiator for mobile operators.

Also, Nokia intelligent access will drive more collaboration between mobile and fixed network operators. The sharing of expertise and development of combined solutions will benefit the entire industry. After all, both operators face similar challenges. And both types of broadband networks must keep up with increasing demand from more subscribers generating higher traffic and wanting faster connections.

Working together, fixed operators can deliver faster network monetization and quickly increase their FTTH deployments. Meanwhile, mobile operators can use a cost-effective mobile transport solution in the areas where wireless congestion and expansion will occur.

Dialing in Virtualization

Competition, customer, and regulatory pressures are forcing operators to squeeze every last bit of performance from existing copper infrastructures. Fortunately, new digital subscriber line (DSL) technologies such as put bit rates of 100 Mb/s up to 1 Gb/s within reach.

But according to Nokia's white paper Accelerating deployments (English | Japanese | Korean), while helps operators dramatically improve bandwidth and coverage, it also increases operational complexity.

Here, virtualization offers a smart solution, and it’s already here. Nokia has applied software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) to create the software-defined access network (SDAN). This decouples select access network functions from their associated hardware so the network can be programmed and controlled centrally from the cloud. It allows operators to use remote configuration and intelligent automation to accelerate deployments of, simplify network management and reduce both cost and complexity.

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