Anyone trying to sell DSL acceleration technologies in the fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) heartlands of Asia Pacific a couple of years ago would have been heartily laughed out of town - who needed copper when fiber was the way of the future?
Well, things haven't turned out quite so smoothly in the FTTH revolution as operators have discovered that taking a fiber-optic connection right into a subscriber's residence is a lot more difficult, time consuming and expensive than they first thought.
So, while there are markets out there in the region which will be dominated by FTTH - Hong Kong and Singapore being obvious examples - there are plenty of other markets, including FTTH "champions" like Japan and South Korea where copper will be playing a role for quite some time to come.
That's why operators from even these advanced broadband markets were taking a very close interest in the discussions around DSL acceleration technologies like vectoring and G.Fast at the recent Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam.
In short, operators in these larger markets - outside of the city-states like Singapore and Hong Kong - realize that running FTTH to every apartment inside every building is just not going to happen for a very, very long time.Therefore, if they want to increase speeds offered over their current in-building VDSL networks - which currently deliver typical speeds of between 25 Mbps and 50 Mbps - then they need to seriously considering both Vectoring and G.Fast.Using vectoring as an in-building solution would allow operators to take those download speeds up toward 100 Mbps. Once G.Fast becomes commercially available, they will be able to move very close to 1-Gbps speeds on existing VDSL infrastructure.
Outside of very advanced markets such as Japan and South Korea, vectoring and G.Fast present intriguing possibilities for mid-tier markets like Malaysia where these technologies could help turn Telekom Malaysia's High-Speed Broadband Network - largely powered by VDSL in the last-mile - into a much faster network.In turn, there are still tens of millions of DSL subscribers in markets like Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia - not to mention regional giant China - who might benefit from the deployment of vectoring and G.Fast, although there would be significant questions over the quality of the copper infrastructure in those markets.In addition of course, we already know that the newly elected conservative Coalition government in Australia is looking to change the design of the controversial National Broadband Network (NBN) from an FTTH design toward FTTN and plans to use vectoring - and maybe G.Fast in the future - to boost speeds.
So, it looks certain that those creaking old copper networks are going to be around the place for quite some time yet. What really matters are the outcomes they deliver. And if copper can still deliver high-speeds at low prices, then it will stay in the game.
Tony Brown is a senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media
Seven key strategies for thriving in 2014:
- Time to change your mindset
- New adventures in apps
- Finance services finally go mobile
- Monetization gets personal
- Mobile data traffic goes mega
- Copper crucial to FTTH plans
- Time for TDD
This article first published in Telecom Asia Vision 2014 Supplement