It feels to me that the broadband industry is on the cusp of a new era. For many years we’ve been focused on faster, squeezing more bits out of copper, HFC and fiber through successive innovations in transport technology.
But things are changing. Jump ahead a few years and the network of 2020 will be completely different from today. Every network will have a mix of FTTx and FTTH1 technologies, will run additional traffic alongside business and residential broadband, and every network will have some degree of convergence with the wireless world.
With these changes, it’s no longer enough just to think about faster. We need to get smarter about how we manage the different technologies and traffic types. And we also need to get better at delivering an end-to-end experience.
These 3 facets – faster, better, smarter – are creating the new era for fixed broadband. At Nokia, we’re calling this era Intelligent access.
Faster is still about delivering gigabit broadband to as many people as possible. From a technology perspective, that’s our fiber-to-the-most-economical-point strategy. But now there’s even more choice than before, and it’s coming in wireless form.
The new WiGig™ standard enables gigabit Wi-Fi-to-the-home solutions. Similarly, LTE- and 5G-to-the-home are new options in our fixed network portfolio. FTT-antenna now sits alongside FTT-cabinet, curb and building as a valuable option for connecting the unconnected.
But increasingly, providing gigabit broadband to homes and businesses isn’t enough. More than 30% of calls to operator helpdesks are related to poor in-home connectivity, so making a better end-to-end experience has enormous potential for operators.
With Intelligent access, we’re investing in best-in-class Wi-Fi to extend the gigabit experience to every corner of the home. This increases customer loyalty and reduces customer service costs. But it also creates new revenue potential: operators become the enablers of a host of smart home services, such as aging in place (helping the elderly to stay in their own homes for as long as possible) , home security, and home automation.
The downside of these evolutions is that networks are becoming more complex. To deal with more nodes, more traffic types and more technologies, we need to make networks smarter.
The answer to that is virtualization. But not virtualization for its own sake; only where there are concrete benefits for operators and customers. For example, new Nokia G.fast micro-nodes can be automatically provisioned from the cloud. We’ve got around 80 workflows that can be automated in a virtualized, software-defined access network. All this leads to increased agility, smarter operations and lower costs.
Virtualization also opens up a host of new opportunities. Virtual network slicing lets different operators share the same infrastructure, each with complete autonomy. Virtualization turns a FTTH network into a 5G mobile transport network, both backhaul and fronthaul. Virtualization unlocks capacity in an HFC (Hybrid fiber-coaxial) network by removing the hardware bottleneck in the headend.
Many of the challenges we’re facing today in fixed networks weren’t even on the radar a year ago. As we move into a new era of Intelligent access, we can be sure it’ll throw up a few new surprises too.
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1 FTTX (Fiber to the x) and FTTH (Fiber to the Home) - generic terms for any broadband network architecture using optical fiber to provide all or part of the local loop used for last mile telecommunications.