BBWF turns up the speed and the bandwidth in all things

Almost everything at the Broadband World Forum in Berlin this week was all about speed – and while the big stories we covered this week (see separate stories in this issue) were virtualizing broadband and upping WiFi speeds, there were other items on show that caught our attention.

Perhaps the least spectacular was one that interested us the most. After years of listening to and the world of no new wires, and MoCA for homes that already have Coax, seeing KDPOF from Spain selling chips for Plastic Optical Fiber was somewhat retrograde. The only technology in sigh was the plastic fiber that could be folded into knots and still perform at 1 Gbps, as Carlos Pardo, CEO of the 30 man company focused on designing chips for POF now for years. It has moved up from 100 Mbps, which could hardly be considered useful in home improvement over say WiFi delivery, to the 1 Gbps beast it is today – at that speed it has the potential to be a WiFi backbone, if you can afford to lay one more single wire.

POF is small and versatile enough to put under carpets will make a 5o meter hop and costs 10 Euro cents per meter and Pardo asked if we’d like to watch an installation. He simply cut through the two strands of plastic, and threaded them into one of his termination points in seconds and hey presto, it just worked.

He has now sold it to Telefonica after over 12 years chasing a major, being tested in 2018 to be field trialed and deployed next year throughout Spain. His device is just the POF, his fabless chip design, a Realtek Ethernet port to plug in anything directly, such as a WiFi Access Point and that’s it. Pardo guarantees 1 Gbps to every room in the house, and says a home with an existing cable conduit can be installed in 45 minutes. He has trials at BT Open Reach and Vodafone and is working on 10 Gbps POF with Korea Telecom in the 2022 timeframe. The chip is cut in 65 nanometer and is about a third of the size of a 1000 base T chip. Each link can be 50 meters, and the POF adheres to an IEEE standard. It has been a long wait but it looks like POF will find a home in broadband homes. “We have 6 telcos in Latin America, Europe and Asia in trials,” says Pardo.

A technology that we have always been a bit unimpressed with has been topping up DSL lines with LTE bandwidth, but a Belgian company at the show Tessares, seems to have taken this to another level and has become dominant in adding LTE lines to support weaker rural DSL.

Denis Périquet, co-founder and CEO told us, “Operators have what they call an “enjoyment speed,” under which they will not deliver IPTV – this is often around 20 to 30 Mbps. There are often another 10% of homes which could be brought into that category, where it is too expensive right now to bring fiber closer. Often the peak usage of LTE is at noon to 14.00 pm and peak usage of watching video is in the evening, so spare LTE capacity can be used for this. Getting extra capacity is often the difference between being able to deliver Netflix or not.”

Tessares is another 30 man company which has built out software called Multipath TCP, a standard, and put it into the CPU of home gateways and showed it to us on a Sagemcom device driven by a Broadcom 63138 and VDSL chip. Multipath TCP is about having a single TCP session, but sent over two separate paths and so it allows sending as much as you can of any data on the cheaper delivery format – fixed broadband, and any remainder over LTE, and the software re-multiplexes them back into a single stream. Authentication is handled entirely by the fixed broadband portion.

Last week Tessares announced that Telia had taken such a device in Finland and Lithuania, and in the past it has had design wins at KPN and Proximus in the Netherlands and Belgium.

The system comes with two elements, a COTs server in the network itself, to split the traffic, and the other as a software agent on the device. The arrival of data is within a buffer of 100 and 200 milliseconds so can be tuned to work with set top buffers etc… The only other company we know of doing this is Nokia. There are other systems on the market that use GRE Tunneling, said  Périquet, but suggested they worked less well.

He explained that “one use case is capex postponement, and another churn reduction, and one of his customers will offer this additional service free of charge to keep customers and this can be done proactively when KPIs suggest customers are ready to churn. Adding the ability to sell Netflix, where it is bundled with the operator’s service, is another way of getting money out of such a system, as was getting a higher ROI on existing video assets.

He told us that he expects two more majors to take the service this year and one of those is in North America which is usually code for Canada, rather than the US.

Heading back to WiFi we saw a remarkable demonstration of WiFi analytics on the Zyxel stand, but actually it was from supplier Lifemote, run by Eren Soyak, a refugee from the AirTies team in Istanbul.

Soyak explained, “We place an agent on your WiFi Home Gateway and this reports activity once a minute back to the cloud. The ISP or equipment vendor can see what happening on the box.” Soyak showed us a graph of data usage for a particular client, and how it had been “steered” from one AP to a different one, resulting in a poorer performance. “This is a bad steer, or an inaccurate steer event, it should have steered this client only to a 5 GHz Ap, because of its required data rate.”

This data can also be used or resold by companies like Zyxel to improve its own equipment or by ISPs who want to improve their steering policy. Looking on Lifemote’s website we see that eventually Soyak wants machine learning to automatically correct “bad steers” and such by forming a database of poor outcomes partly from its own data and partly from help desk data. It has been implemented on most WiFi chipsets, and adjusted so that their different approaches still compares apples with apples.

Similarly SoftAtHome was showing how its recent V3D purchase had been integrated into its Eyes’On WiFi analytics. This particular demonstration showed how important it is for an operator to see the broadband speed going into a home gateway and the WiFi speed coming out, and comparing the two and ensuring that problems on broadband were not mistaken with problems of WiFi and vice versa. It does not have an agent on the client, but can put one there for operator Apps, and create an end to end pathway of bandwidth and events for a given IP session.

Last week SoftAtHome announced that Orange was using its Smart WiFi suite of products in its core Livebox home gateway.

Another subject we bumped into at BBWF was the idea of mapping broadband operator capex into the real world. This came from Indian network outsourcing group Velankani. The new service is called simply NOCPlan, and CEO Raj Singh told us he has just won the first customer in Windstream Communications, the $6 billion US telco.

“We enter in the boundaries of a particular exchange, put in the roads, the existing networks, each piece of equipment that has been approved and what it costs, and how much it costs to install, into a database. But this database can then be asked questions like “How many broadband lines could we install for less than $500,” or how many DSL connections can be upgrade for under $500?” The system showed how improving DSL compared to did not always result in a greater number of cheaper connections.

“We use machine learning to decide where to place key pieces of kit, and we know how long lines are and what the performance would be on that line, the price for buying it and the labor it will take to provision it.” Singh is building here on prior products in service orchestration which flow through order management, resources management, billing, and service provisioning, which he has also been successful with selling, to companies like CenturyLink.

“The output from the NOCPlan can be any of Bill of Materials, Construction cost report, a Google Earth style plan map using KML, or .SHP files for geographical information systems, and a financial analysis and comparative financials between multiple NOCPlans.”

“At Windstream they said they could plan an upgrade in 1 year with 40 staff, we did it in 5.5 months with a team of 7.”

Another thing which is going faster and faster is and the confidence the market has gained from Homeplug being out of all future developments and on end of life support, has meant that many companies that were HomePlug friendly are switching. One of these is Devolo from Germany, and at BBWF it came out with its first 2.0 device, it believed was the first 2nd generation product on the market, using a MaxLinear chip. Primarily it sells this via European operators, and has customers in 19 countries including Orange, Proximus and Deutsche Telekom.

But so far it has been pushing just HomePlug. Matthias Scharlau, VP of operations told us that “All new customers are now being pushed the wave 2 device.” 2.0 spreads to a wider frequency, all the way up to 80 MHz, and by limiting interference is able to communicate in 12 bits per symbol QAM, as opposed to 67.5 MHz and 10 Bits per symbol. This drove  roughly a doubling of throughput and extends the life of powerline. “We have tested it at over 800 Mbps,” said Scharlau. It also has a better channel estimation procedure, which is where you test the line using a shared secret at each end, and establish how much distortion the line is experiencing and counter it. This same channel estimation technique is used in WiFi and similar RF technologies.

We asked what it could be guaranteed at, and how that spread across the various power systems in Europe and were told, “Those countries which have a mandatory Earth line carry more bandwidth because it runs in MIMO mode. But we never guarantee a bandwidth.

We have long said that Powerline could only really be trusted at 200 Mbps and closer to 100 Mbps if it was HomePlug. If this simple doubled that speed to 400 Mbps, we could still not see this being used as a WiFi backbone, but at 800 Mbps that remains a distinct possibility for some time to come.

Companies like Sky use HomePlug as an alternating backbone with its Sky Q WiFi, and many firms used HomePlug as part of their pay TV strategy across Europe. If Devolo is right and this can reliably reach say even 600 Mbps, then it has a future and operators will look hard at it.

Finally we had a visit to Netcomm Wireless, which has provided most of the technology behind Australia’s nbn national broadband company, including and fixed wireless on 4G. It launched its new distribution points featuring 8 and 16 ports. Previously it made do with a 4 port system. It claims that it was the first to support an installation that actually uses the reverse power feeding which has been a feature of design, drawing power from consumer homes, rather than putting power at the end of fiber lines, by digging holes in the road.

“Els Baert, director of Communications for Netcomm told us, “This is really important, otherwise it costs a fortune to build out in power extensions alone. And you have to do this carefully. If a DP has just one user, it has to draw power from them, but as more join the DP, it must share power equally and MDUs are particularly a problem.”

Netcomm uses Broadcom chips and Baert says that it has 7 lab trials at present for this technology, one at BT in the UK. It also has a tier 1 North American operator looking at its LTE Fixed Wireless technology. “Customers have unused LTE spectrum in rural areas, and we can send a wireless signal in 2.5 GHz some 14 kilometers. It can use carrier aggregation up to 4 carriers and even in LTE only it can deliver 400 Mbps.” Which goes to show that the 300 Mbps 5G service launched a few weeks ago by Verizon, is really underpowered for fixed wireless. The Netcomm fixed wireless system uses Qualcomm chips for the carrier aggregation, she said.