Convincing operators and vendors of the benefits brought about by a multi-technology, open approach has been a difficult task for those pushing the development and adoption of particular network technologies, but there was an air of change arriving at Broadband World Forum (BBWF) in Berlin this week.
Faultline Online Reporter attended an event hosted by US network equipment vendor Adtran, which discussed a mixed bag of network technologies, but what stood out was that every single presentation throughout the day mentioned a multi-vendor approach. This was refreshing to see from a vendor, as the benefits of using technologies from multiple sources is more obvious from the point of view of a large operator. Meanwhile, one of Adtran’s key European rivals, Nokia, was making similar noises – with its recently revived focus on the cable market following the collapse of its VR venture.
Voice-activated devices and services are some of the primary drivers for faster broadband connectivity, according to Adtran’s CTO Ronan Kelly, who kicked off the event at Deutsche Telekom’s Berlin base. While voice services are not bandwidth-hungry like 4K or VR applications, they are extremely sensitive to latency – making connectivity upgrades critical to the development of voice services as a market.
Not all consumers want to pay for Gigabit speed broadband connections when they may only download a handful of large files a month or stream a couple of 4K videos a week. Therefore, Kelly spoke about a missed opportunity for operators, introducing the idea of a temporary upgrade to the speed of a broadband connection. For example, when downloading a large file such as a new console game, an operator could push the option to pay a one-off fee, perhaps $5 or so, to upgrade to a 1 Gbps connection temporarily, enabling the download of a 60GB file in something like 8 minutes, instead of the 2 hours it would take on a 100 Mbps connection.
This brings us on nicely to where software-defined access network (SD-Access) technologies are coming in to make this mutually beneficial service a reality.
SD-Access enables the centralization of elements in a network such as high-level analytics – enabling operators to easily launch OTT services with less expense and complexity. SD-Access makes this transition easier as operators no longer need vendor-specific platforms and can bring in a self-service activation model to differentiate from the pure play providers, in addition to making significant truck roll and call center savings.
To accelerate the path to SD-Access, Adtran is working alongside open source projects for virtualized networks, including ONAP’s (Open Network Automation Protocol) open source management and orchestration (MANO) platform, driven by AT&T, plus ON.Labs’ ONOS (Open Network OS) SDN controller, VOLTHA (Virtual Optical Line Terminal Hardware Abstraction) and Open Daylight. While all slightly different, the general idea here is to save operators a bunch of integration work. ONAP has a release scheduled for mid-2018 focusing on wireline-only carriers and business services, whereas previous announcements have centered more around mobile operators and 5G.
All the packets being sent via wireless networks must come back to wireline at some point, which is where PON (Passive Optical Network) technologies, namely NG-PON2 (Next Generation PON), enter the fray – to upgrade the path of current fiber technology by being deployed as an overlay on existing fiber. AT&T passed 6 million homes with PON technology as of this quarter, while Verizon passed 19.8 million two years ago, according to Adtran, and is currently in NG-PON2 trials with Verizon and is also understood to be working with AT&T, as well.
In the case of multi-dwelling units (MDUs), FTTH deployment is expensive and laborious, so existing copper lines must be used and there have been recent innovations in Dynamic Time Assignment (DTA) for G.fast to allow broadband subscribers to access the highest possible upstream and downstream capabilities. Adtran has a Coordinated DTA (cDTA) prototype in the works for twisted pair bundles, plus an existing Independent (iDTA) system for coax.
Adtran’s Director of Portfolio Management for Broadband, Werner Heinrich, spoke about DTA developments enabling user-driven behavior, giving the example that if someone has finished streaming a movie and now wants to upload an album of photographs to the cloud, the TDD (Test-driven Development) up and down ratio can be adapted to cater for this change in traffic direction. Heinrich noted there is a debate about the credibility of this technology, but claimed prototypes have shown a boost in performance with G.fast.
Circling back to the open approach discussion, Nokia’s President of Fixed Networks, Federico Guillén, said in a keynote session at BBWF this week, “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.”
ONAP claims to be in active discussions with almost all of the top 50 global operators – Deutsche Telekom being a key member. DT’s Senior Program Manager, Robert Soukup, then gave his view on next-generation networks and open environments. “We don’t like proprietary stuff on our network because it makes it difficult to apply design to cost capabilities. We need to trust vendors and we welcome more kids on the block.” DT’s Soukup also praised the enhanced capabilities of merchant silicon, citing Broadcom specifically when referring to ethernet chips.
DT has been a member of the one-year-old ONF (Open Networking Foundation) for around 3 months now. Soukup believes ONAP is perhaps 5 years away, contradicting Adtran’s own prediction that ONAP adoption is around the corner in around 2 years. Adtran’s AVP of Cloud, Robert Conger, explained to Faultline Online Reporter that the contrasting time frames here are due to ONAP not being just one big piece of code – with the complexity hidden in multiple layers meaning some components will be ready to go in one year, but others will take much longer.
Adtran dismissed any concerns about Nokia stealing back some of the Deutsche Telekom business given the Finnish firm’s history there, but the company will certainly be keeping a close eye on Nokia given its recent pledge to cable. It’s worth noting that it was via Nokia that Adtran got into Deutsche Telekom in the first place, acquiring the Nokia Siemens Networks’ fixed line broadband access business in 2011. Adtran is therefore relatively new to the European broadband space, but we expect there to be plenty of fierce turf wars in the coming years, despite the friendly words about rivals working together towards a common path.