Broadband World Forum underway at London Excel
The Broadband World Forum is an opportunity for many of those working in the UK broadband landscape to get together but also an opportunity to find out about what other countries are getting up to.
A major part UK wise is the 'Building Gigabit Britain' conference run by INCA at London Excel and the first day had a small teaser meeting exploring some of the issues around a more fibre rich UK environment and the noises emanating from Ofcom that may suggest a change in direction is underway.
Since the Ofcom market review started 18 months ago there has been a never ending stream of studies (usually sponsored by a body with a self-interest) putting forward differing views and in this situation Sharon White as the head of Ofcom has a difficult task ahead, get it wrong and the UK economy could be destroyed as other countries race ahead in the digital arms race.
On the one hand there is BT saying FTTP is hard to do, in the sense of the time and costs involved (the technology itself is simple and mature) and others saying that they want large amounts of FTTP coverage rolled out ASAP and at a wholesale cost not unlike or maybe even less than current VDSL2 pricing.
The balancing act is how can Ofcom get Openreach (either as a full legally separate company or a half-way house) to invest the sums of money to take the UK from its lowly 2% FTTP coverage to more respectable figures and maybe not be far behind Spain and Portugal that have aims of 95% FTTP coverage by 2020 apparently. While at the very same time encouraging others to invest in their own roll-outs to ensure that Ofcom ambitions of 40% of the UK having three or more infrastructure competitors and a large amount of the remainder with two or more options. This is why the duct and pole access debate features heavily as the competitors are going to need to make extensive use of pre-existing duct - apart from maybe in the suburban areas that match the York UFO/CityFibre trial (which oddly is probably 40% of UK premises).
The big unknown is how that final 5% of the UK will feature in this plan, and in the past the default answer has been get BT to deal with it, but maybe that is what needs to change, i.e. rather than BT by default the UK needs to do more to stop that being the norm. The problem there is that millions are used to dealing with household names like Sky and TalkTalk and will they will be willing to work with regional providers that may only address a market of 100,000 potential customers, or are they firmly pinning their hopes to the full legal separation and forcing the hand of Openreach to deploy FTTP where they would prefer it deployed - which is probably almost an exact mirror of where Virgin Media operate.
Rounding up a few snippets, Openreach talked quickly about a trial over a live fibre, where the existing GPON (2.4 Gbps shared between 32 users) was joined by a 10 Gbps XGS-PON and 40 Gbps NG-PON2 service, and unlike standard GPON the later two are designed to be symmetric.
Looking at the FTTH picture, one key differentiator in the UK is our love of the semi, which means just 12% of the UK lives in apartments (MDUs) whereas half of the people in Spain, Germany and Italy do.
The Brexit vote divided the UK and the results of the Ofcom digital market review may have a similar effect on the UK telco market which could result in years more talking, debating and uncertainty. What the UK digital economy needs is a clear decision, where those making the decision will work hard to ensure that no parties can derail the changes and that the extra investment needed to deliver what everyone dreams of will be available rather than vanish like many political promises have in the past.