Europe’s biggest broadband provider says its original fibre-to-the-home rollout was too ambitious
THE Chief Technology Officer of Europe’s largest broadband provider, currently tasked with upgrading Germany’s national broadband network, says rolling out full fibre is unnecessary and prohibitively expensive. The heads of major broadband operators from around the world met in Sydney today to discuss technology developments and their experiences in the deployment of broadband services. According to organisers, the one day event provides international case studies from technology suppliers and broadband operators on how they are deploying and upgrading their networks to deal with demand in the present and future.
The event was partly funded by NBN Co. and the company was clearly keen to have their European counterparts share their story. Bruno Jacobfeuerborn, Deutsche Telekom’s CTO, said the company’s perspective was that a full fibre rollout is “too costly and it maybe takes too long.” In 2012 he was closely watching Australia’s NBN rollout which at the time mandated a fibre connection to all homes “and everybody got excited to do that [in Germany],” he said. “We felt at that time to do fibre only.”
However like Australia, the company has changed tact and embraced a range of technologies to service different end-users. Despite coming under substantial pressure in Germany to run full FTTP nationwide “because the politicians would like that,” Mr Jacobfeuerborn said the economics didn’t make sense. Instead, the company has pursued a similar strategy to NBN Co. by harnessing a range of technologies, including using existing copper infrastructure like Australia’s often maligned fibre-to-the-node connections.
“We have in Germany 380,000 street cabinets and behind that the distance on average from the box to the house is 300m,” he said. “So what we do is we bring fibre to that access node and from there we do FTTC which is a combination of fibre and copper.” He says the service can currently provide 100Mbps with plans for upgrade to allow 250Mbps next year. NBN has been trialling FTTC technology in recent years (which means more fibre, closer to the home) and is working with retail providers like Telstra to develop an FTTC product, which the company hopes will be available to consumers and businesses by mid-2018.
Deutsche Telekom, like NBN Co., is also relying on an emerging technology called G.fast which is the latest standardised evolution of Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) connections which is designed to increase the performance of copper to theoretically enable it to transmit data with fibre-like speeds. NBN also hopes to integrate the technology into the rollout next year. “There’s no one size fits all.
If someone is dogmatic on fibre only, it’s too costly and it maybe takes too long to make that happen,” Mr Jacobfeuerborn said. Mr Jacobfeuerborn said a majority of homes in Germany were opting for the lower end of speed packages available for their broadband connection. “More than 50 per cent only take the lowest package, meaning 50 Mbps not 100Mbps or 200Mbps because they say ‘wait a minute, 50Mbps is enough for me’ and they don’t like to pay more.”
A similar situation in Australia has been a frequently invoked argument by the NBN for a reason against giving everybody a costly and time consuming fibre connection. NBN boss Bill Morrow has frequently said the company continuously looked to overseas markets to determine how to best proceed with the rollout. “We continue to learn from our peers around the world and share our insights.
Having these experts in the country allows us to learn from one another and make sure we deliver for Australia in the best way possible,” he said in a statement before today’s event. “It is so important for Australians to hear the facts about what is going on in the rest of the global broadband market. “The reality is that the vast majority of countries around the world are adopting the same approach as NBN and deploying a range of technologies to deliver improved services, the significant difference being scale.”
After a barrage of media criticism and reported complaints from end-users in recent times, the NBN boss also complained about the highly emotive nature of the technology debate that has surrounded the NBN.
“For Australians to be able to hear that message from some of the leading telecom operators in the world will be extremely valuable in a noisy, often misinformed environment,” he said.
Executives from Korea Telecom, New Zealand’s Chorus telco, Britain’s Openreach, and Cox Communications from the United States also attended the event.