Hybrid Models Deliver Ultrafast Broadband to Tech-Savvy Customers:
End users are becoming increasingly tech-savvy. Just a few years ago, it would have been rare to see more than 3 or 4 connections in the home but now, it is simply commonplace. The emergence of smart phones and tablets and their rapid growth into mainstream technology has been a significant contribution and now, with the dawn of the smart home era, the number of connected devices will no doubt grow considerably more. BI Intelligence’s Connected Home Report, for example, found that connected home device shipments will increase at a much quicker rate than smart phone and tablets, and rise to 1.8 billion units shipped annually in 2019.1
As a result, the demands for greater bandwidth and faster connections are proliferating in unison, and it is the role of service providers to find new ways to cater to the needs of their customers.
The answer to this demand is ultrafast broadband, the new generation of telecommunications technology that delivers speeds of 100 Gbps or more. The technology is already beginning to gain traction in Northern Europe, with the European Union (EU) driving forward deployment in its Broadband Policy and Strategy, which states that Europe needs widely available and competitively priced fast and ultrafast Internet access. As such, the same policy commits to providing all homes within EU states with 100 Mbps broadband by 2025.
This is certainly an ambitious target, but is it a realistic one? As a region made up of both crowded cities and rural countryside, there is not going to be a one-approach-fits-all solution; so how can the EU deliver on this promise and deliver the sorts of broadband speeds tech-savvy end users now expect as standard?
Efforts to bring Europe’s broadband up to speed have already started across the region, with service providers deploying various technologies. These include fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) and hybrid solutions where fiber is combined with other technologies. Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS), for example, is an evolving international standard that provides Internet access via a cable modem and allows the addition of high-bandwidth data transfer to an existing cable TV system. This technology is already well-established, and the standard is continuing to grow since the arrival of its upgraded DOCSIS 3.1 specification, which offers fiber line speeds of up to 10 Gbps downstream and 1 Gbps upstream. This is a huge jump from its previous standard, and, as a result, the past 18 months have seen significant progress on delivering ultrafast broadband through the standard.
Meanwhile, G.fast, a digital subscriber line (DSL) protocol standard for local loops shorter than 500 meters, uses existing copper lines to enable ultrafast broadband speeds of up to 500 Mbps, depending on the length of copper wire. This is growing in popularity amongst service providers and in the United Kingdom, trials of this technology have already begun. It is also expected that the standard will play a significant role in the northern part of Europe, especially where taking FTTH is not possible, to ensure countries hit their targets for ultrafast broadband rollout within the next 3 to 5 years.
Another broadband offering which can enable ultrafast broadband in the home is Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology. Traditionally associated with providing on-the-move connectivity, LTE is rapidly evolving as a technology for providing broadband services in the home, complementing the traditional fixed broadband technologies such as fiber, cable, and digital subscriber line (DSL). For bandwidth-hungry end users who are unable to access these technologies at home or who live in rural areas, LTE is an alternative, so long as the offering is competitive with fixed broadband services already being offered.
Competitiveness is particularly important when we consider how tech-savvy consumers have become. Service providers are operating in an increasingly crowded market place and end users are beginning to shop around for the best broadband deals instead of purchasing the first package they come across, as they did in the past. Value for money is becoming a commonly used phrase when addressing broadband connectivity, and because customers are becoming more technologically literate, they understand exactly what the best deals are.
The concept of what good value for money equates to is also changing. It is no longer enough to offer the fastest connection or the biggest data bundle; value for money is increasingly about quality of service and quality of experience, with customers becoming more unwilling to accept any service interruption or connection drop outs. They also expect superfast coverage across their entire home, even in hard-to-reach places such as basements or gardens. While this increases the strain on operators, those which can enable ultrafast broadband connectivity will go a long way to ensuring customer retention and customer growth through new subscriber additions.
Achieving this is not without its challenges however, with one of the biggest challenges being how to merge the ultrafast broadband technologies on offer with the existing Wi-Fi capabilities in the customers’ homes. Improving speeds is significant but this can be undermined if the fast-broadband access cannot be distributed effectively to each device and every user in the home.
Taking Connectivity to the Next Level
Although Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA®) networking and broadband over powerline provide technically good ways of distributing data around the home, Wi-Fi must lead the way when it comes to end-user convenience. So how can operators ensure optimum Wi-Fi performance?
To fully utilize ultrafast home broadband through Wi-Fi, the gateway must feature the best-in-class Wi-Fi design. This typically means dual band, 4-by-4, and in some cases 8-by-8, antenna configurations. The Wi-Fi should also be thoroughly tested and optimized before launching the product, with some operators also utilizing Wi-Fi access points and repeaters to ensure full home coverage. These all need to operate seamlessly with one another, which means providing software within the gateway that can monitor and manage all the different elements of the gateway.
To that end, 2 solutions have been developed: Wi-Fi Doctor and Wi-Fi Conductor. The former enables operators to visualize the Wi-Fi performance occurring in the customers’ homes and make suggestions to fully optimize that performance — perfect for increasing the likelihood of customer retention. The latter takes this a step further by enabling Wi-Fi roaming from one device to another in a seamless operation in the home.
As operators increase the speed of bandwidth to the home, they are reaching a point where just having Wi-Fi integrated into the gateway device itself and expecting that to provide full Wi-Fi to the home isn’t enough. They are understanding that additional investments that provide full-home Wi-Fi will be required.
As technology continues to increasingly integrate itself into consumers’ lifestyles, the answer to delivering ultrafast broadband services to the home will be found in hybrid network solutions that make use of all the technologies available.
1. The Connected Home Report: Forecasts And Growth Trends For The Leading ‘Internet of Things’ Market, by Tony Danova, BI Intelligence, September 29, 2014. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5129591ae4b0fd698ebf65c0/t/5467dface4b00178423ef007/1416093612167/bii_connectedhome_sept14.pdf