FTTP is happening now

Fibre to every home is becoming a reality, not just in the Far East but also now in Europe and other advanced countries throughout the world. 100 Mbit Broadband is no longer a copper aspiration, but the entry level for fibre PON Broadband with data rates of a GigaBit per Second being available for premium customers.

The technology has moved on. High quality optical fibre cables and fibre optic splitters are now in mass volume production and costs have bottomed out. Only a few years ago, ambitious service providers were still blowing individual glass fibres down plastic tubes, but as the cost of optical fibre has fallen it has become far cheaper to lay multi-fibre cables carrying 6+ fibres or use multi-fibre dropwire to connect customers. In the Far East FTTP service provisioning costs have been driven down to $100 per customer using this technology.

In Europe, investment in FTTP has been hampered by the lack of a thought through regulatory framework. European regulators were keen on promoting competition but were mired in the complexity of how to implement workable charging regimes for the sharing of optical fibre networks. Fortunately, the situation has now been resolved, thanks to the enlightened thinking of the French regulatory authority. Fibre, is now much cheaper than copper and multi-fibre cables require negligible duct space. So why worry about how to share fibres when the incremental cost of providing a multiple fibre connection to every consumer is affordable?

In France, the network is now split at the local access level. Whichever service provider does the first fibre install to a block of flats or a housing estate runs a fibre cable to each customer residence, providing 4 fibres for each urban customer and 2 for each rural customer.

At the network access node, the fibres are terminated in a stackable metal enclosure with horizontal and vertical access apertures. Competitors provide service by simply stacking their own splitter box on top of the incumbentís splitter box. The incumbent routes a spare fibre to the customer up the vertical channel into the other operatorís splitter boxes and the other operator connects it to his splitter or point to point backhaul.

The French solution is really quite brilliant! It not only provides commercial certainty for all players but also enables layered service provision. For example a customer can simultaneously have Pay TV from one FTTP service provider and Broadband and VOIP from another -all over separate fibres, so there is no complexity, uncertainty or points of potential conflict. This fibre unbundling architecture also enables businesses to economically have Gigabit Ethernet links from multiple service providers ensuring business resilience.

France is leading the way in Europe and hopefully it will not be too long until other European regulators realise the merits of this solution.

Building profitable PON networks

Installing PON networks is relatively easy. Ensuring their long-term profitability in a competitive environment is significantly more difficult.

It is widely understood that ultra-high speed fibre Broadband will spawn new services, but what is less well appreciated is the growing criticality of the availability of the broadband link that carries these services. Consumer expectations have changed dramatically. When the Broadband stops working the impact will increasingly become more like an electricity blackout, rather than just loosing a POTs telephone connection. Being able to deal with these situations in a cost effective manner is critical to the success of any telecommunications business.

Murphy's law dictates that accidents will happen and so it is to be expected that PON networks will be damaged from time to time. What counts is how quickly the service provider can restore service and how the service provider manages his customerís expectations. Unlike point-to-point copper networks, Passive Optical Networks are tree structures, so a single OLT fibre break or snag can result in 64 customers losing service simultaneously. If the fault occurs in the evening then one can be fairly certain that all 64 customers will try and ring the service provider's fault reception on their mobile phones.

This is a potentially lethal situation both in terms of operational costs and the risk of loosing customers.

Once the customers get through to the fault reception, the call centre operatives can only mechanistically lead the customer through the standard faulting script. "Please switch off your ONT, reboot your computer etc etc". Each customer transaction can take minutes and will result in an individual trouble ticket, which will need to be passed on to an expert technical authority for analysis and faulting. If the call centre is unable to deal with the high level of simultaneous transactions, then customers will be left exasperated, listening to music on hold with only one thing on their mind and that is to look for a more competent service provider!

This cost and customer pain can however be avoided. Using the Fast Light PON testing system, the first customer complaint will trigger an automated OTDR test of the PON, which will automatically pinpoint the fault and identify all of the customers that are affected. When the remaining affected customers get through to the call centre, they can be individually dealt with in Seconds rather than in Minutes. Instead of going through the lengthy pain of the fault reporting script, these customers can be cheerily informed that the service provider has already located the fault and that the repair crew is on its way! Customers leave the call feeling very HAPPY, impressed with the professionalism and efficiency of their service provider. The service reception centre staff are also happy, because they have the tools to do their job and best of all no money has been spent ineffectively!