Broadband over ADSL revolutionized global Internet growth during 2004 - 2010 timeframe and worldwide statistics shows that there are nearly 300 million DSL broadband users and 600 million copper lines installed. Effective utilization of such fixed line assets have become a key concern for many network operators worldwide.
New Copper Line technologies Features High Bandwidth, Fast Go-to-Market, and Short ROI Period, Making it Popular among Fixed Network Operators
New copper line technologies such as SuperVector and G.fast that has emerged over the last 3 years is helping revive fixed networks. Goldman Sachs has released multiple analysis reports predicting that new copper line technologies will boost the growth of fixed network operators. In one report, Goldman Sachs claims that new copper line technologies will enable fixed network operators to provide most users with higher than 200 Mbit/s for high-speed Internet (HSI). Additionally, the capital expenditure (CAPEX) of networks constructed by using new copper line technologies can be as low as 60% or even 25% of that in fiber to the home (FTTH) scenarios.
According to Goldman Sachs, in 2020, European fixed network operators are expected to earn more home broadband revenues than cable operators due to new copper line technologies.
The use of existing copper line resources has become one of the mainstream modes for fixed network operators to achieve broadband acceleration.
Why do operators prefer to use new technologies over existing copper lines?
There are two reasons, in addition to high bandwidth:
(1) No new cables need to be routed at users' homes, enabling faster go-to-market. Operators can reuse copper lines at users' homes, without the need to lay new cables. By adopting such methodology, the time to market (TTM) could be reduced by about 6 months when compared with the FTTH solution.
Telecom Egypt deployed a fiber to the curb (FTTC) and reused copper line for broadband speed-up. It’s number of home broadband users increased by 110% than 3 years ago, now achieves 3.5 million. Telecom Egypt aims to increase network average bandwidth to higher level in the coming years. With higher bandwidth and more quick service provisioning, Telecom Egypt greatly enhances user satisfaction and become more popular.
(2) Reusing existing copper lines requires relatively low CAPEX hence a shorter return on investment (ROI) period. DT's public report, made on Capital Markets Day showed that the CAPEX of re-using copper lines accounted only 30% of FTTH deployment. Based on Huawei's global experience, such strategy could gain ROI within 2 years
Fiber-Copper Synergy Supports Point-Surface Integration, Meeting Market Demands and Helping Operators Succeed
For network construction based on fiber-copper synergy, operators focus on re-using existing copper lines with acceleration and deploy FTTH fibers concurrently. Fiber-copper synergy is a strategy that supports point-surface integration during network construction. "Point" indicates green field, high-value, or populous areas such as high-rise buildings. These areas use the FTTH solution, effectively reducing FTTH engineering costs and accelerating FTTH deployment. "Surface" refers to the entire network except points. Reusing copper lines is recommended for common broadband acceleration. There are 3 typical modes: fiber to the cabinet (FTTC), fiber to the building (FTTB), and fiber to the distribution point (FTTdp). Point-surface integration brings many benefits. FTTH is deployed to establish a market brand and attract high-end users (10%) while copper line acceleration is used for common fixed broadband (FBB) users (90%) who care more about cost effectiveness.
There is one common rule from the insights of global home broadband markets: For a market, the entire network implements a broadband upgrade every 3-5 years and bandwidth is increased step by step: 5 Mbit/s -> 20 Mbit/s -> 50 Mbit/s -> 100 Mbit/s -> 300 Mbit/s -> 1 Gbit/s. This rule reflects the changes in requirements of end users in a given market. These changes are orderly and are affected by multiple factors, like local Internet penetration, video and content diversity, national consumption capabilities, and information consumption habits.
Because FTTH influences brands positively, some operators expect all-optical FTTH development and construct FTTH in areas with low requirements for Internet access rates. However, end users do not prefer it, leading to low FTTH take-up rates. In some markets, where FTTH networks have been deployed for over 3 years, the actual take-up rate is about 15%, while 80% of users still choose broadband packages below 30 Mbit/s. In this case, investment efficiency is low and the ROI period is significantly prolonged. Worse still, to redeem investment returns as soon as possible, operators sell broadband at extremely low prices to increase actual take-up rates. As a result, it is much harder for the entire broadband market to be profitable, affecting healthy and sustainable development of the market in the long run. From the perspective of commerce, this is not a good bargain.
Fiber-copper synergy has been proven successful by most operators to be a sound mode that complies with broadband market development rules. Philippines PLDT deployed one stop fiber to the curb (FTTC) vectoring solution to reuse its existing copper lines for broadband acceleration which enhanced their network capabilities and improved user experience rapidly. It initiated FTTH deployment in valuable and populous urban communities. Fiber-copper synergy not only enables PLDT to rapidly increase profits, but also helps it establish a good brand and develop valuable users.
In conclusion, fiber-copper synergy is an excellent fixed network business practice. FTTH is superior in terms of technology, while copper line acceleration makes operators more competitive. The two must be integrated and adjusted according to local market demands. Operators must maintain technology superiority to stay competitive. They also need to ensure that business investments are efficient to increase profitability.
Huawei Continues to Innovate and to Help Operators Use Fiber-Copper Synergy to Build Networks
Copper line acceleration enables operators to succeed. However, there are still concerns about this technology:
(1) Copper line quality. Copper lines have been buried underground for several decades, leading to oxidization and poor contact, which can affect broadband acceleration performance. To solve this problem, Huawei has developed the line expert system to evaluate the quality of copper lines.
Operators can use this system to check the quality conditions of copper lines accurately and intuitively and to evaluate the attainable bandwidth brought by new copper line technologies.
Operator XX is used as an example here. Huawei and operator XX have established a team. After collecting test data and site sample information for nearly 2 months, Huawei created a map for the customer that depicted the copper line quality of the entire network. Through evaluation, 90% of copper lines would be able to use SuperVector to provide end users with over 50 Mbit/s of Internet access at a distance of smaller than 800 m.
(2) Difficulty of deployment of outdoor access sites. Transmission distances over copper lines are shortened, meaning that sites must be moved downward to streets. This brings many other problems, such as difficulty of site acquisition, power supply, site integration, and prevention of battery theft. All these problems hinder many operators from implementing copper line acceleration. To deal with these challenges, Huawei has presented the one-stop site solution. A package of solutions is available, effectively solving these problems and supporting easy site deployment. Huawei has gained abundant experience from its deployment of nearly 400,000 outdoor access sites around the globe.
Huawei has faith in that copper line infrastructure networks are vitally important. For fixed network operators who own many copper line resources, the fiber-copper synergy strategy is recommended. This strategy brings the advantages of both fiber and copper line networks into full play and perfectly coordinates network superiority and investment efficiency, helping operators build future-oriented superfast networks and achieve sustainable success in business.
In the face of all these achievements, Huawei will continue to invest in technical innovations in the access network domain. By now, Huawei has more than 3000 R&D personnel, 6 International research institutes, and over 10 senior experts who are members of International standard organizations such as ITU-T. Additionally, Huawei will continue to optimize solutions according to local characteristics and scenarios for operators. No matter whether frontend commercial designs or backend network O&M, Huawei will actively participate in and contribute to the excellent practices of global markets.
By Lan Yun, President of Carrier Network Business Group, Huawei ME