High speed broadband and cellular connectivity support economic growth and result in an improved quality of life. However, there is a wide difference in broadband speeds across countries. In Asia, countries such as South Korea (27 Mbps), Japan (19.5 Mbps) and Singapore (17.2 Mbps) tend to have consistent and highquality network connectivity. Unfortunately, this is not the case across the region. Broadband speeds in the Philippines and Vietnam are three times slower than those in Singapore, averaging 4-5 Mbps; in India, the average speed is only 3.6 Mbps.
The good news is that governments across Asia are making investments in high capacity networks. They see fibre as the infrastructure of the twenty-first century. According to a recent global survey, 71 per cent of the respondents expect to migrate the majority of their network to fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) by 2025. FTTH is widely considered as the fastest and most reliable way to access the internet. It has the potential to open the doors to a wide range of services and applications.
In developing countries such as India, with rapidly increasing data traffic, it will be critical to continue investing in broadband infrastructure in order to be economically competitive and meet the increasing demands of businesses and consumers.
Driving operators’ connectivity strategies
Fibre optics has come a long way since its invention in the 1970s. The initial applications of fibre were in long distance networks such as international submarine cables, and national and regional backbones. Gradually, as costs came down, fibre moved into metro and access networks, data centres, IT server rooms and office cabling. Fibre is also used to backhaul other access networks.
For the multiple-system operator market, fibre is being deployed in three ways – hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC), passive optical network (PON) and fibre-to-the-x (FTTx). HFC is an architecture that includes a combination of fibre and coaxial cabling to distribute video, data and voice content to or from the head-end and subscribers. Typically, the signals are transported from the head-end through a hub to within the last mile using optic fibre cable, which ends in an HFC node.
A PON can be deployed by network operators who want to deliver advanced voice, video and data services to their subscribers using fibre. Passive means that no active electronics, batteries or power supplies are used in the outside plant. This translates into lower system failure rates and maintenance costs, and a more reliable network, particularly in areas prone to flooding and harsh conditions. PON differs from other fibre offerings because it bridges the gap between the HFC network and a converted Ethernet/internet protocol platform. PON is the most popular of the methods used to provide fibre to a host of other FTTx locations.
Infrastructure of the twenty first century
FTTx represents a generational technological shift in much the same way that copper networks did a century ago. Its benefits are not disputed; rather the question is how to drive costs down even more to increase coverage. Civil works and construction costs for laying fibre underground or up on poles account for two-thirds or more of the total cost of deploying FTTx. Similar to other infrastructure projects, upfront costs are high and require careful planning. However, maintenance and operating costs are lower as compared to other fixed access networks, so this compensates for the initial outlay of capital and helps the network achieve a reasonable payback period.
For greenfield real estate development sites, FTTx is the preferred choice. Investing in the latest technology that has a proven track record is clearly preferable to sinking money in technologies with limited upgrade potential. It is also the preferred choice for business and enterprise customers, where the upfront costs can be more easily justified. As the telecom industry evolves, competition is intensifying with more service providers building FTTx networks and positioning their higher speed services as a key differentiator over other access network providers. Cities and municipalities have also joined the “fibre offering”, bringing alternative sources of funding and new business models.
Ubiquitous broadband access represents a competitive advantage for the local community and economy, attracting businesses and homeowners. There is no doubt that fibre and wireless are the building blocks of future networks. The combination of fibre and wireless technology will help meet current and future expanding bandwidth demands in Asia and lay the groundwork for smart cities initiatives across the region.