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Roaring start to the New Year

8 Jan

Rainbow Fiber Paths (CC-BY-NC-SA Ben Felten)

We’re only a week into 2013 and already there’s more topics to cover than I can conceivably talk about. And I’m not even attending CES!!!

So we’ll be talking about many things this week, between Free’s crazy attempt at arm-wrestling Google, Israel’s electricity company going forward with national FTTH plans and Cisco finally dropping the gorgeously doomed Umi.

Meanwhile, I wanted to point you to Diffraction Analysis’ new year post, which highlights some of the things you can expect from the company in the first few months of the year.

I wanted to give you a little present as well.

On the personal side of my life last year, I worked a lot on my photography skills, and one of the things I always wanted to be able to shoot well was Fiber Optic Lights. I’ve gotten decent at it (I think), and I thought I’d share the joy around by releasing 42 of my best Fiber Optic shots as Creative Commons photos. These photos are all CC-BY-NC-SA which means in a nutshell that you can alter them as long as you reshare them, and you can use them in any non-commercial context which (in my book) includes blogging and powerpoint presentations. I hope it’s useful to you all. The individual photos can all be found here, but to make life easy for everyone, I set them all up in a pinboard so you can pick and choose.

If you want to use the photos in a commercial context, please get in touch.

Also, they can all be purchased as prints which I’m sure would look great in any FTTx exec’s office!

Happy New Year to you all, here’s hoping we’ll meet face to face!

FTTH Council Europe Elects Karin Ahl as President of the Board

30 Mar

When I was in Munich last month for the annual FTTH Council Conference, there was much talk behind the scenes about the election of the new president of the Board: Chris Holden was reaching the end of his tenure. Chris' work has been crucial in establishing the relationships with institutions like the EIB and the European Commission. FTTH has become a mainstream topic now and the Council needed to be recognised as the partner de rigueur for discussions on broadband technology, policy and strategies.

I found out today that the new president of the Council will be Karin Ahl, and I was thrilled by the news. Karin is a digital native, very energetic and dynamic, she's from Sweden, and I think she can steer the Council in a direction that will drive even deeper the message that FTTH is what the future is made of.

I'm looking forward to her tenure! 

FTTH Council Europe Conference Take-Aways

29 Feb

IMG_0705

The Diffraction Analysis Booth

It's been a little over a week since the 2012 edition of the FTTH Council Europe conference ended in Munich. It's been the most attended of the Council's conferences ever, and apparently has become the largest FTTH Conference worldwide with over 3300 delegates.

For Diffraction Analysis, business-wise this is a show that cannot be missed: most of our customers are present in one form or another and there are opportunities to pursue as well. This year, thanks to the support of my colleagues Costas, Guillaume and Herman I was able to attend more sessions and do more stuff "off-booth" than the previous years, so I got a better sense for the content of the conference presentations.

To be perfectly honest, it is a little puzzling to me that the conference keeps growing in size. For the most part, we see the same people there every year, and while I don't know the proportion of service provider representatives to vendor representatives, I suspect there's still more of the latter than there are of the former. That's definitely going to have to change if the show is to keep its growing momentum.

The content, in my opinion will also need to shift. I understand that vendors are sponsoring the event and want their spot in the limelight, but in all honesty, most of their presentations are little more than thinly disguised commercial pitches. It's a shame because many of these vendors have representatives in their midst that are capable and would probably be willing to contribute more meaningful content to the conversation(s).

Still, I shouldn't be too sweeping. I was chairing a session with vendors talking myself and learned a number of really fascinating things during these sessions, a sign that things are getting better (even if I think it's a little slow going…) And there were a lot of non-vendor sessions with much more interesting content.

Generally, the big topics that emerged at the conference were: 

  • public intervention: the role of local governments and public utilities in fiber deployment was particularly upfront this year. This is probably due to the conference being held in Germany where local utilities are more advanced on these topics. Michael Curri of SNG gave a very good presentation on how to measure the impact of broadband on businesses at a local level. I unfortunately missed the Ericsson presentation in that same session that apparently yielded very impressive numbers tying broadband and economic growth. Need to dig that one up. 
  • financing: there were a number of studies presented that examined financing models. I was a little dissapointed that there weren't more financial people speaking at the conference, but maybe that's because they tend to be not too talkative about these things in general. Still, I think this conference should be the hub for companies looking for funding to meet with funders looking for investment vessels…

There was another topic that was discussed but not very visible: FTTC. Ray LeMasitre of Lightreading wrote a much publicized piece during the show about this called Enough FTTH (Fiber to the Hype). Essentially, he says the Council shot stop criticising alternative technologies for broadband as they provide useful alternatives. 

I agree with Ray to some extent, but the FTTH Council isn't just "an industry pressure group" as Ray puts it. It's a group formed exclusively of vendors, many of whom have no interest in copper technologies whatsoever. So what he calls a bias is, in my opinion, the council's DNA.

Furthermore, the wording that Ray uses in his piece is telling of what I think is a fundamental issue with the industry and the service provider worldview right now: "the FTTH Council Europe's representatives [...] feel the need to take a kick at one of the technical alternatives [FTTC]". I don't see FTTH and FTTC as alternatives. Just because a service provider deploys FTTC doesn't mean they can ditch their FTTH plans: they'll come in handy soon enough. These technologies are complimentary, no substitutable.

However, and on this I agree with Ray, the Council isn't really articulating that vision either. Or at least not much. There were some interesting mentions of FTTC, as in Frans Van Camp's presentation on the appetite of consumers for the solutions offered by the various technologies (cable, FTTC, FTTH) in the dutch market, based on quantitative data. In one of my sessions, a vendor also mentioned FTTC as a potential solution, but I don't think there was necessarily a vision there, it was more a way of saying (as I read it): "if you're not keen on FTTH, we can still accomodate you".

The next FTTH Council Conference will be held in London. That's an odd choice, but perhaps one that is aimed at resolving the above conundrum: the UK market, despite a number of vocal FTTH initiatives that still have limited scale to this day, is dominated by an incumbent that's very gung-ho on FTTC. Will we see a marriage of the two technologies consummated in London, I wonder?

Google Fiber Trouble

24 Jan

For a number of weeks now, we've been hearing that Google has entered some troubled waters when it comes to its Kansas City Fiber project. The first customers were supposed to be connected in early 2012, and that's clearly not the case. Furthermore, local newspapers report that the fiber network deployed by the Mountain View giant is far from being ready for commercial operations. The delay, it seems, is due to Google and local stakeholders disagreeing on the conditions and rate at which Google should be able to access the poles to attach its fiber to.

Reading between the lines, it seems that Google thought, or hoped, that because of their brand name and because of the visibility of the project for Kansas City, they would be able to speed up normal procedures and get preferential rates. Reality, alas, seems to have reasserted itself. The Google brand cannot steamroll over everything, apparently.

The latest rumor is that Google would consider buying Surewest, a Sacramento based FTTH and cable operator who has been operating its cable plant in Kansas City for a number of years. Fierce IPTV reports this as a rumor, but reports it nonetheless. The rationale being that by using Surewest's existing authorizations, Google could speed up its deployment and meet its targets. 

For what it's worth, I don't buy it. The original lofty goals of the Google Fiber initiative have already been considerably watered down, and the "blueprint" nature of the project is already seriously in question, but if Google needs to buy an existing and successful business to achieve its goals, not only is it admitting failure, it's throwing out the window any pretense that their model is replicable and that other municipals could do what they're doing. 

Still, there's no doubt Google is in rocky terrain right now. The company has been known in the past to pull the plug on projects that didn't achieve their targets. Will Google Fiber be the latest victim?

CityFibre appoints Macquarie to put together financing plan

3 Nov

Uk_dpWhen it comes to discussing City Fibre Holdings, I'm not neutral, since Diffraction Analysis works as advisors to their board. So I won't say much in the way of commenting this announcement, except that I think it's significant in highlighting how financial institutions are now increasingly looking seriously into the potential of alternative fibre infrastructure.

You can see the full press release for CFH's announcement here. This is the first significant investment being put together for FTTH in the UK. My gut feeling is it's far from the last. 

Google expands from KCK to KCM !

18 May

Us_dp In a way, it's like these long waits for the bus when nothing is coming, and you grow really impatient and somewhat annoyed, and then suddenly two buses show up at the same time. Well Google pulled one of those on us it seems: they announced today that the Google FTTH project was expanding from Kansas City, Kansas (as discussed here) to Kansas City, Missouri (see Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City).

What's interesting here is that KCK was the smaller of the two communities: KCM represents 432,244 housholds, with a much bigger proportion of multi-tenant accomodation. Interesting development in any case. I'm curious to see how fast the next community comes up…

Is Telefonica finally getting serious about FTTH ?

21 Feb

Es_dpI've often said and written that Spain was one of the markets that would be the latest in seeing FTTH become a reality. The lack of serious competition to Telefonica in broadband means the incumbent has not serious reason to push. 

Still, this week Movistar (Telefonica's consumer brand) announced that they were launching 100 Mb/s service and discontinuing their entry level FTTH offering at 6Mb/s for a standard 10Mb/s entry level product. More importantly they announced that they would extend their footprint from the current 300 000 homes passed to 1 000 000 in the near future. ADSL Zone has the low down on the announcement (Movistar se prepara para realizar un despliegue masivo de fibra óptica.)

Call me St Thomas, I still fear vaporware. Even the 300 000 homes passed seem a little unbelievable to me especially considering that Spain doesn't pop up in any international fiber ranking that I know of. Even assuming they do have 300 000 homes passed, that tells me they're not selling much of it. Ultimately, I guess I'll be confident they're doing it when I understand what their driver is…

JTL to connect 100k homes with FTTH in Nairobi

20 Jan

800px-Flag_of_Kenya.svg I thought I was ahead of the curve with this FTTH in Emerging Markets thing, but it's starting to look like I'm just catching up. This little bit of news has attracted my attention. Kenyan metro fiber provider Jamii Telecom Ltd (JTL) is apparently launching a large scale FTTH project in Nairobi with the aim to connect 100 000 homes. ZTE is the chosen vendor, for a global project scope of 14.3m USD.

I need to do some digging to understand both the model and the way that these homes will be connected, but as I was saying in my previous post, it's increasingly clear that FTTH is not a privilege that only some developed countries can afford.

Some Fiber News to Start the New Year

3 Jan

A couple of interesting bits of news have trickled today (but CES is probably going to generate a whole lot more…) which I thought I would share:

The ARC, an association of landowners in France have denounced the deal they signed with Free for fibering up MDUs two years ago. They claim that Free hasn't met their targets in vertical deployment, that they sign contracts even when their optical node isn't ready in the area and generally that most of the tenant complaints related to fiber are due to Free. Not all that surprising considering how little Free has done when it comes to meeting their own FTTH objectives, but still a sign that if they don't do something quickly the market will shut them out…

Verizon says that their big announcement at CES will be about launching a home automation offering. It should offer control for locking and unlocking as well as energy and heating monitoring and control. It should be accessible via a mobile phone app, an internet portal and a FiOS TV widget. Verizon also says they will demo a video-conferencing app' based on Cisco's ümi at CES, but it's not clear if that's just joint marketing or if Verizon and Cisco have some to some kind of distribution or integrated deal for ümi.

I didn't write a "2011 prediction" post this year, mostly because it's what every analyst does, and it gets a little repetitive in the end. What I can say for sure is that 2011 will be a momentous and challenging year for me personally. Some of you may have learned that I left my previous employer a couple of months back, and next week I will be ready to announce what I'm doing next, and I hope it will get you as excited as it gets me.

Keep your eyes peeled !

Google FTTH: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back ?

16 Dec

Us_dp After long months of silence, Google made three announcements this week related to their FTTH project. Well, actually they made two but there's a third less overt one that was discreetly tagged along with the second.

The first announcement came early in the week as Google announced that it would sub-contract the operations and support of their Stanford Beta to sonic.net. If you remember, the Stanford Beta is a testbed for the whole project (which is itself a testbed, but that's another story) with a deployment to roughly 850 homes in the Stanford University Campus. Unlike what some have reported, sonic.net will not be building the network (despite the fact that they themselves have started building a small pilot project in Sebastopol, CA) but they will be operating and supporting it. This is a smart move on Google's part for two essential reasons: First it shows that they have learned the nexus lesson, ie. that when you offer services in the physical world, you need customer support. Second, it's a smart choice because sonic.net is a company that is intensely customer focused and widely considered to be one of the ISPs with the best ever customer service in North America. What is unclear at this stage is whether sonic.net will also provide internet access services (remember, this is supposed to be an open-access network). All we know is in the press release: "Sonic.net will manage operation of the network, provide customer service and support and perform on-site installation and repair."

Yesterday, Google made a second announcement on its Google FTTH project in the form of a short blog posting on their official public policy blog. The posting, entitled An Update on Google Fiber basically explains that despite earlier promises, Google will not pick the community or communities where their full-fledged deployment will occur before the end of this year. Google says that they were overwhelmed by the number of applicants and haven't been able, in the 9 months since applications closed, to determine where they should deploy. This is a cause for concern, not only for the communities that applied, but for the credibility of Google's project as a whole and, by extension, of municipal FTTH initiatives. In a way not much different from the 2008 stimulus grants, Google's announcement has effectively frozen investment in many communities that are hoping to either be picked by Google or, failing that, to learn from Google's approach. The longer Google takes, the more it freezes the market, and the less their wider goal of kick-starting FTTP deployment and adoption is served…

The slightly less visible announcement is also cause for concern, at least according to Giga Om's Stacey Higginbotham. The blog posting mentioned above was written by the newly recruited Vice President of Access Services, Milo Medin. I'm not one to judge people I've never met and so I don't know if this really is good or bad news, but on the basis of what I hear, the things that strike me is that the guy has no experience in deploying fiber to the home, a less than pristine track record in network deployment and is from the silicon valley cultural mold. My concern with this project has always been that it was so far out of their comfort zone that they needed to be challenged in their thinking to pull it off. Let's hope Milo is the right guy to do that…