Monday, October 27, 2008

BBC 2008 and a new poll

Broadband Cities 2008 was a great opportunity to catch up with my fellow Fibre Ring bloggers: Costas (our host), Benoit (who did a great job on FTTH open access and services) and Stefano (via Skype). Costas provided this link to access the presentations.
Several towns, districts and countries presented either their broadband (Malta, Trikala) or their FTTH plans (Almere, UTOPIA, Seltjarnarnes).
We had some pretty good discussions with people such as Paul Larsen (UTOPIA), Thomas Martin (Cisco), Bart Nieuwenhuis (Exser, to be launched December 18) and Vassiliki Apostolopoulou (Telecompare). They covered quite a wide spectrum of FTTH related topics:

1. Network
  • Technology, topology, protocols, standards
  • Benefits
  • Comparison to DOCSIS
  • Cost (opex, capex)
  • Digital divide
  • In-building wiring, network sharing
2. Wholesale services
  • Layers
  • Open access
  • Regulation, separation
  • Dark fiber, bitstream access, unbundling, wholesale broadband access, IP access
3. Retail services
  • Usage v. availability, Nielsen's Law
  • Net neutrality
  • VAS: internet access, IPTV, VoIP, e-learning, e-health, gaming, video conferencing, surveillance (Ericsson's Crister Mattsson quoted the case of Sweden, where he identified 242 services types (slide 22), and Stockholm, where 155 service providers are active (slide 17 of this presentation, earlier this year in Greece as well)).
Benoit's presentation centered on this prerequisite: the customer should be serviceable by many different service providers (BSPs) at the same time. His solution: opening up the IP layer for wholesale services.
But then you can ask the question: don't all these BSPs want a choice of wholesale operator? And so the question goes down all the way to the physical layer.
Which brings me to my new Poll: How many infrastructures do we need?
It's the perennial question, and nobody really seems to have the answer. Now, the answer probably doesn't exist, but I would very much like to see how people feel about this question in a very general sense. Let me provide some food for thought:

The case for 1:
  • It's a dumb pipe anyway.
  • It's expensive as it is (FTTH), so let's just build one and share it. Once operator X puts a network in place in any town, the chance for operator Y to replicate it is near zero.
  • Even in mobile are operators starting to share more and more of their infrastructure.
The case for 2:
  • For those of you who think that the US is a healthily competitive market: this is a telco/cableco duopoly. Put differently: intermodal competition (truly infrastructure-based) is what regulators should aim for. There is no long-term point in intramodal competition (such as LLU).
The case for 3:
  • OPTA's slogan (the Dutch NRA) is: 'Two is not enough.' In other words, the telco/cableco duopoly doesn't work. Adding compulsory open access to the telco network (LLU etc.) leaves the market asymmetric, so now OPTA is aiming for cable open access as well. But is intramodal competition truly a form of infrastructure-based competion, or is it in fact more of an enhanced form of services-based competition?
  • In Germany, investors have been speculating about the options for the #3 (E-Plus) and #4 (O2) operators to merge, in order to create a viable competitor against T-Mo and Voda. Many other mobile markets, including the Netherlands, have three players.
  • SingTel is opposed to structural separation on the grounds that there would be enough intermodel competition: telco, cableco, 4G.
The case for 4:
  • The British mobile market had four players for a long time, until 3 UK launched. However, many remain skeptical about Hutchison's chances in the long run.
  • The US mobile market has four more or less nationwide operators: AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA. In addition, there is a choice of one or more regional operators, but it looks like these will be absorbed by the national players in the long run.
  • ARCEP, the French NRA, is very keen on issuing a #4 mobile license in order to increase competition levels. The same goes for Portugal, Albania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia and South Africa.
The case for 5 or more:
  • In rare cases are regulators trying to get as many as 5, 6 or even 7 mobile operators to build out networks (Burundi, Ghana, Sierra Leone).

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