Friday, February 05, 2010

Deloitte joins the cable lobby

There are a few controversies that can get people really worked up. PON vs. active ethernet is one, cable modem broadband vs. FTTH is another. A lot of it is 'religious', as in 'believing', or alternatively as in 'preaching for the converted'. That's why you have to be aware of lobbyists at all times. See for instance my post on the FTTH Council North America, which turned out to be a silly lobby movement.

Now this is all fine and dandy - until they start abusing my own research. Last year, I produced a report on the possibilities of HFC networks - working closely together with a number of people at Ziggo and UPC. Bottom line: no fewer than 14 technologies can be applied, the ultimate one being FTTH. However, the cost, both in terms of capex and opex, could be prohibitive and it could therefore make more sense to skip most of them, and move straight to FTTH. I have to say that the people at UPC were very realistic, leaving a move to FTTH open for the future. The Ziggo people turned out to be the cable broadband hawks, claiming that they would prefer HFC to eternity - even in greenfields.

Indeed, a whole range of smaller cable companies in the Netherlands have concluded in the meantime that they will need to move to FTTH - #7 (CAI Harderwijk) being the last in the line. But not the market leaders, #1 Ziggo (controlled by Warburg Pincus and Cinven) and #2 UPC (Liberty Global). Their lobby club NLkabel turned to Deloitte and got them to produce an inferior report, building in part on my own research into cable broadband (as referred to above). They have taken a large section (going beyond 'fair use', I would argue), describing these 14 technologies and techniques, and added questionable statements on capex, CPE upgrades, the 'asymmetrical nature of traffic' and the possibilities of HFC and FTTH.

For instance, they claim a capex/revenue ratio of 22% for cable and 6% for KPN, while everybody knows that in reality these numbers are almost equal at around 13%. Cable's number is inflated by CPE, and if one would subtract the capex involved in replacing amplifiers (Ziggo alone has over 200,000), then you wonder how much cable companies are really investing at all at the moment. Sure, a lot was done upgrading to HFC, but the roll-out of Docsis 3 is relatively cheap.

The report also claims that networks can easily keep up with demand. That's like saying that nobody driving a Fiat does 200 km/hour. They go on to claim that traffic is by nature asymmetrical, but they must have missed the realities of the Nuenen FTTH network, where traffic turns out to be pretty symmetrical (as Herman showed). And when extrapolating the capabilities of HFC versus FTTH to 2012 (!), of course Deloitte's expectations for FTTH are lower than those for HFC - while 1 Gbps is clearly on the horizon for FTTH.

Paul Budde said it very well: "we are not building FTTH for today's problems". Indeed, we are not building FTTH for triple plays alone - not to mention the advent of 3-D and non-linear TV/video.

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