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01 September 2017
| Natalie Bannerman
One term kept resurfacing repeatedly at the Adtran Connect conference in Alabama in August: software-defined access (SD-access). It was on the lips of executives from some of the biggest names in the North American telecoms industry, including Comcast, Verizon and CenturyLink, to name a few.
In short, it refers to type of technology that makes
networks programmable and less expensive to build and operate.
CenturyLink’s CTO Aamir Hussain said that
software-defined access is important because "when I look at
the cost structure, 30-35% of the cost is actually the network.
So as our customers’ bandwidth demand grows and as
they want a more agile and dynamic network, we have to pay
attention to software access".
Adtran’s CEO Tom Stanton echoed this sentiment
saying: "The equipment cost is only a fraction, somewhere
around 15% of the total cost of the access equipment.
It’s all about labour and labour not only affects
your cost, it also affects the customer experience."
But software-defined access is designed to alleviate many of
Adtran, traditionally a hardware equipment provider, is
taking stock of this change in direction and is moving into
software and network virtualisation. "Our long-term roadmap is
about a migration from a hardware centric world to a software
centric world," said Stanton.
Its SD-access offering is Mosaic, which uses web-scale
technology with open-source platforms, creating what Adtran
describes as a completely "open, programmable and scalable"
At the Adtran event, Verizon’s director of
network planning, Vincent O’Byrne, spoke on the
company’s strategy on next-generation passive
optical networks (NG-PON) as a way to future-proof the telecoms
With 5-6 million customers Verizon has been deploying
broadband passive optical networks (BPONs) since 2004 and moved
to gigabit PONs (GPONs) in 2007.
"The move from BPON to GPON was a fairly large investment
and the move to go from GPON to another new technology requires
a large upfront investment in optical line terminals (OLTs),"
said O’Byrne, but it its’ NG-PON2
that he’s championing for the future, as it can
support both business and residential customers on a single
fibre. In addition it has the ability to "create virtual splits
rather than physical splits".
Fibre is Verizon’s confirmed strategy for
broadband: it has been rolling out fibre-to-the-home under the
Fios brand for some time. Verizon is not using copper
alternative, G.fast. When questioned on this decision,
O’Byrne said: "Our strategy for G.fast is not to
Comcast’s vice president of network
architecture, Robert Howald, spoke on how the company views the
architecture revolution in the cable industry.
On the subject of business agility, Howald said: "Technology
moves so quickly now. There used to be a time when you actually
used to be able to think about what will be happening 10 years
from now. Nothing waits 10 years any more."
Cable broadband standard DOCSIS 3.1 remains central to
Comcast’s business plans, mostly due to the fact
that it is "highly penetrated across our footprint", added
He said that the company has been working on projects in the
internet of things (IoT) and smart cities for roughly 24 months
and has started to launch trials in this area using LoRa 5G
technology, though he gave no specific details of the project
or its partners.
Comcast’s cable architecture strategy includes
a range of technologies that Howald and his team are
considering, including the possibility of wireless as a
Howald told the conference he has considered all of these
various areas, knowing with some degree of confidence, "that
the internet is probably not going to slow down, and we all
have to keep up with that traffic growth", he said.
SD-access. Software-defined access,