Meeting Europe's network demands

Meeting Europe's network demands

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Claudio Cerioli, senior vice president, international sales at CommScope explains why fibre will play a critical role in meeting growing network demands across Europe

Service providers have seen their home networks put under unprecedented strain during the Covid-19 crisis. Homeworking, home-schooling and generally more home-based living have resulted in a surge in demand for bandwidth.

Some markets across Europe were better placed to manage this than others. With the European Commission setting ambitious connectivity targets for its member states – including access to connectivity offering at least 100 Mbps for all European households by 2025 – operators are under pressure to continue with roll-out plans throughout the pandemic.

According to the latest market figures prepared by IDATE for the FTTH Council Europe (as of September 2019), FTTH/fibre-to-the-building (FTTB) coverage is nearly 50% across 39 member states. The top-ranked countries in terms of penetration rates are Iceland (65.9%), Belarus (62.8%), Sweden (56.8%), Spain (54.3%) and Latvia (53.9%), with the UK, Germany and Italy major markets behind.

Through various government investments across the region to tackle longstanding issues like the digital divide, the likes of Belgium, the UK and Germany are among the top five fastest growing countries in terms fibre-to-the-home/building passed – and this growth shows little sign of slowing.

Indeed, a recent forecast issued by the FTTH Council Europe anticipates 202 million homes passed with FTTH/B by 2026 for 27 EU counties and the UK, compared to 88.1 million in 2019. Take-up rate is expected to reach 73.3% in 2026 compared to 43.3% last year, according to the same research.

The skills challenge of fibre roll-outs

Given the comparatively short timeframes being placed on economies to deliver fibre broadband to all households and businesses, demand for talent is rife. All operators are reliant on the same pool of talent to bridge these gaps and speed to deploy has never been more critical. In the UK, Virgin Media has warned the government it may not be able to deliver the upgrades required to the network without more support to train and build the skills of the next-generation of technicians.

It isn’t just the installation process that’s rife with complexity and requiring of specific skill-sets. Network providers are drawing on their supply-chains to help them understand the challenge of the deployment, articulate their end-goals and design what success looks like. Working with suppliers to identity the right design, build and quality solutions for the network, operators need to be sure their investments will deliver the requirements for end-users for the long-term. In this context, this means at least 10-15 years. 

There are multiple ways of creating FTTx networks that will meet the demands of the very near future. However, finding the best and most profitable solution long-term requires a deep understanding of a wide range of parameters, goals and using the right tools. It also requires true partnerships between the operator and its suppliers.

In our experience, applying a ‘decision tree’ approach to guide network designers through the various steps and decisions in the network planning process helps to ease the burden of complexity. By providing actual network diagrams and application recommendations, this process helps engineers quickly identify the best network design topology and optimises the goals of each project.

Incumbents and alternative networks joining forces

As we have touched upon, demand for FTTH has reached peak levels, with the incumbent providers also going into agreements with alternative networks – or other network operators (OLOs) as they are also known – to deliver direct home connections.

A surge in government funding and private investors has allowed these wholesaler networks – such as CityFibre in the UK and Open Fiber in Italy – to make a jumpstart in connecting specific local areas to dedicated fibre networks. The incumbent players are then teaming up with these smaller counterparts to leverage their infrastructure – whether it’s the incumbents delivering ‘the last mile’ based on the OLO’s existing network or the other way round. These partnerships are now opening new pathways for the delivery of FTTx.

Invest upfront to reduce total cost of ownership

Choosing the right vendor partners is also a critical decision for network providers. With demands on the rise and profit-margins increasingly thinning, ensuring the best possible value in terms of total cost of ownership is key.

A fast and reliable broadband connection can mean the difference to a flourishing start-up business or ensuring families can video call and / or stream high bandwidth content in multiple locations in the home at any one time.  By working with partners that can help simplify complex processes and deliver at scale and speed, operators will reduce their total cost of ownership while delivering for those end-user customers. Expectations from those end-users have never been higher.

And now is the time for fibre to play its role as the foundation across Europe to be a key enabler of economic growth and a connector of communities.