In this episode recorded at the Broadband World Forum, we speak with Andrew van der Haar Haar, Fiber Carrier Association, Donovan Artz and Greg Aston from ETI. Andrew shares the origin and current state of the Fiber Carrier Association. We talk about the trends in Open Access Networks as well as standards adoption. Donovan talks about trends in device management and IoT. We discuss data privacy and wonder if the CIA subscribes to this podcast? Greg reflects on how providers are and aren’t yet using analytics to improve operations and subscriber satisfaction.
Andrew van der Haar: My background is ICT from the mid-nineties and I also run a data center and from that point of view I saw the Netherlands fragmented on the carrier side. In talking to some of the carriers I asked, “Is there a trade association for you?” And they all said, “Well, no, but we would like to have a trade association.” They said for the association it’s important to have someone from the industry not active as a carrier themselves to fulfill that role. So for now, I’m still fulfilling that role to promote it.
Pete Pizzutillo: How do you get companies across an industry thinking the same way?
Andrew van der Haar: In the first year we started with collaboration, sharing knowledge, and introduced quarterly meetings for the Netherlands carriers who have passive network in the ground already. We have 70 networks active in the Netherlands, and another 100 in development. So that’s why we want to function as a bridge to those new initiatives who want to roll out that there is already expertise in the Netherlands, already networks in the ground where they can plug in or use them for connectivity from HUB or help them build out their own network.
Pete Pizzutillo: It seems like a great waste of capacity if you can’t figure out how to co-use or co-lease or co-operate on an existing infrastructure.
Andrew van der Haar: That’s true and a hurdle we noticed is that a lot of networks are known but not used by each other because they are afraid of the standard they use, that a network is not a good enough, so that’s where as the Fiber Carrier Association; by a standardizing the architecture of the building networks. All the members can build their own network layout, but if it’s feasible for the other players then it’s easier to hook on and reuse capacity that is normally not used.
Pete Pizzutillo: In the US they have private networks, government networks, municipals and local run networks, and research and engineering, healthcare networks. If you look at all the initiatives going on to bridge the digital divide, you must wonder in 10 years if we’re going to be completely over-built. Do you guys have the same kind of environment going on?
Andrew van der Haar: For the Netherlands you saw a few years ago that there was no newly built networks, or on the dark fiber side you saw still builds of new networks, but on the fiber-to-the-home networks it was a completely still network, so nobody built any networks because there was no funding. But a few years ago, where those new initiatives found a way to get investors on board, for pension funds on board, so there’s money. Where there’s money they start to build and now you see really overbuilding on the fiber-to-the-home projects, and I think that’s a really bad signal for the end user because the consumer doesn’t know anything about the network build and they just see, “Oh, there are two fibers now in my home,” or in business-to-business where there are seven different fiber providers active in one building. And then you don’t think it’s a really big building, just a 2000 square meters, then they have a choice of seven networks, so that’s really crazy and waste of money.
Andrew van der Haar: Competition in broadband market is really important because supports innovation and reduces consumer costs. But on the broadband infrastructure, on the traffic, the data traffic, you should not compete with each other but work together because then there is still the power to innovate and to reduce the cost of networks.
Pete Pizzutillo: Are you getting any help from the government that’s saying, “Hey, let’s be reasonable here because we’re all impacted by the electric consumption, aesthetics, safety and security.”
Andrew van der Haar: The government does help but they struggle in their own telecommunication law where it says telecommunication is open for the market and its competition thrives so we can’t do much about it. It’s a bit silly of course and that’s why at the Fiber Carrier Association always says, “Well, you have to make a cut on the infrastructure and on the services and make the competition on the services that tries the innovation, but find a solution on the infrastructure to work together.” That doesn’t mean there needs to be one big nationwide infrastructure, but everyone can be a separate company and do their own things, but their day should be like a level playing field on how to connect to each other and how to work to each other and where they are access cities you need to rebuild a new network, but on the other hand you need to reuse networks or dots that are already in the ground.
Pete Pizzutillo: If you remember ARPANET, you know the origins of the internet, without cooperation, transparency and coordination, you would never get to the scale that we got to once we unlocked those proprietary systems and made them accessible to the masses. And that’s really what you’re proposing to make sure that we can leverage the power of.
Andrew van der Haar: Companies and the government are concerned about the safety, of course, for the networks if it’s one network, but then you can put the resources in place for building safer networks there, encrypt light paths, et cetera. So it’s still a safe network for all parties if it’s for the government or for a defense department or for the electricity companies who don’t want to share data. That’s possible as well. If they know from each other that they start building up a network, find each other and go talk to each other and see if there is a solution on co-invest because that’s also a possibility from the European new electronic coach to go invest in a network and build solutions on that.
Pete Pizzutillo: So you came to the Broadband World Forum, to give a presentation about this very topic.
Andrew van der Haar: I did and a panel discussion about switching off copper. So of course, as Fiber Carrier Association, we’re really fond of switching off copper, but on the same reason, I think, because there is not fully fiber networks all around Europe, it’s still important that there is also innovation on the copper networks, so consumers or companies who do need a high speed internet and when there is no 5G, or something else around that, there is still a legacy network that can be used. So switching off copper is important, but I think it’s also important to see where it’s switched off.
Pete Pizzutillo: Right. How can our listeners find more about you and The Fiber Carrier Association?
Andrew van der Haar: They can look it up on our website, on thefibercarriers.nl and we also have a small English page.
Pete Pizzutillo: Hello and welcome back to the Broadband World Forum. This is Pete Pizzutillo. I am joined by Donovan Artz. Thanks for joining us today. Donovan’s from our product team and he’s been scouting out the Broadband World Forum. What are some themes you see that are surprising or things that you expected to see or things that you thought we were done talking about?
Donovan Artz: There’s an uptick in security and security in devices. I’m surprised to see so much about mesh networks. I hadn’t realized that was as important to the broadband community. It’s an emerging technology still. I was involved in some research for DARPA back in the early 2000s for mesh networks for military applications and had my eye on it and what’s been happening with mesh networks over the years. Mesh Network are a bunch of devices networked together in some physical space and they figure out how to talk to each other in a mesh. There are some great applications for emergency services and places without infrastructure, so I was surprised to see it in a part of the industry which is focused on home electronics inside the home.
Pete Pizzutillo: Interesting. Google now has small cell towers on balloons that they’re deploying into military scenarios where there’s no infrastructure in place. It’s kind of their temporary towers, and some of them are semi-permanent, is that an example of mesh there?
Donovan Artz: It can be. I mean, that’s some preexisting infrastructure but if it’s not there before or if they can just deploy those in the field, yeah, absolutely.
Donovan Artz: The focus of home electronics and home devices, that snuck up on me too with Broadband World Forum and how it shifted for a while to IOT. And that’s still a big theme here, is IOT, but now it’s become narrower. We’re not so much worried about traffic lights and things out in the street and smart cities, but now it’s just inside the home that we’re focusing on.
Pete Pizzutillo: Yeah, and it’s interesting because I’m starting to see with that proliferation of providers in that space, right? There’s also service providers in that space, right? We’ve seen a couple of folks that are … There’s always been that implied firewall between the outside of the home and the inside of the home, and looking through into the devices and the behavior of the consumer, right? Google Home and Alexa have come under fire because they’re always sniffing out or listening to, but they only know so much, right? They only know what they can hear, right? But now I’ve seen services that are really monitoring under the guise of security or performance or reliability, but it opens up the aperture of privacy and security that, I don’t know, that an everyday homeowner is prepared to even consider. What’s your thoughts around that?
Donovan Artz: I think that the generation coming up after us, not revealing our ages, but I don’t think they care, or rather they’re quite happy to trade privacy and security concerns for the conveniences that they get from that, so this’ll be important. While we might be a little bit alarmed ourselves, it’s going to be a thing.
Pete Pizzutillo: This sort of device intelligence is what your work on – managing the information we can send to and retrieve from devices. These can be big data sets that people still don’t know what to do, so even if we can’t cross that firewall, that threshold into the home, we’re not … Are we really prepared to manage that data? And if so, what can you learn from that type of information?
Donovan Artz: Well, just about anything really. Governments are quite good at that and they’ve answered that question, but that’s some proprietary knowledge they probably don’t want to share. And the big people who can store the data and process the data, Google, Amazon, IBM, Microsoft, Facebook, they’ve got the resources to extract that information, so the next challenge or the next thing that we’re going to have to deal with is for the smaller players to figure out how to be able to use that data. It’s an expensive resource intensive thing and we might have some societal issues to deal with there when the power, the monopoly of data is all at one end right now. This’ll be interesting to see how we solve that problem as a society.
Pete Pizzutillo: I heard an interesting perspective at a municipality event, one gentlemen said, “Look, I don’t mind if Google and Amazon have my data and they already do, but I don’t want the guy that’s managing my broadband in town to know what I’m searching for or what I’m watching and that type of stuff.” I guess there’s some kind of dilution at a global level when it’s in there with everybody else’s data which seems to Okay but not when it’s local.
Donovan Artz: That’s the business model of some of these bigger providers is to actually sell it to the local people. Starbucks wants to be able to, and when you scan your Starbucks card, “This is what this person has ordered in the past,” and then the person behind the till can ask, “Hey, do you have cash register?” Forgive my cross Atlantic language. Can say, “Would you like another cinnamon bun? You got one last time,” or whatever. Right? And having that profiling information, very localized to specific people is that’s one of the models to start selling.
Pete Pizzutillo: Well, if caffeine and cinnamon buns are involved, I’m in. I’ve heard couple use case where instead of you going to the store, on your way to the store, the Starbucks guy shows up with your coffee and your cinnamon bun because he knew you were going to make that turn before you did. And that, like you said, generationally, honestly, I feel like if it makes my life more convenient, right? I don’t really have much to hide. I don’t have anything to hide. I use a smartwatch, I have a Google Home, I have an Alexa. My kids use it for their own searching, questions, that kind of stuff, and I do think it’s enriched our lives. It took some getting used to, and I’m excited honestly, to see where the learning, the intelligence leads us towards. I am leery about the negative side of that, but in a parallel example, there’s 23&Me and Ancestry and everybody that’s doing the DNA testing, right? I mean, just think about the data risk on that side, right? I mean, it’s not just the telecommunications folks, it’s anybody who can find a way to get your data, resell the data, I mean, that data is the new goal, as they say. Right?
Pete Pizzutillo: All right. Live from Broadband World Forum, The Broadband Bunch is back and this time we have product manager, Greg Aston. Have you been to the Broadband World Forum before?
Greg Aston: This is my fourth or fifth one. For a few years they seemed to be doing events all over the world. So there was a Middle East one, Far East one, all this kind of stuff where they seem to have recentralized a bit more. So you get more of a global audience at this thing, which is good move. The Dutch market is quite active and competitive. There’s a lot of different players in the Netherlands; KPN, who have been the big player for years and years, but there’s lots of small vendors and we’ve been talking to some people who are providing open access wholesale to lots of fiber that’s deployed, so trying to act as a bit of a aggregator and a marketplace for all of these small fiber deployments that have been done for business parks and universities and things like this. And yeah, interesting stuff going on here in the Netherlands.
Pete Pizzutillo: What are we talking to people about today? Why are we here?
Greg Aston: We’ve got a lot going on. So, mentioning open access, we’ve taken a big step into that. It’s interesting that that’s been driven through the US market where open access is quite a new idea, where in Europe that’s been a fairly traditional model because you’ve got all of these denationalized huge players, your BTs and people like that who have been forced to wholesale access to their networks by governments, essentially, to try and break up some monopolies. But in the US, people are trying to monetize their fiber deployments and get lots of retail operations all through a single fiber footprint and that’s been pushing us on the BSS side and open access, which has really added a whole new layer of functionality to what we do with traditionally aerial provisioning engine and doing all that work. But we’re providing a lot of that front end and multi-tenant style access to what we do now.
Pete Pizzutillo: In the US, I break it down into three groups. One, there’s resurgence because there is a few states where they cannot sell retail direct so they have to build the middle mile, right, and become the wholesaler, so municipalities are running it. Utilities are also getting into that business. There’s also a lot of funding, right? So private equity, some of our newest customers are coming out of the private equity world where they’re getting third party funding to go and market and help these systems get off the ground, so that’s really exciting to watch. A lot of its forming, but I think 2020, it’s really going to hit that hockey curve and you’re going to see open access take off.
Greg Aston: Like you say with the investment, CAF II has had a big effect that’s pulled us into the wireless market quite a lot. So people doing a fixed wireless access to more of off the beaten track locations, small towns, small cities in the US and where you’ve got 4G and in some cases 5G towers popping up and that’s providing access in the home. We’ve been drawn into a lot of the analysis of that and there is a big reporting side of that as well. People have got to show that they’re delivering certain speeds to justify their funding and make sure they keep their funding going forward, so that’s something that we’ve been increasingly part of and yet, it’s an exciting place for us to be involved in then, at the fixed wireless.
Pete Pizzutillo: There also are a lot of regulatory requirements around reporting, but there’s also people that are getting Greenfield funding for Greenfield systems and they have to prove that they can get to whatever it is, it’s 100 up and 50 back, and there’s a lot of skeptical and cynical views on people that are buying business and not being able to deliver. I think in the next two to three years as those systems come to maturity and we’re going to be able to see it, it’d be really interesting if we’re a part of that plan of being able to create that transparency and accountability for the systems, for at least the providers that are claiming to get there.
Greg Aston: Having read through the reporting requirements myself, it’s tough. You can’t just cherry pick a few good customers. There’s a lot of rules around the samples that are taken and this type of thing. For a company like ETI, this is the kind of thing that we do well because we’ve got such a history of deployment and monitoring of devices in the home and getting statistics out. So being able to do that on a large scale, in these cases where we’re doing it across multiple different retailers on a single network, it’s what we’re good at and plays to our strengths. Right?
Pete Pizzutillo: So, the FCC really drives a lot of that in the US, what about the UK? Do they have the same kind of reporting requirements there?
Greg Aston: Not so stringent on the reporting side. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport, I think it is, who oversee all this, they are doing everything they can to improve things. The UK has got a lot of copper in the ground and that has been a real thing that’s held things back. If you look in certain areas where it’s more small-scale focused deployments, maybe look at Hull where you’ve got KCOM, who have the best speeds in the country because they dominate that market and have been able to get fiber everywhere. But for the rest of the UK it’s kind of patchy. There’s a still a lot of VDSL, so a mixture of copper and fiber, delivering high speed internet, but actual fiber to the premise has been slower on the uptake. So the government are really trying to push that as much as they can. Having spoken with a few representatives of the government department there, they’re getting big on the 5G thing because they figure you just get fiber to an area and stick up cell tower and then you can deliver some good speeds, more than say the 50 Meg or so that they can do through VDSL right now. They’re trying to find every option to, to push this forward and you’re starting to see several startup ISPs who are looking to leverage this and if you can get fiber to the premise, there’s certain areas of the country where you’re going to win business because people are just frustrated with slow speeds.
Pete Pizzutillo: Then the gentleman from the Netherlands mentioned that as well about the regulations are kind of mismatched from what the legislative body really wants to do. They just don’t have the laws in place or they have restrictions in place that they don’t know are unknowingly preventing broadband adoption or investment and at scale.
Greg Aston: It’s difficult. You’re trying to encourage the market along and it’s difficult because you’ve got very small providers who are looking to fill niches and then people who want to be big players and go challenge incumbent tier ones. So it’s difficult to provide the right incentives for this wide variety of different personas that are out there trying to do this stuff.
Pete Pizzutillo: Right. It’s a balancing act, but you can’t win probably as a legislative body.
Greg Aston: Yeah, absolutely. It’s not a one size fits all thing.
Pete Pizzutillo: Aside from regulatory reporting and visibility that we have in terms of the data, ETI specifically, what else is that information useful for?
Greg Aston: We’re increasingly getting more practical with the data that we get. Truck rolls and customer support calls are huge drains on money from an ISP, so the ability to monitor things, get long term analysis and views and begin to be able to predict what’s going wrong and try and be proactive about fixing those things. We are working with GIS technology to provide ways of visualizing and interacting with these data so you can spot things going wrong and look for patterns, especially with LTE fixed wireless. For instance, you might set something up in the winter and there’s no leaves on trees and things like this, by the middle of summer your performance drops way off, and we’re building long-term data sets that we can analyze that type of thing so that if I’m going to install a customer, well, I can go look and see what happened with their neighbors the last 12 months and understand how I can configure that and deploy that in a way that is more likely to preserve good quality for that customer and try and iron out some of the variables because it can be a very finicky thing when you’re talking about signals and cell towers and receivers, so that’s a big part of what we’re doing and just trying to get our customers ahead of the curve.
Pete Pizzutillo: It’s interesting I feel like Telcom is a bit behind the curve in terms of predictive analytics and big data. There’s some consolidation happening, people trying to think in terms of being open and collaborative, and my hope is that systems and standards, like ETI and we’re participating in, will help reduce the technical complexity so that the operational aspects become less of less cumbersome and that the democratizing data for the providers. Not just on the operational side but on the business and customer service sides. Helping providers understand where their growth potential is, and risks might be. I’m not talking to tier one. The providers we’re helping are tier two, tier three telcos and municipalities, utilities, folks that are just trying to keep the streets clear and the lines clear. They don’t really have time to be doing big data crunching.
Greg Aston: The problems that tier one has for delivering services is the same for tier three. They need that same functionality. For that big data in there, the analytics to be accessible at that level, is important. As you mentioned, a lot of the standards are evolving at this point. A lot of things were created 10 plus years ago and the idea of big data collection and long-term analysis and these types of things, these were provisioning protocols. They weren’t created with that in mind. I think, as you’re seeing with USP, the new Broadband Forum protocol, big data and data collection is a fundamental part of it and it’s been built from the ground up with that in mind. So it doesn’t have some of the drawbacks that the older protocols have that … Those protocols that got us a long way in the past 10-15 years of using them has been really taking the industry forward and help deliver all the way taking us from DSL through to fiber to the premises, but yet, there’s definitely that next step and all of the protocols that are coming along now are really looking to address that.
Pete Pizzutillo: I would really say it’d be great to have some adoption because 5G has been a lot of hype and there’s some things that, obviously people are delivering 5G today, but we haven’t really got mainstream with that. The proliferation of devices and things, the internet of things, all that data is just going to swell. So if we don’t get our hands around thinking about how to stage the data and how to think how we want to use that data before we get this storm of data coming, we’re just going to miss all these opportunities. I think whoever is ahead of the curve is really going to benefit from that.
Greg Aston: ISPs, at the end of the day, an end user doesn’t appreciate all of the complexity of what’s going on here. They just want a service that’s reliable and works and that they perceive as delivering the things that they want in their home. So factoring in all of this IOT side, this proliferation of devices and the fact that everything’s going to be connected, for ISPs to gain an understanding of that, understand how quickly that is spreading, so do things like analyze what devices are being deployed and what trends there are amongst customers, that’s going to be really key going forward so they can make the right decisions to keep those customers happy. Otherwise, you’re going to have churn and frustrated people out there, which is not good for anyone.