BBWF: Broadband networks 'on strike'

The ramifications of broadband networks “on strike” are arguably far more serious than the travel disruptions in Paris during this year’s Broadband World Forum. The threat of network overload and the growing importance of network intelligence, redundancy, and flexibility in dealing with the data explosion challenge (think mobile data and video in general) was a central theme.
This is inevitable as end users consume more video, apps, and services at home and on the fly over an ever-widening range of connected devices. Their frustrations with today’s somewhat messy digital environment (the lack of seamless delivery, a bewildering array of tariffs, inconsistent broadband quality) are reflected in the increasing shift in industry discussions to a focus on overall “quality of experience” as opposed to QoS for separate applications. The fact that broadband – across what will inevitably become a much more converged network – is driving the pace of change in the industry and beyond was clearer than ever.
“Quality of experience” is gaining more substance
Quality of experience can be a somewhat fluffy term unless defined properly, but it does sit neatly alongside other buzzwords used to describe the increasing sophistication of how companies in general sell to consumers; for example, “emotional” advertising or “personalized” content. It is particularly pertinent in the context of a growing number of end users buying multiple services from one provider. This makes consumers more aware of their overall experience – video viewing quality and range of content, ease of content portability, customer care, easy set-up, value for money – with a single company.
Operators need to exploit, defend, and manage this effectively
Ensuring operators deliver an optimal overall experience becomes essential for differentiation as they compete on an increasingly level playing field. For example, a major reason for Virgin Media choosing TiVo for its next-generation STB was the quality of its recommendation engine. The big threat for operators is that adjacents are already picking up some of these experience aspects and have the potential to wrap consumers into their own ecosystem in the longer term, pushing operators in a more minor role: a scenario we outline in our series of reports on telecoms in 2020.
This underlines the need for telcos to take a joined-up and innovative approach in order to better exploit both networks and their (currently) central position within the connected home. The position of telcos as first port of call for customers can be more of a blessing and less of a curse if operators and partners progress from just a “managed” device approach to a more comprehensive diagnostics approach which incorporates the home network, services, and mobility. This means that working towards a common set of protocols becomes more important.
The mobile data and video challenge requires smarter network approaches
Stephen Carter’s reference to “‘living’ intelligent networks” betrayed a certain amount of artistic license, although it’s not too far off the description of the Web as an ecosystem. However, the emphasis on developing intelligence that enables networks to automatically flex around tsunamis of data and particularly video traffic, and better predict and understand usage patterns, was timely and much in evidence. Separate references to fixed and mobile networks were notable in their absence.
From Juniper’s suggestion that we substitute “cloud networking” for cloud computing to Korea Telecom’s dependence on fiber networks to create a “different dimension” of mobile data support, vendors and carriers were increasingly referring to intelligent fixed and mobile networks in the same breath.
Of course, there is still significant diversity in operator experiences of broadband traffic; KT’s reported 300% growth in mobile data traffic over a six-month period following the introduction of the iPhone marks them out as a more extreme case. By contrast, the requirement for vendors to accommodate slower migrations from legacy networks to IP was much in evidence, particularly in these capex-constrained times. Overall though, the message was clear: broadband development – and the networks on which it depends – may remain in a state of flux, but the increasing unification of fixed and mobile is creating new possibilities for end users, content, service and application providers, telcos, and vendors alike.