Vendors disappoint at BBWF

Broadband World Forum (BBWF) continues to be a 'sweet spot' conference, not as big as Mobile World Congress (MWC) where prices are silly and domination by the big vendors makes operator meetings all too brief, and not so small that it does not attract senior figures from around the industry.
Before getting into the meat of the conference review, congratulations to Jeremy Steventon-Barnes and his team for winning the BBWF Changing Lives Award for Superfast Cornwall - a public-private partnership between Cornwall Development Company and BT. Jeremy and his team have some excellent experience and advice for the rest of the industry on how to deploy fiber with a fiber mind-set, not a copper mind-set, which has a critical impact on the project’s return on investment (RoI).
The operator and customer keynotes were good, [but] the vendor keynotes left much to be desired. If a platinum sponsor is spending €250,000 ($317,000) plus on sponsorship, stand, and people the least they should do is have a good keynote. So please Ericsson no more “billions of devices so give us billions of dollars,” Huawei “buy it all from us,” and Alcatel-Lucent “people prefer broadband to sex!” The keynote is not for you to repeat the same tired old market messages that have never worked in the past and continue not to work.
[Games industry guru] Ian Livingstone gave an excellent keynote presentation on the gaming industry, its history, and where it's going. His core message is they need more capacity, much more capacity. The industry is changing to a network-centric model rather than disk-centric, where a typical game requires 9-GB of data just to download never mind play. [He also spoke about] the rise of social and online gaming, High Definition and Ultra HD, and [noted] next generation consoles will still have a disk because there isn't enough network capacity. Livingstone drew an analogy to the 1860's when Sir Joseph Bazalgette ignored all the critics when building London's sewers. He insisted on making the pipes six times bigger than anticipated demand.
The BBC keynote gave a great review of their experiences in supporting live Over The Top (OTT) video for the Olympics. They had some interesting data on when people use different devices, for example using the tablet to watch TV in bed. They use Elemental as their adaptive rate encoders. User experience is defined by the video quality, and adaptive bit rate is essential to use the capacity available given the screen size/resolution/device, but no more capacity than is required [to avoid] wasting the BBC's resources, [and] the network.
The Home Gateway remains an interesting discussion point in the industry - it's been going on for over two decades. My main problem with the Home Gateway Initiative is it is geeks talking to geeks in Service Providers. It lacks real Consumer Electronics backing, there's a lack of marketing involvement and a lack of customer insight.
SDN hype builds
Software Defined Networks (SDN) was definitely on the hype upswing at the conference. Within the data center the role of SDNs is clear - squeeze out Cisco. Within operator networks I struggle on the quantifiable benefits, there's lots of qualitative claims, though the Group chief technology officer for Deutsche Telekom clearly stated SDN is a cornerstone of their strategy. There's lots of hype like real-time OSS associated with the introduction of SDNs which, given the slow pace of OSS innovation, is going to take some quite dramatic changes.
The term SDN was used when a number of other technologies are required to cover what was claimed in many presentations, including cloud and self-organizing networks (SON). The SDN functions primarily in the core transport part of the network. The SDN characteristics are configurable settings and functions to create a flexible infrastructure. SDN aims to make networks open, programmable and application aware; without compromising on security, resiliency and maturity. SDN promises to simplify operations, increase flexibility, and create new business opportunities. The concept of SON was extended from the wireless access into the core using SDN, but I think this step will lock-in operators to vendors across their network.
In discussions at the conference I'm seeing operators wind-back on their revenue projections across: connected car (really most of revenue is transportation segment which is well established), M2M (devices/solutions providers are in control), [and] e-Health (money is in the devices/medical services). A comment common to many of these emerging business areas is the key to controlling value/revenue/margin is being the one that controls the customer relationship, especially in emerging areas where solutions have a fair degree of customization.
Neelie Kroes, [vice president of the] European Commission’s [Digital Agenda] presented the Connecting Europe Facility. The end-goal of fiber is clear - the challenge is how to get there as customer needs continue to grow. In discussions with operators their copper plant is a mess, so they often have to do rehabilitation. Some payback periods for fiber build-out where the operator is only acting as a wholesale provider puts the [period at] 12-15 years! Its good we can squeeze out more bps out of copper as fiber build out accelerates, but to pay for all this investment services are essential.
In a session I chaired on service delivery two presentations stand out as great examples of what the conference is all about - sharing practical IMS deployment experiences.
Tomas Grinevicius, [a network expert at TEO LT] and Pieter Veenstra from KPN provided case studies on their experiences in building new services for customer using IMS, and how to use knowledge in the network to improve customer HD voice success rates and network performance.
Overall, the conference achieves what I find MWC has lost - the frank practical exchange of experiences on how to achieve service and network success.
Alan Quayle has 22 years experience in the telecommunication industry, focused on developing profitable new businesses in service providers, suppliers and start-ups. For more information, visit