CTO of JT Global:“With fibre, what you buy is what you get”

Dave Newbold, CTO of JT Global is speaking in the Access Evolution track on Day Three of the Broadband World Forum, taking place on the 22nd – 24th October 2013 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam. Ahead of the show we find out more about JT Global’s Channel Island based network and the challenges involved in deploying it.

You are based in the Channel Islands? Why here particularly and do you have plans to grow to other markets?

JT are the incumbent, full service telecoms operator on Jersey with an alternate operator in the other Channel Islands. JT are wholly owned by the States of Jersey. We operate a global business through acquisition and business development. We have offices in Jersey, Guernsey, London, Boston and Melbourne and we operate under the channel brands of JT, Worldstone, ekit, Telestial and GO-SIM.

You plan to have a ubiquitous FTTH network across the island of Jersey by 2015. What do you believe will be the biggest challenges in achieving this?

JT are in year two of a five-year programme to switchover all broadband lines from copper to fibre.

We have encountered many challenges with the concept, from development of the business case through to choice of technologies, but have overcome many of.

The most significant were:

  • Selecting the right price point to create the right demand, whilst achieving a decent return.
  • Engaging and agreeing the wholesale product for other licensed operators.
  • Engaging with the customer base to create excitement and easy adoption and walking through the process of switchover and how we keep customers informed.
  • Ensuring accuracy of legacy data built up over many years.
  • Selection and training sufficient numbers of local people to deliver the switchover.
  • Wiring into premises and then ensuring good Wi-Fi performance within the premise.
  • Choosing the right partners, for both technology and delivery.

How do you think full fibre will change things for the Channel Island businesses and residential customers?

For residential customers is will enable them to work from home, and bring unfettered access to a superior internet experience. They will gain access to OTT services such as video including the adoption of smart home technologies, which includes everything from smart metering to home security, and ‘home based’ education and health services.

Additionally, the symmetrical service and the guaranteed high-speed bandwidth will open up a new horizon for residential users, such as personal media hosting/sharing and augmented reality, that was previously only for the privileged from corporate leased line users or science labs.

For businesses is will mean make global cloud services a possibility either for consumption or to provide the service.

FTTH is excessive for most businesses and residential customers. How would you argue against this statement?

Simple. Today the copper experience even at the highest available speeds is variable, susceptible to failure (for example we get lots of lightning strikes), and expensive to operate. However, data usage continues to grow in high double digits, closely following the predicted capacity that was created by Moore’s (computing) or Nielsen’s law (bandwidth). The average bandwidth need is currently around 8-10MB, so it is easy to calculate that bandwidth demand will supersede theoretical limits of current ADSL and VDSL in the next 5-10 years unless users start to seriously compromise on the time it requires to access the data.

With fibre, what you buy is what you get, which is hardly ever possible over copper and alternatives such as VDSL or mobile broadband do not offer a future proofed route and just delay the inevitable.

Where will the investment to make FTTH go mainstream come from? What will be the catalyst for an inflection point for full FTTH growth?

There will be a few and a combination of them. Early entrants will pick off the high density high value customers onto fibre networks, which forces the hand of the incumbents. Eventually governments will take action to subsidise growth.

The current set-up of the commercial broadband operators with wholesale regulation and capped bandwidth bundles are anti-FTTH investment. However, the increasing demand for more bandwidth will create the opportunity to gear up the product mix to higher value tiers and provide the opportunity to introduce new premium features (speed boosters, symmetrical service, residential hotspot sharing, data charging etc.) that will reintroduce the monetary incentives for old (mainly incumbents) and new players (content/service owners as Google, Sky etc.) to invest into fibre networks.

What are the biggest challenges holding FTTH from becoming a reality in most markets?

I would say predicable RoCE and access to funds. There is also:

  • Regulation; by not appreciating the risk premiums of private investors for building new infrastructure.
  • Governments not realising the social/economic benefits of a ubiquitous FTTH programme and enforcing regulatory changes and government funding/support (greenfield taxation, community programs etc.)
  • Capital markets not perceiving fibre deployment as the next big thing for steady “utility-type” return.
  • End-User perception with the broadband industry who keep referencing/relying on downlink speed benefits for mostly buffered services (content streaming, internet browsing etc.) instead of next-generation “fibre-only” applications as real time HD (multilink videoconferencing, home surveillance, social gaming etc.), virtualised home and work environments and permanent interactive community services.

Broadband access gender gap growing

nternet access may be increasing worldwide but there is a large and widening gender gap, particularly in the developing world, according to a UN report.

The UN Broadband Commission has estimated that there are 200 million fewer women than men online, and warned that this gap could increase to 350 million within three years unless action is taken.

Around 1.3 billion of the world’s 2.8 billion internet users are men. While the gender gap is relatively small in OECD nations, in the developing world it is a different story.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the Broadband Commission estimates that there are only half as many women online as men.

The report also estimates that women worldwide are on average 21% less likely to own a mobile phone, citing previous GSMA statistics showing that there are around 300 million fewer mobile phone users than men. This equates to $13 billion in potential missed revenues for mobile operators.

“Promoting women’s access to ICTs &- and particularly broadband – should be central to the post-2015 global development agenda,” said Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General and co-vice chair of the Broadband Commission.

The mobile miracle has demonstrated the power of ICTs in driving social and economic growth, but this important new report reveals a worrying “gender gap” in access.

China to spend $326b on broadband plan

China plans to spend 2 trillion yuan ($326.7 billion) on its ambitious plan to make broadband available to nearly the entire population by 2020.

The government also aims to increase the nation's broadband userbase by 25 million and fiber subscriber base by 35 million in 2013, Reuters reports, citing a Chinese-language interview with vice ICT minister Shang Bing.

Currently, only about 45% of China's over 1.35 billion population has internet access, due to low penetration in rural areas.

In 2011, China announced the Broadband China strategy as part of its 12th five-year plan, in an attempt to improve penetration and internet speeds. Last month, the company outlined its targets for the strategy including for the first time a planned implementation timetable.

These targets include expanding fixed broadband coverage to half of Chinese households by 2015, and improving average broadband speeds to 20Mbps for urban areas and 4Mbps in rural areas by this time.

Targeted average speeds will increase to 50Mbps in cities and 12Mbps in rural areas by 2020, by which time the ministry is aiming for nationwide broadband coverage