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In the late 1990s, many operators were heavily investing in core optical networks, creating massive over-capacity in these backbones. To pay back this investment, increased revenues are needed, requiring either connection of new customers or sales of new services to existing customers. While access investment was high on the priority list, the lack of movement in local loop unbundling meant that, with the exception of Germany, few European operators rolled out new access networks. Operators have, so far, largely been unable to capture the increase in traffic necessary to see a return on investment for their optical cores.

Operators have realised that—as evidenced by the recent impetus in providing broadband access—and we believe that 2003 can be a very promising time for the telecommunications access market. People are neither phoning nor surfing any less, and there is a business advantage to be gained from broadband connectivity. It was to serve just such a growing market that we launched Keymile (resulting from the merger of Ascom Transmission AG and Datentechnik AG) in 2002.

The latest generation of multiservice access platforms helps to meet this challenge by lowering capital and operational costs when compared to single service solutions. A single shelf delivers the complete mix of services, from voice (still the main revenue generator) to broadband, and each customer can be connected over the optimal technology.

This service flexibility is vital, giving operators the confidence to deploy an access solution that meets all types of service and demand profiles. Operators that deliver both business and residential services from the same platform drive risk out of the business case. While residential users may want to pay for broadband, it is unlikely that the current price points are low enough to deliver sustained connection growth if operators are merely offering faster Internet access. Rather, operators need to look for growth from business users.

Operators that can offer small-to-medium-enterprise (SME) customers attractively priced leased lines or broadband IP virtual private networks will have a winning business case. Some operators are already realising that they have the answer: symmetric DSL (SDSL). ADSL may have been the headline grabber, and it is certainly excellent for the mass market, but it does not meet the needs of business customers. While it may be slightly more expensive to deploy than ADSL, SDSL gives business users and the growing numbers of home workers the ability to upload—not just download—massive amounts of data.

Another way in which operators can capture greater revenue is through delivery of multiple services. By hosting basic telephony, DSL, and optical connections from a single multiservice access platform, operators can offer bundles of both narrowband and broadband services at lower cost. Moreover, the latest generation of multiservice access nodes also integrates the optical transport node. That gives operators an attractive proposition and helps them to justify rollout, particularly where density of potential broadband subscribers may be low. According to a recent report by industry analyst Ovum1, multiservice multiplexers are ideal for deployments in greenfield areas where operators need to deliver a variety of services to different types of customers ("Broadband Technologies and Rural Areas," Ovum, October 2002).

The potential of multiservice access platforms is clear, but many operators hesitate to make the leap, largely due to fear of technology "lock-in." Do they continue to invest in circuit-switched TDM network infrastructures (that still deliver high revenues), or do they go the ATM or IP routes? Fortunately, the new generation of access solutions means that operators can migrate seamlessly from one technology environment to the next, so they can concentrate on squeezing the maximum return out of legacy networks, without storing up problems for themselves in the future.

This year may still prove to be tough for the industry, but operators cannot afford to ignore the pressing demand for access upgrades. After all, while it may often be the last thing they think about, access is at the top of a customer's mind when selecting a service provider.

Andy Lewis, Managing Director
Keymile UK & Ireland

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