Europeans impress at North American FTTH Conference

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by Stephen Hardy

Just as the European FTTX community will convene in Paris this coming February for the FTTH Council Europe’s FTTH Conference, those interested in the North American market descended on Orlando, FL, this past September 30 through October 3 for the annual event held by the North American FTTH Council. While the trends and technologies current on the eastern side of the Atlantic provided the event’s main focus, European players, both from the service and product sides, made their voices heard.

Joeri Van Bogaert, president of the FTTH Council Europe, offered attendees a glimpse into the European scene via a presentation during the opening round of sessions on the first full day of the conference. Bogaert noted some of the hurdles to FTTH deployment on the continent-including the abundance of high-grade copper plant that makes xDSL approaches attractive as well as a smaller amount of triple-play competition among phone companies and cable TV providers than in the United States-but also cited successes. FTTH infrastructure had passed approximately 3 million homes in Europe and served 820,000 subscribers by the end of last year, Van Bogaert said. This represented a growth rate of 30%. (In comparison, figures released at the conference showed the North American market-mainly the United States-comprised 2.1 million subscribers and 9.55 million homes passed as of this past September.) Van Bogaert estimated the number of FTTH projects underway in Europe at more than 140.

He highlighted three of these-in Austria, Paris, and Amsterdam-as particularly significant. The situation in Paris Van Bogaert found noteworthy because of the involvement of France Telecom, the first major European incumbent to embark on an aggressive FTTH roll-out. He expressed optimism that field trials by BT and Telefónica indicate further incumbent interest in other countries.

In addition to the actions of these incumbents, the connection of open access networks among multiple municipalities and infrastructure providers was another European trend Van Bogaert touted. He offered OpNet in Sweden and Reggefibre in the Netherlands as examples of network providers pursuing such a strategy.

Among his conclusions, Van Bogaert lamented the lack of pan-European guidelines for sharing infrastructure, saying the current ground rules left too much room for interpretation by each country’s regulatory authority. He expressed hope that a new set of guidelines would be offered by the end of this year or early in 2008.

Van Bogaert also offered commentary during a press conference held a day later to discuss the results of a global study that the European, Asia Pacific, and North American branches of the FTTH Council conducted jointly into the top FTTH markets worldwide, based on penetration rates. The councils had released their penetration rate findings this past July; at the press conference, the councils revealed the study also included evaluations of the competitive environment, regulatory situation, and level of service provision for each of the top markets. The councils evaluated the competitive and regulatory conditions in each of the 11 markets via the popular “traffic light” motif, with red denoting a hostile or unhelpful situation for FTTH/B, yellow a mixed or neutral environment, and green a generally favourable climate (see table).

Despite lower overall numbers than the United States and Japan, Europe accounted for five of the 11 markets highlighted as having at least a 1% penetration rate for FTTH and FTTB architectures. In descending order, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Italy, and the Netherlands were the countries that made the list. Van Bogaert did not comment on the competitive, regulatory, and service evaluations. However, the evaluations themselves revealed there to be little in common in regards to competition and regulation within the top European markets-although one could say the same for the FTTH markets worldwide.

The councils expect to release an updated version of these rankings early next year at the FTTH Council Europe’s conference in Paris February 26-28. In speaking of what that update may reveal, Van Bogaert said he could foresee other markets in Europe attaining in the relatively near future the 1% penetration rate necessary to make the list. He pointed to France, Spain, and Switzerland as the most likely candidates. Roland Montagne, head of the broadband practice at IDATE (www.idate.org), which aided the council in compiling its figures and performing its evaluations, agreed that France looks like a good bet. He also highlighted Spain and the United Kingdom as possibilities.

Later in the conference, François Paulus, general manager of the VHS Broadband Division of Neuf Cegetel, offered a carrier perspective on FTTH when he outlined his company’s deployment plans. Paulus revealed that his company plans to invest €300 million to pass a million homes by 2009, with the hope that 250,000 customers will sign up for services. The company plans to deploy both GPON (from Alcatel-Lucent) and active Ethernet point to point (using Cisco Systems gear), with the latter used in Paris. Toulouse, Rennes, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, and Grand Nancy are among the markets on Neuf Cegetel’s deployment list, he said.

Meanwhile, on the exhibit floor, much of the buzz centred on advances in physical plant technology. Multiple-dwelling unit (MDU) applications provided the focus for many cable providers. For example, Corning Cable Systems (www.corningcable.com) unveiled its ClearCurve line of bend-insensitive cabling products for MDU installations. An elaborately designed stand intended to mimic a pair of two-story structures cabled with the new product served as the company’s demonstration platform; in front of the buildings, visitors witnessed the cable being stapled to a piece of wood without affecting its transmission properties to highlight the product line’s capabilities.

Not to be outdone, OFS (www.ofs optics.com) stapled examples of its own bend-insensitive cabling products, based on its AllWave FLEX fibre, around its stand. Draka Comteq (www.draka.com) didn’t bother with the staples, but highlighted its BendBrightXS offering.

ADC (www.adc.com) has selected BendBrightXS fibre for its bend-resistant cabling products. According to Trevor Smith, program manager for FTTX global connectivity solutions at the company, ADC looked at both the OFS and Draka offerings (the Corning product wasn’t available at the time) for its OmiReach line. Smith noted that Draka sets its minimum bend radius at 7.5 mm; OFS says its product can support 5 mm bends, the same as Corning Cable Systems’ ClearCurve. However, Smith said that ADC found that Draka’s fibre performed perhaps “a hair better” than the OFS fibre overall and was available at a lower cost. He noted that the mode field diameter of the BendBrightXS fibre is 9.0, not far from the typical singlemode fibre diameter of 9.2 and larger than the 8.6 typical of bend-optimised fibre. The larger mode field diameter than typical fibres of its type means that users of the ADC bend-optimised products see test results nearer to those they’re used to seeing with conventional singlemode products, Smith says.

Meanwhile, a pair of European companies used the show to raise their visibility in North America. The new U.S. arm of the Austrian company Kabel-X (www.kabel-x.com) showcased the company’s approach to refurbishing copper cable installations with microducts for blown fibre. The company’s technology enables copper to be stripped from its jacket and extracted without digging; microduct is inserted in place of the copper, creating a pathway for the installation of optical fibre without trenching or physically removing the existing cable. Customers include Telekom Austria, Deutsche Telekom, Swisscom, and Magyar Telekom among several other carriers in 14 countries around the world as of the date of the show. The company’s first North American pilot project was expected to launch in November.

GM Plast (www.gm-plast.com) of Denmark also made the trip across the Atlantic in hopes of sparking interest in its conduit products. Chief executive officer Uffe Gramm Mogensen highlighted the company’s Flatliner product in particular. The product features multiple tubes bundled side-by-side to create a flat package. Mogensen says the company has supplied the product to Energi Horsens Bredband in Denmark and is looking for a private label partner to become a second source.

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