We continue to be fascinated by the presentation by Roy Gradwell, Director of Connected Real Estate Ltd, at the Telco 2.0 Digital Cities session. We think the ideas he floated deserve a much wider audience. He presented a new option for financing network build-outs, different from existing vertically integrated models (e.g. Verizon FiOS) or Muni/open models (e.g. Amsterdam’s Citynet).
What interests us most is that it provides a practical framework for realising Malcolm Matson’s open access vision of the future, where networks are funded and owned by long-term low-risk investors and any service provider can ride on top. This is called an OPLAN (Open Public Local Access Network), and implies both the end-user access and metro backhaul are part of the same open network. It’s an intellectually attractive proposition. The trouble is finding the route from “here” to “there”.
Some of the biggest problems with municipal fibre deployments are down to the fact that it’s a big, expensive, monolithic project. The up-front cost is hefty, and its repayment means you have to be very sure there will be enough demand to pay it back. It’s difficult to trial the idea of muni-fibre (or any other kind of metro-fibre rollout) without making a huge investment and therefore taking a big risk. This is the “anchor tenant” problem Dave Hughes, Director of BT’s Wireless Broadband division, mentioned during the session. Other speakers noted how hard it was to co-ordinate the purchase of connectivity across multiple public services given their varying contract commitments and buying cycles.
Plus, if you’re the city government, you can run into problems in the courts - in some places you might get sued by an incumbent telco, and in the European Union quite a few cities have run into trouble with the legislation on state aid to industry.
On the other hand, as Roy points out, for enterprise and government users the bottleneck is between the LAN and the WAN; and in the UK, there’s been hardly any metropolitan area network investment since the end of the cable boom in 1996.
The principle doesn’t need too much stretching to cover residential users either - after all, there’s not much difference between a LAN-wired office block, a LAN-wired factory, or a LAN-wired block of flats from this point of view, and getting fibre reasonably close to the home is the precondition of fibre-to-the-X, VDSL, WiMAX, and the like.
Nobody wants to build a metro backhaul network without access network customers; but nobody wants to build an access network without a plentiful supply of cheap metro backhaul. And few are willing to risk doing both. So, what is to be done?
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