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Islands of Fibre - the 'Oh Yes We Can' spots (Jan 2008) PDF Print E-mail
Written by david brunnen   
Wednesday, 26 December 2007 01:00

CMA logoResponses to Ofcom’s consultation on next generation access show that in the UK, and indeed throughout Europe, the next decade will see the creation of many fibre islands – locally defined access networks that are superior in performance, governed in many different ways and designed to reflect the motivations of a range of different private and public investors.

These islands of ‘next generation access’ will be diverse in many other ways – in their intensity of traffic, the demographics of their customers and in technical designs that will evolve as new kit comes on-stream.  Some schemes will focus on ‘new build’ sites whilst others will overlay or replace existing copper networks.  The regulatory regimes for these islands of fibre may vary considerably across Europe and even within sub-national regions.

Some of these islands may be created by established Telco’s in response to commercial opportunities.  In the first part of this decade, however, much of the pioneering work reflects localised initiatives driven by many different motivating forces –  the creation of economic growth, community building, educational priorities, property developments, or the urgent need to remedy the deficiencies of last generation networks.

These changes in purpose, governance, investment, and the inevitability of an evolving patchiness of coverage, may seem like a chaotic pantomime when set against the twisted pair stability of copper-net history.   Maybe it’s just a larger, more acute, re-run of last generation broadband roll-outs; the familiar pattern repeating itself.  Incumbents seeing risk more than opportunity.  Local pressures for priority and subsidies.  Nay-sayers who doubt the need.  Regulators sitting painfully on pointedly neutral fences.  The industry seeking to fix the future in their own best interests.

The transforming power of fully fibred access will, however, induce a far greater shock than all previous attempts to weld new broadband capabilities onto old narrowband networks.  These are not just fibred megabits - these are Managed & Symmetric fibred megabits, with capacity not simply geared to a single ‘killer application’ but designed for concurrent multiple streams of different services.  This dramatic difference leads towards a market structure where ownership of the access network – for so long married to its telephonic service partner – now faces not just separation but final and irrevocable divorce proceedings.  Today’s under-served (and undeserved) DSL Not-Spots will be eclipsed by new outbreaks of fully fibred ‘Oh-Yes-We-Can’ spots.


Consumer satisfaction will hinge not on whether fibre is available for your home or office but on how many different competitive services that single fibre will deliver to your door and how easy it will be to switch between suppliers.  In what should be an intensely innovative service era,  no-one needs  a choice of competing fibres.  No-one will want to cling to copper.  Access assured, our choices will all be made in terms of services.


So, beyond the panto season, as  governments wake up to prospects of new service innovations enabled by local fibre networks, let’s hope they find the courage and imagination to think through how best to make this structural transformation happen.  The new agenda leads with interoperability, competitive service choice, open access, head-end neutrality, and dealing with dangers of deeper digital divisions.   Only one thing is certain.   When governments see the light at the end of the fibre, the rules of yester-year will not serve the broadband-enabled service freedoms of the future.


Resolution for 2008?  Oh Yes We Can.





This editorial was first published in networkingPlus magazine - January 2008 issue.


For more in formation on the work of The Communications Management Association see


See also: 

June 2008  -    'Beyond Pipe Dreams ?'  

March 2008 -   'Digital Diversity'

October 2007  'The End of the Line ?'






Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 August 2008 06:24

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