Optical access

Commercial and regulatory constraints have been largely blamed for inhibiting the commercial deployment of FTTx access technology across the globe. CommsMEA explores the business case for Middle East operators.

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By  Administrator Published  October 9, 2007

The trend toward optical fibre networks replacing, or at least partly substituting, copper local loop telecommunications infrastructure has been driven largely by developments in Asia.

In South Korea and Japan, such developments have been heavily supported by the countries' respective governments in a bid to attract greater ICT investment.

Longer-term OPEX savings can be in the region of 40 to 60% when compared to legacy networks. These savings can be achieved by rationalising multiple access networks.

However, commercial constraints and regulatory restrictions have conspired to act as more of a deterrent in Western markets where operators have proven reluctant to discard their legacy networks, according to Elaine Chow, a telecommunications consultant for research firm Ovum.

Alcatel-Lucent's experience of working with fibre optic access networks dates back to the initial commercial availability of the technology almost 30 years ago.

The company recently set a world record for the transmission feed of 25.6 Tb/s of optical data over a single fibre strand - enough bandwidth to transmit data from more than 600 feature length DVDs per second - earlier this year.

This feat by far surpassed the previous transmission record of 14 Tb/s established in September 2006 by Nippon Telegram and Telephone. It also serves to underline how commercial availability continues to lag far behind technological capability.

"Optical networking is a critical enabler of the broadband IP revolution that we are seeing throughout the world today," asserts Romano Valussi, president of Alcatel-Lucent's Optics activities.

With such rapid technological advancements hinting at the massive potential of the technology long-term, the onus remains on network operators to make sufficient investment in the commercial deployment of fibre optic technology.

Given that the Middle East telco sector is still classified as a ‘developing market' by many industry analysts, how do regional operators stand to benefit from such technological advances?

"At present, maximum connectivity speeds for customers in the Middle East is 1-2Tb/s using the South East Asia, Middle East and Western Europe cable (SEAMEWE-4)," claims Mazen Hamadallah, Alcatel-Lucent general manager and country senior officer UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.

"This cable extends from South East Asia to Western Europe and is relayed through to terrestrial transport networks to areas such as the Middle East."

Hamadallah points out that the large scale deployment of fibre optics firstly requires transmission equipment (otherwise known as backhaul) to transport information between the network nodes.

"Secondly, what is required is an access network. Access technology is different from the transmission equipment as it has less capacity to transport data," he adds.

Although the cost of a fibre to the home (FTTH ) rollout will vary from country-to-country, Ovum's Chow estimates the cost to be in the vicinity of $1,500 per household in a given market.

FTTx in the Asia Pacific

The Asia-Pacific region currently accounts for the majority of the world's FTTH installations. Ovum predicts that by the end of 2009, there will be approximately 13.8 million FTTH subscribers globally, 82% of whom will reside in the Asia-Pacific region.

Operators in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and others are all involved in projects that take fibre to the home or at least closer to it. Asia-Pacific FTTH activity is currently concentrated in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan's incumbent operator, plans to spend US$1.83 billion over the next five years for a fibre-to-the-building network that will initially connect about 25% of Taiwan's 7.4 million residences and offices.

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