Cable guys

While wireless technologies such as WiMAX often seem to be stealing the limelight recently, the cabling sector has been experiencing significant growth as demand for reliable, high capacity backhaul reaches new heights. CommsMEA speaks to three industry insiders about growth and development of the sector.

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By  Administrator Published  August 24, 2008

While wireless technologies such as WiMAX often seem to be stealing the limelight recently, the cabling sector has been experiencing significant growth as demand for reliable, high capacity backhaul reaches new heights. CommsMEA speaks to three industry insiders about growth and development of the sector.

What trends are you seeing in the cabling sector in the MENA region?

Al Ghoul: There are four categories of cabling, namely end-user cabling systems; access cabling systems; metro cabling and long haul cabling. Today, the MENA region is undergoing an ICT revaluation due to which there is a huge demand for all the four categories of cabling.

The factor that is creating the demand is real estate development wherein a number of modern smart buildings are being built. Also the new telecom operators, who are rolling out their own service related infrastructure to offer services, are giving a big thrust to demand.

Botes: Due to the growth in investments made within key vertical markets across the region, and the rapid development of advanced technology in the Middle East, with a focus on the construction sector in UAE, the demands for structured cabling solutions are growing and becoming more sophisticated. R&M's leading cabling solutions are experiencing growth in demand year-on-year across different markets in the MEA region. Today one cable can do what 30 cables would have done 10 years ago.

Hartley: The deployment of fibre at the moment is growing at a phenomenal rate. We just had a second licenced operator in South Africa and they are currently deploying a lot of fibre which is leading our national operator to update their fibre optic networks as well. A lot of municipalities are also deploying their own fibre, for fibre to the home.

Cell phone companies are also deploying a lot of fibre. Vodacom and MTN are both deploying a lot of fibre for their subscriber-based customers to offer bandwidth to businesses. As for the rest of Africa, in the last five years there has also been a lot of fibre deployed by telecoms companies. Angola is now doing a big infrastructure project. A lot of fibre and copper is going to mines.

How is cable competing with wireless technologies? Do you think fibre optics will dominate?

Al Ghoul: In terms of technology, fibre optics has a better capability to carry more capacity and have better performance; however wireless technology is much easier to implement and can grant quick wins to offer services to end-users.

With new wireless technologies such as advanced WiFi and WiMAX, today we can see a lot of push to use wireless technologies to offer services to end users. However penetration of cables is by far more than that of wireless technologies, especially in terms of broadband services.

A recent study in the U.S. showed that broadband services are mainly offered on cables and DSL (more than 90%) while fixed wireless technology only caters for less than 4%.

Botes: There is significant growth in wireless LAN deployment generally. Nevertheless we see wireless as a complementary technology to structured cabling systems.

Currently most of the wireless LAN systems are deployed as an overlay to existing LAN networks where users want to benefit from the flexibility and mobility of wireless access, however where the business needs dedicated bandwidths and higher levels of quality of service we see still a commitment to classical cabling systems.

Hartley: Each technology is very application applicable. There are instances when you can't deploy cable especially through areas that are dense forest or mountain. I think fibre and wireless work fairly well hand in hand in Africa.

Africa has such huge areas and installing cable is too much expense and effort. Wireless technologies can be better across large areas and then in the metropolitan areas cable can come into effect.

What is driving the market for cable? Where does its future lie (e.g. in backhaul)?

Botes: The demand for unrestricted communication! Data volumes are soaring as more and more information is exchanged. The bandwidths are increasing, with everyone wanting high-speed access. IP is turning the world into a global village as networks span the entire planet.

Information is a highly perishable commodity and "always ON" is the new standard and what is expected from everyone. These are the main drivers which have a massive influence on the cabling market and are true for both enterprises and network operators.

For businesses, increasing data volumes and higher demands regarding business continuity has lead to further deployment of data centres. This entails a direct need for high performance cabling systems with capacities in excess of 10GB.

Network operators have to manage the convergence to have a competitive market offering in the field of triple-play or quadruple-play services. Though ADSL and other copper-wire access networks have allowed huge increases in network speed, they are no longer adequate to support this evolution in services. So the use of optical fibre in one form or another is the big topic for the future.

Will cables be laid in developing markets And legacy fixed infrastructure ever be updated?

Botes: Typically the trend (similar to what happened during the nineties in Europe and the U.S.) is that there will be major focus on backhaul construction and cable laying. This will be followed by metro cable implementation and then by the last mile cable implementation which could be either fibre or copper.

The demand for superior and sophisticated solutions and products has been growing over the years and no compromise is accepted by users and business alike. Communication round the clock is a given, with requirements for high quality and high-speed access a must.

Businesses and most individuals wanting access from home now expect broadband - i.e. faster than dial-up - access to the internet. Many governments believe that in the 21st century access to good quality, high-speed telecommunications services will be basic to the future economic development of their countries - and this is often compared with the development of motorways in the 20th century.

In most of the developed countries ADSL and other copper-wire access networks have allowed huge increases in network speed, although this performance will no longer be adequate.

In places where copper TTP to the customer premises already exists, a FTTN (Fibre to the Node) solution using VDSL technology for the last 350-1000 metres is generally the most economic solution.

For developing countries we see very individual scenarios. It is always crucial to invest in infrastructure. Because of this we see in some countries the trend to go directly to a fibre-based solution, skipping the xDSL deployment. They carefully consider the benefits of Passive Optical Networks (PON) systems which offer an immediate, complete and economic solution with an "open ended" ability to develop into the future.

That's a solution for countries which want to bring broadband to every household. At the same time, there are some countries that need to take one further step, and that is to bridge the digital divide by bringing broadband to isolated and rural areas including village for example. There we also see wireless technologies as a favourable solution.

Al Ghoul: Both cables and wireless technologies will be implemented in developing markets, however once new services start becoming more viable the need for fibre optic cable systems will be more obvious. As for developed countries, they have been working for the last few years on developing and updating their infrastructure.

This is because it is the only way telecom operators will be able to offer their advanced services (such as IPTV) which is the main revenue generator for them in the short and mid term plans (Broadband services in Europe are growing from 44% in 2007 to 71% by 2012).

What challenges are you seeing in the market?

Hartley: One of the problems in Africa is a skills shortage in fibre optics and networks. The continent is very dependent on South Africa. In Northern Africa they go to Europe or the Middle East for skills. It makes work more difficult - the costs of working here are quite high, and logistics is not easy. Generally it takes a while to get anything done.

What type of projects have you been involved with?

Botes: Our most recent project was in Jordan for one of the largest Arab group of professional services firm in the ME region, Talal Abu-Ghazaleh. It involved the successful completion of the large-scale implementation of an advanced integrated structured cabling network infrastructure at Talal Abu-Ghazaleh regional office in Amman, Jordan.

How can operators benefit by investing in new cable infrastructure?

Botes: To be able to effectively provide efficient and advanced communication systems to their customers' telecom providers understand that investing in reliable cabling network infrastructure is a must.

We do not believe that the operators in this region generally fall short when it comes to investing in cabling as they are aware of the importance of this when it comes to providing competitive and advanced services to their customers.

How is the future for copper as a fixed infrastructure?

Botes: The future is still promising. For many enterprises copper cabling will remain the main choice. The technology will be further developed regarding transmission speeds and also will enter new application fields. Powered by the trend "all over IP" structured cabling will be further deployed in the building automation market.

In the field of network operators we will experience a shift to new technology. The very big investments globally will take place in the fibre optic network arena.

The speakers

Justin Hartley, managing partner, Fibre Aid (South Africa)

Osama Al Ghoul, managing partner, Devoteam Middle East

Eugene Botes, technical director, R&M, MEA

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