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Hot News from the FTTH Conference in Lisbon!

Find here the Hot News from the FTTH Conference in Lisbon!

Services in the spotlight! 

Reflecting the theme "taking your life to new horizons", this year's FTTH Conference puts the emphasis on fibre as an enabler for new services and applications.

The theme also highlights a new task that the FTTH Council Europe is taking on - to help service providers educate the consumer about the benefits of fibre.

"Consumers don't understand megabits per second, they understand services," explained Karel Helsen, President of the FTTH Council Europe, in his opening speech.

A survey by RVA LLC on behalf of the FTTH Council North America found that less than a third of consumers (28%) understood the term FTTH. But when the concept was explained, the majority said they would subscribe to a fibre service given the chance.

Looking at the conference program for the next few days, it is clear that FTTH is about more than bandwidth and technology; it's about the opportunity to interact with your peers, to enjoy a wide variety of entertainment services, boost business productivity, as well as connecting with education, health and government services. As Helsen points out, fibre is the only medium that can support all these services, both now and into the foreseeable future.


Portugal aims for 100% fibre penetration

It's no accident that the FTTH Conference has come to Portugal. Each year the Council picks a country that looks set to be a rising star in the FTTH firmament. With an impressive 186% increase in FTTH subscriber numbers in 2009 and a five-fold increase in homes passed by fibre, Portugal certainly fits the bill.

Welcoming the conference to Lisbon, Portuguese Prime Minister José Socrates said the presence of the conference validates the country's strategy. Despite the worldwide financial crisis, now is the right time to invest in the country's infrastructure.

Back in 2005, Portugal set out a five-year ICT plan for the country, which is now coming to an end. The goals have been met: Portugal has doubled the number of internet users with access to broadband, and tripled the number of computers in schools. Portugal also claims to lead the world in the sophistication and availability of online public services.

However, in the word of the Prime Minister "we are not satisfied". The next stage in the development of ICT is to invest in next-generation fibre networks, a process that has already begun.

The Portuguese government encouraged this by setting out a clear regulatory policy, and reaching an agreement with three of the country’s main telecoms operators on the deployment of FTTH. In addition it provided a line of credit to help support the operator’s investment plans.

The results are clear: by the end of 2009, 1.2 million homes passed with fibre networks, and 13,500 subscribers have taken services so far.

The goal is to reach 100% coverage of the Portuguese territory, according to the Prime Minister. The government has an equal opportunities policy for fibre, and has launched public tenders to ensure that rural areas will also be covered.

The venue for next year’s conference was also revealed during the opening session. The FTTH Conference 2011 will be held on 9-10 February in Milan, Italy.


Network lite? No thanks!

Not all broadband networks are created equal, says Eric Qualman, author of Socialnomics, and keynote speaker at the FTTH Conference in Lisbon today. As evidence he points to the recent announcement of Facebook Lite, a version of the popular social media website that has been specifically developed for end-users that don’t have enough bandwidth to support all the photo and video-rich updates being posted to the site.

Video sharing is a key function of social media websites, and high-bandwidth networks are essential for these services to function properly. Qualman noted that while consumers may not understand megabits, they do understand that their video isn’t loading fast enough. And they may well use social medial channels to complain about the quality of their broadband service.

Fear of negative feedback is one obstacle that makes businesses wary about embracing social media. But the smart companies understand that negative feedback can be turned on its head and used to their advantage, he says. If a company can resolve a problem in a public forum, it can boost its reputation, and convert the complainant into one of its biggest fans.

Social media is not something businesses can avoid, Qualman adds. People are out there talking about your company whether you like it or not. Social media has caused a shift in power on the internet.  A single consumer can have a huge impact on brand and reputation: to illustrate the point, Qualman showed the YouTube video “United breaks guitars” – hilarious viewing for everybody except United.

Qualman’s take-home message is that social media has become an essential resource for business, and he has plenty of statistics to back up this claim. Dell claims to have sold $3 million of computers using Twitter. Barack Obama used a social media campaign to raise $500 million in donations via social media websites; 92% of those donations were in increments of less than $100.

Research by Wetpaint/Altimeter found businesses that are both deeply and widely engaged in social media significantly surpass their peers in both revenues and profits. The study also found the company sales with the highest levels of social media activity grew on average by +18%, while those companies with the least amount of social activity saw their sales decline by 6%. To put that in context, only 18% of traditional TV advertising generates a positive return on investment.

Return on investment is only one aspect of social media, however.  Qualman see the proper use of social media as an extension of good business ethics.  Put simply, it’s about listening to your customers and then responding.

Social media affects every area of business, from marketing and PR, to recruitment and new product ideas, to sales and after-sales service. It can even work as a crisis management tool – when the plane landed on the Hudson River, the first anyone heard of it was when a video update got posted on Twitter. That’s why it has to be fully integrated within the corporate culture.

Qualman encourages all businesses to take the plunge. “When you get into the social media space you’re going to make mistakes,” he says. “Get out there, fail fast and move forward. You don’t accomplish anything by sitting on the sidelines and watching.”


TV broadcasters need FTTH

One clear message to emerge from the content session this afternoon was that broadcasters and fibre network providers should be best friends. 

Digital delivery had radically changed the face of broadcasting, says Bert Habets, CEO of RTL Netherlands. In 1989 when the company started, the world was simple: there was one TV in the living room, and changing channels just meant pressing a button on the remote. Today, the number of channels has multiplied dramatically, there are different distribution technologies and different devices for accessing content. The linear model of TV delivery is giving way to a combination of push and pull: broadcast and on-demand.

Four years ago, RTL launched a catch-up TV service in the Netherlands, which makes TV content available on demand for 7 days after first broadcast. This service grew quickly to deliver 185 million streams in 2009. Bandwidth requirements have grown in a correspondingly dramatic fashion, and now exceed 2,500 TB of data per month. Yet the service still only constitutes a small percentage of total viewing time. Imagine how much bandwidth would be required to expand the service to 10% or even 20% of viewing time, says Habets. 

"In my view, broadcasters and fibre are a great match", said Habets. "We should be long-term partners for the future in order to be successful in rolling out these services."

Ferry Kesselaar, Technology Manager for NOS, a company that delivers a content portal for news, sport and events in the Netherlands, echoed this point of view.

IPTV providers have a dilemma: they can deliver high-quality content but few channels, or go for lots of channels but of low quality. It's not a compromise they really want to make because it's limiting their business opportunities. "In our view the issue is the last mile," he said. "You as fibre people can help us to get there."


FTTH Business Guide launched

One of the characteristics of the FTTH scene is that many of the organisations involved don't come from traditional telco backgrounds.

Indeed, while the incumbent operators' share of the FTTH market is growing, it is still only 15% of the total, according to the latest figures from market research firm IDATE. This means many organisations deploying fibre networks face a steep learning curve.

The FTTH Business Guide, which is launched today, aims to fill this knowledge gap. The aim of the document is to help organisations move forward with their business plans more quickly, and avoid costly mistakes.
It highlights areas in the business plan that need attention, and discusses the major influcences on income and expenditure.


FTTH meets sustainable healthcare

The healthcare industry is looking to the ICT sector to help it solve some massive challenges: an aging population, ongoing shortages of healthcare personnel, and an increase in the prevalence of chronic diseases.   
Given that healthcare is the world’s largest service industry, worth some $4,000 billion back in 2006, this is no small problem, says Ton van den Hoven, senior director of healthcare informatics at Philips Healthcare.
Indeed, he suggests that the challenge facing healthcare is similar to that of upgrading the world’s copper telephone networks to fibre.  It requires significant up-front investment in order to bring value to different tiers of society – the patients, the healthcare providers and society as a whole.
E-health is likely to play an important role in creating a sustainable healthcare industry.  The definition of e-health includes clinical information systems and tools for medical professionals, as well as telemedicine and homecare.  
 “Today different phases in the cycle are being carried out in different locations.  Linking them up is of vital importance,” said van den Hoven.  “Home healthcare also needs to be integrated into the overall health care cycle.”
Philips Medical is interested in the provision good internet connectivity to patient homes in order to enable independent living for the elderly and for "compliance monitoring" – keeping an eye on the patient to make sure they are following the treatment regime (he says this is common reason that treatments fail).
One of the key challenges for the adoption of e-health is infrastructure said van den Hoven.  The other major challenge is standardisation – so that exchange of patient records and healthcare data can take place regardless of the technical solution.
The FTTH ecosystem covers a wide range of organisations, and the Council has set itself the task of bringing together the applications and services providers with the technology and infrastructure players.  In that sense the appearance of Philips Medical at the FTTH Conference is an important step.  Now the conversation can really begin!

OECD outlines national benefits of FTTH

The maximum benefit of broadband won’t be achievable until coverage goes national, according to Taylor Reynolds, a telecoms analyst with the OECD.  

To illustrate his point, Reynolds cited an example from France.  As part of its disaster recovery plan for an H1N1 pandemic, the French government had put together 620 hours of video covering nine subject areas that could be broadcast via TV channels over a period of 90 days.  Perhaps surprisingly, the programming would not be available over the internet.
This is strange because the internet offers the most sophisticated educational possibilities.  Lessons could be distributed via the highly efficient peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol, and students could get group instruction direct from their teacher via video link.  But the French government had discounted this option because not all students have access to broadband.  
The OECD has also released a study that estimates the cost savings that would need to be generated by “spillover effects” like education in order to justify government investment in a national FTTH network.  The amount required is not huge in the context of national spending – cost savings of just 0.5-1.5% would be needed across the four public sectors of health, education, electricity and transport, according to the report.  
Reynolds says that governments should take these spillover effects into consideration; they can’t expect telecoms operators to take them into account, because telcos do not get paid for these benefits and cannot include them in its investment calculations.
Fibre networks are going to be extremely important in the context of delivering future internet access, he adds.  “If history has shown us anything it’s that we’re not very good at predicting the future,” said Reynolds. “We cannot foresee the future, so we need a future proof network going forward.”
In the OECD’s view, broadband is becoming an all-purpose technology like roads, water, sewers or electricity.  Electricity networks now supply electricity for applications that were never envisaged when the network was originally built: can you imagine the engineers of the 1950s designing a network into which you plug electric cars?