FTTH is redefining how Proximus is selling services to enterprises, its CTO says, as the Belgium-based operator embarks on a decade-long deployment of the technology.
Moreover, Geert Standaert (pictured above) says the pure fibre technology has had a “transformational” effect on the company as a whole as it looks to turn itself into a digital services provider.
The CTO spoke to European Communications in the wake of the December 2016 announcement that Proximus plans to spend €3 billion on fibre over the next 10 years.
The investment programme aims to cover 85 percent of businesses and over 50 percent of households in Belgium.
More than 90 percent of the €3 billion has been dedicated to FTTH, with the remainder set to boost the operator’s FTTC network.
The FTTH investment marks a step change for the operator, whose footprint is “practically zero” in the consumer market, according to Standaert.
However, it is the “several thousand” enterprise customers who have already connected to FTTH that have driven Proximus to invest more deeply.
Standaert cites the example of the domino effect created when a bank in one city signed up for FTTH, which led to its competitors following suit in a bid to keep up.
“We had to ask [the city] for a permit to open up the streets in one part of the city,” says Standaert.
“Two weeks later we had to go and ask for another permit to dig up another part of the city, so we saw the traction was there.”
But he adds: “Being reactive is not the right way to tackle it.”
Proximus has selected six cities - Antwerp, Brussels, Charleroi, Ghent, Namur and Roeselare – that will begin to get FTTH this year.
The cities themselves, chosen for the high concentration of businesses located there, have been wooed by the promise that the technology will make them attractive to business.
The CTO believes enterprises have “an urgent need” for fibre.
“They are looking at new types of communications, such as holographics, and we’re getting QoS requests for video conferencing,” Standaert says.
“Fibre is becoming a must have.”
Crucially, fibre has forced Proximus to completely change the way it sells to businesses.
It is no longer about speed or specific services – “so what?” says Standaert – but use cases and business benefits.
“Before we would have stepped into a [customer like supermarket chain] Carrefour and sold them Wi-Fi connectivity,” the CTO says.
“We don’t do that any more.
“Now we say we can tell you who is parking in your car park, where people go in your shops and combine it with mobile data analytics and compare it with people who are passing by the shop.”
Standaert, who has responsibility for the entire fibre project from deployment to sales, says Proximus has segmented its business customers and developed “different story lines” to convince them of the merits of its new offering.
“It’s a fundamentally new way of interacting with our customers,” he continues.
Standaert says it necessitates change in “how you handle processes, the way you steer your people, how you organise your go-to-market [strategy], your sales…”.
Even IT systems require “substantial modifications”, according to the CTO.
It is these issues that make FTTH deployment a different animal to other tech projects Standaert is involved in.
Proximus is also rolling out LoRa and NB-IoT networks, for example, but
Standaert says tech issues are less of a challenge when it comes to FTTH.
The operator has signed up Huawei to supply the core network and Nokia for access tech.
“The bottleneck today is not in the network, it is in the home,” the CTO says.
Scale is an issue, however.
Standaert notes that it took just 18 months to get a “decent” nationwide footprint of VDSL tech compared to the decade-long timeframe set aside for FTTH.
Clearly, Proximus is playing the long game.
Like the UK, Belgium ranks well below the European average when it comes to the number of premises passed with FTTH.
The new investment will not change that statistic overnight, but Proximus is convinced that it FTTH will pay off in many more ways than an improved ranking.
Concludes Standaert: “[FTTH] is about the day after tomorrow.”