Eduard Scheiterer, MD at ADTRAN, outlines what operators need to know about emerging vectoring technology
Eurocomms.com: Vectoring has been getting some increased coverage this year: what role do you see it playing in a European operator’s toolkit?
Eduard Scheiterer: Given the challenging macroeconomic environment, a capital-intensive business model and on-going regulatory uncertainty, Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) penetration in the majority of Europe is trailing behind most of the rest of world.
As European telcos come under intense competitive pressure from cable companies and other MSOs, vectoring allows them to realise ultra-broadband speeds over existing copper plant quickly and effectively.
Vectoring can deliver 200Mbps more or less immediately, and within telcos’ tight budgetary limits. That is a valuable addition to the broadband access toolkit, rather than a replacement for FTTH in all cases.
What are the key operational considerations for deploying a vectoring solution?
Vectoring manipulates the signal on each broadband connection to eliminate crosstalk between adjacent copper pairs: with that interference removed, bandwidth is maximised.
Using vectoring, an ultra-broadband service of 100 Mbps can be deployed on a single copper pair at up to 550m from the DSLAM. In practice, this means roadside cabinets moving ever closer to homes, or deploying small form-factor environmentally sealed and hardened DSLAMs at the fibre/copper distribution point underground, or deploying them on existing structures. If two pairs can be bonded, a 100 Mbps service can be extended to 1050m.
Beside the bandwidth boost, the coverage of existing products can be increased dramatically with vectoring. This is a key advantage, and leads to a cost optimisation for outdoor deployments due to a higher port granularity for the curb installation.
For vectoring to work effectively, real-world deployment factors have to be accommodated. Just one “non-vectored” broadband connection within the binder will interfere with all of the vectored pairs nearby. A system-level approach working across cards in a system, or across multiple DSLAMs in a cabinet, ensures that all pairs are included within the vectoring scheme. This eliminates costly remedial rewiring of circuits, ensures that DSLAM ports are never stranded, and guarantees a more consistent customer experience.
What other challenges exist beyond the technical ones?
There is some regulatory inertia. It’s a long-held tenet of European telecoms regulation that infrastructural competition is to be encouraged at all levels in the access network. System level vectoring, with its requirement for all pairs in a binder to be managed by a unifying controller, seems to hint more at consolidation than diversification.
In practice, this ought not to be the case. As DSLAMs move closer and closer to homes, spurred on by deeper fibre deployments, they each serve fewer and fewer subscribers: in other words, there are larger numbers of smaller DSLAMs, and therefore ample scope for competition to install local infrastructure.
It would be helpful to have a clarification of EU telecoms regulation, reflecting the need for accelerated broadband investment and the practical considerations of broadband rollouts. But this isn’t slowing down the pace of vectoring adoption we are already seeing among operators this year.
Is vectoring a long- or short-term solution to full-scale fibre rollout?
That is for the market to decide. Persistent innovation in DSL acceleration technologies has pushed copper ever closer to its performance limit. Vectoring delivers the potential for truly ultra-broadband services in the very near term: a ‘must-have’ for telcos, who continue to be at the sharp end of consumer expectation of ever greater headline speeds.
System-level vectoring is an important enhancement, making the superfast experience more rapidly deployable, more dependable, and more inclusive. Beyond that comes G.Fast, the next chapter in copper’s long life.
All the while, fibre will be penetrating deeper and deeper into the access network as DSLAMs move closer to homes. That accelerates the next and inevitable evolution – the move to full FTTH – making it simpler and more cost effective.
How long will all that take? In the centre of cities, where there is intense competition among service providers, it’s likely that FTTH and vectoring will be rolled out on a case-by-case basis by telcos, and FTTH could prevail in the medium term. In the suburbs and rural areas vectoring and its successors may be the only viable wireline solution over the long term. The future will involve a great deal of coexistence between vectoring and G.Fast and GPON, respectively.
There are a number of European vendors beginning to introduce vectoring solutions on to the market: how are vendors differentiating themselves?
The battleground today is the provision of a smooth, operationally effective migration through the various phases of copper-based, ultra-broadband services, maintaining the most attractive total cost of ownership levels for telcos, without orphaning users of slower services or becoming an obstacle for the eventual deployment of FTTH.
To foster competition, solutions such as bit-stream sharing for open access are being considered. Also, cross-system-level vectoring among different vendor systems, although more complex and complicated to deploy, is being contemplated by some operators.
For operators, expedient, affordable system-level (rather than the less manageable ‘card or board-level’) vectoring, small form-factor environmentally sealed and hardened DSLAMs, back-powered from homes for ‘go anywhere’ simplicity, and the ability to mix and match ultra-broadband technologies are the benefits that matter today.