Network Neutrality law in the Netherlands

The Network Neutrality law in the Netherlands obviously is in Dutch.

Too bad, as I believe it is a quite reasonable and intelligently designed piece of legislation.

Let me summarize the highlights of the law text, and its interpretation as added to the actual law.

One should note that the trigger was the proposal by a mobile provider to block Whatsapp, in order to minimize revenue losses of texting. The public did not like it at all…..

The main item is that a provider cannot block or delay specific services or applications as offered over the Internet. (Note: managed non-Internet services like dedicated VOIP VLans or IP-TV VLans are allowed).

As an example:  VOIP like Skype, or other applications that might hurt legacy revenue streams.

Network Management is allowed, or other measures to ensure integrity and safety (spamfiltering, virusdetection etc).. But: equal types of traffic/applications should be treated the same.

Example: all VOIP traffic that is delay sensitive can be treated preferentially over file transfers, but no differentiation in the treatment of VOIP services is allowed.

Network management can be different for different types of subscriptions, but not within the same type.

Pricing differentiation based only on selective access (or rather selective blocking) to Internet sites, services or applications is forbidden.

For example:  a subscription without Internet-VOIP (Skype) is forbidden.

And provisions are made to finetune the law later when more experience is gained.

I do not see any Armageddon in this law, seems like a reasonable stance that protects users. I know that Martin Geddes is in favor of more differentiation in services and pricing, but the experiences up till now has made our Parliament very weary.

Network management: no problem, if fair.

(The advances in network management concepts is for me the most interesting development lately: like  CoDel, see  https://gettys.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/the-next-nightmare-is-coming/)

 

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Stefano for President

Always good to see guys who really know what they are talking about getting into positions where they can make a difference. Stefano Quintarelli is one of them, aiming for the position of president of the Italian regulator.

As Benoit says:

Stefano is one of the most amazing tech brains I know in Italy. He has a keen understanding of the internet ecosystem, and unlike many of the early movers of the net he is also more than capable of articulating the vision on how things need to move forward. More importantly, he has a genuine curiosity and the right network of contacts abroad to not only learn of what’s happening everywhere else but deduce how it might be meaningful and relevant for Italy and Italian players.

I have no idea how these nomination processes work and occur, but for my money Stefano is simply the best candidate for that position. It’s time for someone in Italy to force evolution on the status quo, and Stefano is just the right guy to do that.

Hear, hear !

 

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Slow fiber

The yearly Magnum Opus of Benoit Felten and Costas Troulos is out again, and for free available at
A comprehensive overview of FTTP deployments around the world, yearly updated, shows us the trends. And the direction is not good news for the Western economies.  Read it!

FTTP deployment and adoption outside of South-East Asia is much slower than anticipated and often the result of small-scale initiatives. The core reason is that incumbent operators are often the only ones with the financials to consider such investment, and they’re structurally reluctant to endanger their existing copper-based cash flows. Policy makers, by and large, still see the world with the incumbents at the center and as a consequence policy incentives to deploy are targeted at those who have no incentive to deploy.

What is starting to emerge at the fringes is a fragmentation of the network as local initiatives take place. These are usually small scale and with some public financing (but not always), but could gather momentum especially as existing local utilities start looking into that market. The consequences of the fragmentation are potentially important on the whole ecosystem with a bigger than ever need for a unifying layer ‘over the top’ (although, as Doc recently blogged, there’s fragmentation happening there too…)

The missing piece of the FTTP puzzle still is funding. Well designed infrastructure projects have all the characteristics that long-term stable funds like pension funds look for, but there’s an inherent defiance towards telecoms, a sector that is known for its instability (and generally known for its poor management performance).

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Learning curve

The Porsche 911 and the BMW boxer motorcycle show what can be achieved by consistently improving and refining an architecture.  The strong points have been improved, the weak parts eliminated untill the value of package is just magnificent. Just follow the learning curve..

Lately I started to wonder if this same principle would apply to FttH deployment.

The Netherlands is a good reference because the basic architecture for FttH has been the same for the last 5 years or more. The dominant (> 90%) architecture deployed is point-to-point with 2 fibers per home, and the volume has grown to more than 350.000 homes passed per year. And last but not least, it is possible to get some (mostly off-the-record)  intelligence on what is really happening.

The big picture substantiates the idea that practice trumps theory. The construction companies have managed to cut the average cost (Capex)  per connection by approx. 15 % in the last 5+ years. That is already impressive, and there is more.  The pressure to reduce Capex has lead to various experiments with new materials (packaging) and new processes that are very promising in my opinion. (The details are not yet available for publication). Some of these innovations  may turn out to be generic and applicable in other countries as well, some of them may be specific for the Dutch urban areas.

This observation shows that generic cost calculations made by consultants may seriously be overestimating the actual investment levels, as no learning curve effect is taken into account.  It shows also that sticking to an architecture and keep on improving and improving and improving pays off very well. Which is good news for FttH…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Hyperconnectivity Discuss

The case for FttH

The highlight of the FttH conference in Munich was the presentation by our friend Benoît Felten of the FttH Services Study done for the FttH council.

The goal of the study was to benchmark FttH/B services in Europe: how are they adopted, what marketing strategies are used and how succesfull are they, what is the relative pricing level?

The marketing strategies are as one would expect: newcomers without legacy go for agressive pricing and aim for penetration. Inucmbents with a legacy position to defend aim for creaming off the top first, if they can afford to do so given the competitive environment.

The amazing finding is that the penetration level of active subscribers highly correlates with time since the deployment of the fiber network. The penetration level rises approximately 7 % per year on average.  Large projects, incumbents with premium pricing strategies, and deployments in large cities tend to be slower than average.

The second finding is that the ARPU for FttH/B players is on average 46 % higher than the comparable DSL ARPU. One of the drivers is TV, subscribers will adopt easily to IP-TV over FttH as opposed to IPTV over DSL. The second driver is that subscibers tend to buy more additional services and use them more often (for example VoD 3 x  as much as before).

I guess these numbers will soon pop up in many business case as benchmarks…..

(The complete study was not yet published by the FttH council as of Feb. 15)

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The art of interfacing

Yesterday at the yearly FTTH council Europe conference in Munich Geneixs announced their new  FTTH modem/CPE, called the “Hybrid”. A commercial succes apparently, given the announcement of lead customers (Reggefiber, Cogas, the Icelandic operator and others) and the interest at the booth.

For me the most interesting part was the explanation of their design: why they have broken up the CPE in 3 layers, each layer in a separate module.

When designing a  product there are advantages in integrating everything in one package but also drawbacks. There is no single good answer in how to balance cost (CAPEX ánd OPEX), reliability, robustness, flexibility in offering options and upgrade paths. It all depends, so why did they shift from the industry practice of integrated boxes to a triple-layer approach?

Their answer is:  diverging lifecycles and costs.

The wallmounted fiber-termination unit has a very long technical and economical life. As long as there is no need to change connectors there is no need for upgrades. Could be 15-20 years.

The optical receiver and power unit (network termination unit) is specific for a technology (P2P, PON, WDM). As long as the maximum supported bandwidth (like 1 Gbps for P2P) is not exceeded the unit needs no upgrade as the functionality is very basic. Life cycle 7-10 yrs?

The residential gateway unit (“Live!”) takes the output of the network termination unit and converts it to services like Internet, voice, IPTV and the like. Additional hardware features (e.g. wifi) or software features can either be remotely activated or require a new service delivery unit. Life cycle 3 yrs or less as this level is where the changing demands of customers and pressures of competition are manifest.

Makes sense, but isn’t it more expensive to break up an integrated product into multiple modules? Apparently not as other costs can be reduced :it gives lower complexity costs and lower production costs, and lower OPEX for the operator.

The product matrix does not explode with the increasing demand for more features and variations in the residential gateway functionality. The seperation in layers reduces the number of units to be maintained and increases production volumes per type.

The network termination unit contains the bulky and relatively expensive parts as the optical transceiver and the power unit (power for the residential gateway unit is delivered by the NTU unit). The residential gateway PCB therefore can be manufactured fully autmated using SMD’s (surface mounted devices), reducing the costs. According to Genexis it can be manufactured in Europe for “Asian prices”.

The design has been optimized for “foolproof” mounting, a click-on is all that is needed. The residential gateway unit can be mounted by customers themselves, allowing the operator to ship new units by mail. ( The handling by participants at the show of the demo units seems to support this claim, as far as I have seen).

The seperation in 3 stackable modules opens also the door for new business models. One can imagine that an operator delivers the FTU and stacked NTU only, and a service provider  ( Google?)  the residential gateway.

Genexis apparently does not have plans to license the interface and the design of the residential gateway (yet). In my opinion they should investigate that option very seriously. It would accelerate the deployment of this very interesting architecture, increase the richness of residential gateway options and increase the attractiveness of FttH.

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Putting POF cables in ducts with power lines

In a previous post I mentioned the possibility of adding a POF (plastic optical fiber) cable to existing electricity ducts with live power cables. POF is a great yet still expensive (lack of volume) option for a home network. Installing is easy with a 2 x 2.2 mm cable and I have experienced no (“zero”) reliability problems in the last year in my home POF network.

One of the vendors (www.homefibre.at) advocates this particular option and we had a conversation about safety regulations. In my country (and probably many others) the regulations aim to prevent thermal hotspots that could lead to fire, and to prevent crossover (shorts) of power lines to other conductors.

The question was both legal and practical: would pulling POF cable next to live power cabling in the same duct lead to insurance risks (no coverage in case of fire) and/or practical risks (risk of fire or shorts)?

The practical risk would seem at first glance to be very low: plastic is not very conductive preventing shorts. Yet the main material of POF cabling  is PMMA aka Perspex, a very flammable material. Fortunately the manufacturers cover the PMMA with a flame retardant material, allowing it to pass the UL-tests (USA flammability resistance tests) (pdf  UL Flame retardant tests )

The other practical risk occurs when the ducts are too full, preventing heat (generated by high currents) from escaping. The regulations give clear guidelines for the maximum filling of a duct with powerlines: no more than 33% of the cross section of a ducts may be filled with cabling.

Let’s do some math:

An electrical wire H07V-U  of 2.5 mm² conductive cross section measures  3,2 mm diameter on the outside.

Pi r² = 3,14 x 1,6² = 8 mm²

3 wires (including groundwire) : 24 mm²

A POF cable measures (2 x, separate for send and receive) 2,2 mm in diameter.

Pi x 1,1² = 3,8 mm²

2  x = 7,6 mm²

All together : 32 mm²

The diameter of a normal PVC duct is 16 mm,  minus 2 mm for the material thickness. The open cross section is 153 mm², 1/3 of that is 51 mm².

So: adding one or two POF cables to an electrical duct would not violate the regulation.

The legal question has no clear cut answer as the regulations have not been written with this application in mind. The lawyers I contacted suggested that if the POF cable would have the same flame retardant characteristics as the electrical cable, and the same isolation voltage as the electrical cable, you would have a good case in court.

My conclusion was that a professional possibly would hesitate to take the legal risk as a company as it is terra incognito,  but that the practical risks for a DIY installation are quite limited (provided you would use an UL listed POF cable).

Now the only barrier to take is volume production to get the costs down.

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Architects live in the previous century

Getting fiber to your home usually means taking a much dreaded look at your home network for voice, data and video: 9 out 10 times it needs to be modified and upgraded. In my home town where FttH has been deployed most of the assistance I give to friends and relatives is first in voice number porting and secondly in untangling and restoring the home networks. Usually it’s a jungle of cables and connections you hate to touch, with some wireless (wifi)  added. In none(!) of these homes wifi works good enough to be an alternative for a wired network.

None.

In some homes the reach and performance of wifi is laughable. Concrete walls with steel reinforcement, or floor radiation heating tubes filled with water are very effective cages of Faraday. Or the opposite is true: an abundance of access points, interfering with each other or oversteering the wireless receiver.

Wireless tethering your devices is great, but you absolutely do need a good wired network to most rooms in the home to get the performance fiber can give you.

Which never has been a point of consideration for architects or builders in the past. At best some tubes for PSTN/voice cables and some tubes for coax cables ( TV) to 2 or 3 rooms were planned and built during construction. Ok, if you have been educated in the 60’’s and 70’s and have designed homes in the 80’s and early 90’s, you are excused for not foreseeing the rise of the Internet and the importance of connectivity. So in these homes you have to add on the home network which can be a nuisance and a lot of work.

It is a bloody shame however if an architect fails to take this into account in this century, designing homes as if this revolution has not taken place and connectivity has become as important an utility as electricity. Yet most architects still do.

My recent experience has been in Amsterdam with new homes, built in 2010. Very nice family homes, targeted at middle upper class and higher with kids, multistory, square in the middle of a borough claiming to be very modern. No tubes for network cables, wifi reach is dismal , only a couple of connection points for TV and for voice.  WTF??

Even worse: if you try to reuse existing tubes for voice cabling or electricity cabling, adding data cables (Plastic Optical Fibre can be put in the same duct as electricity) to various rooms, it is a nightmare. To save money flexible PVC tubes have been used.

The drawback of these tubes is the high friction when you want to pull wires through them, making it impossible in practice to add even a tiny cable in an existing tube.

So in desperation the home owner of this expensive new house is drilling holes through walls and mounting plastic cable ducts along walls and floors to get the connectivity he needs. Ugly but there is no other option. Something that could have been integrated beautifully and for a pittance if the architects would have lived in this century, not the previous one.

We have still a long way to go….

Posted in Hyperconnectivity Discuss

The Wealth of Information

Some time ago I stumbled upon the best known book of Adam Smith “The Wealth of Nations”, with some time to spare. Well, there is nothing like reading the classics yourself instead of relying on second-hand (or worse) interpretations, if only to see what all the fuss is about.

This time it was a pleasant surprise. The “moral philosopher” Adam Smith stated something which is still of great value today. Not so much the often abused “invisible hand” metaphor as the war he was waging against the stifling effects of oligarchies and monopolies on the growth of our collective wealth.

His book depicts a society in the late 1700′s that is locked up in commercially controlled sections. Professions (guilds), land use (hereditary) and markets (mercantilism, colonies) are monopolized or guarded by an oligarchy.
Adam Smith makes a strong and eloquent argument why these silo’s are erroneously seen as a profitable system (by those in control) yet limit the growth of the wealth for all. A more liberal economy would open the door for more specialization and therefore a way higher productivity, for more competition and therefore the push to innovate. More specialization requires a larger “ecosystem” to sell to and to source from in order to get what you need to thrive, aka a large geography/economy to trade with without hindrance. ( The key enabler is trust: without trust the edifice collapses, something we painfully are reminded of these days).

The enormous benefit is a much larger wealth for everyone, lifting the boat to unforeseen heights: the title is “The Wealth of Nations”, not “The Wealth of Individuals” and for a very good reason.

This “liberal”  (relatively to what was practice in the 1700′s) view is nowadays something like the 11th Commandment, yet in his day and age it must have been revolutionary. Scary for the powers that be: how can anyone believe that relinquishing power and embracing uncertainty will turn out to be a good thing? More precisely, turn out to be a good thing for you yourself? The more amazing it is that this book has been so influential, that it marks a turning point where this more open economic structure became accepted as a generator of wealth for everyone.

We need a new Adam Smith nowadays, one that explains these old maxims again but now framed for the information economy. In my opinion we are still in the 1700′s of the information economy : copyright laws, intellectual property laws and patent laws take us where no law has gone before, only to carve out copyright guilds, create absolute IP monopolies and sustain patent oligarchies that wage ridiculous battles. A mistaken belief that information has monetizeable value and therefore needs to be locked up.

The historic lesson seems forgotten that oligarchies and monopolies stifle growth, that we only can grow by building upon each others efforts. Sharing and trading of (in this case) information will lead to an explosion of productivity and wealth for everyone.

Scary? Yes, if you are on top of the guild and have no clue what will be the new business model. No, if you observe the escalating costs (direct costs and opportunity costs) of the enforcement of the monopolies on information against the growing undercurrent. Just study the ACTA trade agreement, see the vicious attitude against individuals sharing files and imagine the costs to society of trying to enforce the agreement.

Hopefully it is only a generational thing, hopefully soon the generation will fade away that is scared by this newfangled Internet. Hopefully a new moral philosopher, 250 years after Adam Smith will write an eBook that is as influential as the Wealth of Nations. Can’t wait.

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Mobile or wireless tethering?

The rather artificial dichotomy between “fixed” and “mobile” broadband is becoming a burden. Not only is “mobile” broadband technically a fixed line with a long wireless tether (the “mobiile utopians” are eloquently trashed in this rant of Benoit Felten), the explosion of powerful handheld wireless devices  (tablets, phones) has created a user experience that is expected everywhere. Ubiquitous broadband, as often predicted, is the name of the game.

The industry wants to keep the dichotomy alive, as the difference of  business models and control parameters generates income. Recently an Ericcson executive predicted publicly that soon there will be 5 billion mobile broadband connections, far outstripping the fixed lines (currently less than 1 billion).

The reality you can observe everyday in the developed sections of the world is that most connectivity is consumed semi-static. Wireless yes, but not mobile in the sense of moving all the time.

It is great to have a high performance wireless tether in the location where you work, sit, talk and enjoy yourself. Wifi fits the bill.  Roaming aka walking from one spot to the next and expecting to stay connected happens every now and then. This slow roaming can easily be supported if you do not mind small hiccups. (Eduroam shows how, with a single-sign-on and authentication worldwide (!!)).

It would be absolutely silly financially to try to provide connectivity for this purpose through the traditional mobile networks structure, even with LTE. There is no way there is enough bandwidth available unless you replicate the density of wifi in the home: you need many very local wireless cells.

It may take a while before this reality hits the boardrooms, but we need to start thinking of (1) fixed lines to the everywhere (2) hyperlocal wireless tethers with seamless roaming (Eduroam for business/personal use) (3) mobile broadband from large towers to fill the gaps.

 

 

 

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