FTTH Council Europe Conference Take-Aways

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The Diffraction Analysis Booth

It's been a little over a week since the 2012 edition of the FTTH Council Europe conference ended in Munich. It's been the most attended of the Council's conferences ever, and apparently has become the largest FTTH Conference worldwide with over 3300 delegates.

For Diffraction Analysis, business-wise this is a show that cannot be missed: most of our customers are present in one form or another and there are opportunities to pursue as well. This year, thanks to the support of my colleagues Costas, Guillaume and Herman I was able to attend more sessions and do more stuff "off-booth" than the previous years, so I got a better sense for the content of the conference presentations.

To be perfectly honest, it is a little puzzling to me that the conference keeps growing in size. For the most part, we see the same people there every year, and while I don't know the proportion of service provider representatives to vendor representatives, I suspect there's still more of the latter than there are of the former. That's definitely going to have to change if the show is to keep its growing momentum.

The content, in my opinion will also need to shift. I understand that vendors are sponsoring the event and want their spot in the limelight, but in all honesty, most of their presentations are little more than thinly disguised commercial pitches. It's a shame because many of these vendors have representatives in their midst that are capable and would probably be willing to contribute more meaningful content to the conversation(s).

Still, I shouldn't be too sweeping. I was chairing a session with vendors talking myself and learned a number of really fascinating things during these sessions, a sign that things are getting better (even if I think it's a little slow going…) And there were a lot of non-vendor sessions with much more interesting content.

Generally, the big topics that emerged at the conference were: 

  • public intervention: the role of local governments and public utilities in fiber deployment was particularly upfront this year. This is probably due to the conference being held in Germany where local utilities are more advanced on these topics. Michael Curri of SNG gave a very good presentation on how to measure the impact of broadband on businesses at a local level. I unfortunately missed the Ericsson presentation in that same session that apparently yielded very impressive numbers tying broadband and economic growth. Need to dig that one up. 
  • financing: there were a number of studies presented that examined financing models. I was a little dissapointed that there weren't more financial people speaking at the conference, but maybe that's because they tend to be not too talkative about these things in general. Still, I think this conference should be the hub for companies looking for funding to meet with funders looking for investment vessels…

There was another topic that was discussed but not very visible: FTTC. Ray LeMasitre of Lightreading wrote a much publicized piece during the show about this called Enough FTTH (Fiber to the Hype). Essentially, he says the Council shot stop criticising alternative technologies for broadband as they provide useful alternatives. 

I agree with Ray to some extent, but the FTTH Council isn't just "an industry pressure group" as Ray puts it. It's a group formed exclusively of vendors, many of whom have no interest in copper technologies whatsoever. So what he calls a bias is, in my opinion, the council's DNA.

Furthermore, the wording that Ray uses in his piece is telling of what I think is a fundamental issue with the industry and the service provider worldview right now: "the FTTH Council Europe's representatives […] feel the need to take a kick at one of the technical alternatives [FTTC]". I don't see FTTH and FTTC as alternatives. Just because a service provider deploys FTTC doesn't mean they can ditch their FTTH plans: they'll come in handy soon enough. These technologies are complimentary, no substitutable.

However, and on this I agree with Ray, the Council isn't really articulating that vision either. Or at least not much. There were some interesting mentions of FTTC, as in Frans Van Camp's presentation on the appetite of consumers for the solutions offered by the various technologies (cable, FTTC, FTTH) in the dutch market, based on quantitative data. In one of my sessions, a vendor also mentioned FTTC as a potential solution, but I don't think there was necessarily a vision there, it was more a way of saying (as I read it): "if you're not keen on FTTH, we can still accomodate you".

The next FTTH Council Conference will be held in London. That's an odd choice, but perhaps one that is aimed at resolving the above conundrum: the UK market, despite a number of vocal FTTH initiatives that still have limited scale to this day, is dominated by an incumbent that's very gung-ho on FTTC. Will we see a marriage of the two technologies consummated in London, I wonder?