Back from Lisbon (with some detours)

I'm finally back home after over a week of traveling in Europe. Pauline and Carlos, amongst others, have already expressed their views of the FTTH Council Annual Conference in Lisbon, so I'll try not to overlap too much of what they covered, but will nonetheless share my own thoughts.

I don't fully agree with Carlos that it's been a year lost, but I think he has a point when he says that facially there was very little different to be heard in Lisbon this year compared to Copenhagen last year. I've always said and written that FTTH deployment would be a slow affair and we are certainly seeing that now. The fact that the numbers have hardly budged in Europe is certainly depressing, but it doesn't mean that nothing has changed in the background.

Where I do agree with him is that I sometimes feel frustrated with a certain lack of vision from many vendors who form the bulk of this show. When I say lack of vision, it's really about vendors looking beyond their concrete interests in selling gear and understanding how this market might happen. I addressed some of these issues in my keynote speech on the Benefit Compendium – a study that I have undertaken for the Council alongside Roland of Idate – but essentially, with the exception of Alcatel Lucent and Cisco, I'm not seeing anyone tackling the issue yet.

I had a lot of interesting discussions behind the scenes though which suggest that there is some awareness that the way the market is being developed needs to evolve. The reluctance of most incumbents to move is becoming clearer every day, and the lack of attractive services is also increasingly glaring. That suggests two topics that will be key in the next 24 months: policy and services.

As I'm fond of saying and did indeed say at a DSM Desotech dinner that I was invited to give a speech at

"Deploying the infrastructure is actually the easy part: it can be solved just by throwing money at it. Getting customers to embrace the new infrastructure is the real challenge."

On the policy side, it's becoming increasingly evident to me that the incentives put in place by regulators, governments and the European Commission to kickstart FTTH deployment have largely failed. FTTH is only emerging in countries where the market dynamics make it imperative for the incumbent to respond to competitive NGA initiatives, and even then only as fast as the threat really is. In every country in Europe where this is not true, deployment is at a standstill. It seems to me that the powers that be need to acknowledge this and look at easing local government involvement one more step to create that impetus.

On the services side, there was a sign of hope in Lisbon, and that was due to Google's FTTH announcement the previous week. Irrespective of the aims of Google on shaping the North American policy agenda, the fact that they want to experiment with fiber grade services is a positive sign. It suggests that they consider the aggregate number of fiber users worldwide will reach critical mass in two years and be worth addressing as a specific market. That should in turn spur the telcos on to accelerate service deployment for their own FTTH networks when they have them…