Reflections on Cable, FTTx and future-proofing…

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with the CTO of a European Cable Operator who shall remain nameless, at least for now. You see, I've been trying to ascertain the upgrade path of cable for the last few months, cutting through the vendor bull and the boastful (and often silly) declarations of cable associations here and there. I also had the opportunity for an interesting talk with the technology strategy people at an incumbent operator who shall also remain nameless.

These were enlightening discussions. They made me realise a number of things:

  • not all cable operators are made equal: now this is an evidence, the same way that not all telecom operators are made equal. Clearly though, technology choices made 15 years ago are either coming back to haunt some cable operators or (as seems to be the case with the company I'm thinking of) opening new opportunities in the internet age. These guys have a huge proportion of their footprint very close to the end user (less than 1/2 a km on average) which means that they can deliver high speeds today without too much effort and have multiple upgrade paths to very high speeds without excessive reinvestment.
  • a sound long-term technology strategy is the underpinning of a sound commercial strategy: interestingly, talking to this CTO, I realised that his company (and in a large part I think it was down to him) has had a lot of foresight. This tied in interestingly with the discussion I had with the incumbent's strategy people. They seemed gung-ho on FTTC and argued that FTTH was not commercially viable. That's a sensible position, but I asked them what they were intending to do in 5-7 years when they will have squeezed the last drop of bandwidth out of their FTTC. They didn't have an answer.

There's an overall issue with the industry today which I have already touched on (and it's not just the telecom sector, it's accross the board) and that is that businesses no longer know how to think and make decisions for the long term. That doesn't mean that you have to walk into dead ends knowingly though. When a CTO presents his technology strategy to the board, it should look good in the short term and keep options open for the long-term. Ultimately, it's not even about your technology choice (in this instance
cable vs. fttx), it's about how intelligently you implement them to
avoid these dead ends…

You'd be surprised how few cable and telecom companies I have seen think along those lines…