Fable or Ciber ?

The FTTH Council APAC Anuual Conference in Seoul last week was the second of three such conferences worldwide (the third will be in Las Vegas in September) and as such a second round of numbers was released. I won't dwell on these in this post, but would rather like to focus on a related topic that I've been mulling over for a while and that a discussion with a sharp mind of my acquaintance helped me cristallise.

When the European numbers were released last week, a sharp increase in French numbers was noted, and that surprised me (and many other analysts) since the official FTTH numbers for France released by ARCEP were dismal. Legitimately, many of us queried the company producing the results for the FTTH Council, namely Idate.

It turns out that the reason the numbers in France spiked is due to the deployment method of cable operator Numéricable. Because Numéricable's deployment is mostly in urban areas and because urban areas in France are mostly multi-dwelling habitat, Numéricable has traditionally hosted its amplifiers in the basement of buildings. Thus, while their architecture is technically what the pundits would call FTTLA (Fiber to the Last Amplifier), Idate reclassified it as FTTB (Fiber to the Building).

There was some puzzlement at this decision from various parties, and it's not for me to judge whether it's the right or the wrong thing to do to promote FTTH (which is, after all, the core aim of the Councils). The fact is that according to the definition of terms agreed upon by the three Councils, Idate is correct to reclassify Numéricable's FTTLA as FTTB:

“Fiber to the Building” is defined as a communications architecture in which the
final connection to the subscriber’s premises is a communication medium other
than fiber.

The fiber communications path is terminated on the premises for the purpose of carrying communications for a single building with potentially multiple
subscribers.

Since most of Numéricable's network has the amplifier inside the buildings it serves, it's FTTB by that definition.

Taking it one step further, it's quite clear that the ultimate path for cable and fiber architectures are identical on the passive layer. The active solutions might be different (although I'm told that there's renewed interest in EPON from Tier2 US Cable Operators, so even that may end up not being true) but the passive plant is going to look increasingly similar.

Which raises the question: in whose interest is it to present these architectures as radically different ? The answer is actually that it's in everyone's interest.

The telcos want to mark the differentiation because they hope the term of fiber itself will drive adoption. In other words, by stating that what they are deploying is fiber and what the other guy is deploying is not, they hope that customers will perceive a difference and go for fiber. They're mostly misguided, in my opinion, as most customers purchase services as opposed to a physical wire, but clearly the cable guys think customers are dumb too because they've spent a lot of money trying to convince customers that they were doing fiber too.

And yet outside of the realm of marketing, cablecos are making damn sure that the powers that be, and regulators in particular, know that their network is very different from the fiber network the telcos are deploying. Very different. Why ? Because they fear that if regulators start looking at quasi-ubiquitous cable networks as "just another high capacity network" they are going to want to impose the same kind of regulatory obligations to their network that they impose to the telcos'.

The fact is that despite what everyone involved is trying to pretend, the cable and the fiber networks are increasingly similar in capacity and in services delivered. The artificial regulatory divide that made sense when cable was about TV and telco was about telephony makes no sense whatsoever anymore.

It's high time that regulators start looking at this level-headedly and apply the same obligations to dominant players in any given market no matter which network is powering their services.

Fable, or Ciber ?