Prysmian Group at FTTH Conference: interview with E. Aker

E. Aker, President of the FTTH Council Europe, explains opportunities and challenges facing FTTH deployment in Europe.

Milan   -   18 Feb 2016

Prysmian Group at FTTH Conference: interview with E. Aker

E. Aker, President of the FTTH Council Europe, explains opportunities and challenges facing FTTH deployment in Europe.

Edgar Aker, Prysmian Group’s Director of Marketing & Business Development in the Netherlands and President of the FTTH Council Europe, talks about the Council's upcoming annual FTTH Conference, Calling for a Brighter Future, at which policymakers, regulators, operators and end users will discuss fibre infrastructure solutions for the coming years. The two-day meeting, scheduled for February 17-18, 2016, will be held in Luxembourg and see Prysmian Group in the role of Gold Sponsor. In this interview, Edgar Aker also explains his view of the opportunities and challenges facing FTTH deployment in Europe.

What is the state of global demand for fibre?

Global demand for fibre optic cable has been increasing dramatically, with few signs of slowing anytime soon. FTTH penetration in the Asia Pacific region, for example, passed 100 million fibre subscribers this year. That means at least 100 million people have access to a high speed fibre connection. In both Americas we are seeing large FTTH deployments. Fibre roll-outs in the United States are being driven by the big telcos, while national fibre roll-out plans are now also underway in South America and the Middle East. The trend in Europe is also upwards, with a 50% increase to 14.5 million fibre subscribers for 2014, bringing it to a good level. Complexity within Europe remains a concern and at times is blocking wide-scale fibre roll-outs.

What is the prime responsibility for the FTTH Council Europe?

The complexity of Europe means that the FTTH Council Europe is heavily involved in lobbying regulators and politicians. We have high level discussions at European level with the Commission and European Parliament, which is important. We are also being acknowledged as one of the parties that represents the European telecoms industry, and that can provide a good view on what the institutional approach should be. In Europe this is a really complex job: we are not one country. As a minimum we are 28 Member States, at the centre of which we have a Commission which issues legislation and sometimes Directives. While the Commission's directives and regulations might point the way forward, it is up to each Member State as to how they implement them. I think this is an opportunity, but also a challenge. The opportunity presents itself if Member States are proactive and take matters into their own hands before they are made to do so, using the Commission's directives and regulations as an impetus for action at home.

Who has the best practices in Europe?

For instance, Europe's Nordic countries took action fairly swiftly, and as a result, Sweden, Norway and Denmark now rank number two, six and ten in Europe in terms of FTTH/FTTB penetration, and nine, thirteen and seventeen globally. However, while the role of government is important for implementing higher FTTH/B penetration rates, part of the challenge is technical as well.

And the other European countries?

As I already mentioned, there are 28 member states in Europe, all with different market dynamics. There are some countries that have a very good established telecom infrastructure, which is fit for purpose in some cases, while others have no legacy (copper based) telecom infrastructure. Many countries in North-East and Eastern Europe have taken the opportunity to leap-frog the technology and implement extensive FTTH/B installations. As a result, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia rank first, third, fifth, eighth and ninth on the FTTH Council Europe's list of European countries with the highest percentage of FTTH/B subscribers relative to total households.

Some countries do not have any long-term national broadband plan. What do you think about this?

Under the European commission’s Regulatory Framework countries should have a national broadband plan. We can see it is fairly easy to put together a plan when the need is clear. However, in West European countries it is more complex, due to their legacy networks. These countries do not see the need to increase FTTH penetration in the same way as Scandinavia or Eastern Europe. Their attitude is, why do we need more than 30Mbit/s when we already meet the minimum requirement set by the European Commission? The only question the FTTH Council Europe raises is, whether a current network is future proof? How does the end user get the connection they deserve? You should not distinguish between users who live in the countryside or, for example, downtown London. The focus should not be on what to do about operators , but about what the future looks like for the end consumer. The FTTH Council Europe is convinced the two big economies of Germany and United Kingdom will need to start deploying fibre to be able to put Europe as a whole at the same level as Asia.

So how does an organisation like the FTTH Council Europe help countries like the UK and Germany to move ahead?

As far as the FTTH Council Europe is concerned, it is clear that public money should only be invested in future-proof solutions. The European Commission's technology neutrality can lead to misconceptions, and to unambitious targets that fit all technologies. Public authorities should set clear targets that include not only download speeds, but also upload speeds, robustness and quality of service, low latency etc. These are all required for the interactive services of tomorrow. The FTTH Council Europe aims to help Member States by pointing them in the right direction through active debate, acting as a catalyst. We are not standing in the middle. Sometimes you have to take the lead.

What is the next big thing on paper that will be a hot development in future?

This is always a fun discussion. People ask me for the killer application for FTTH, which there is but not just in one app! At the moment the biggest idea for FTTH is Big Data and a fully connected Smart City or Smart Region. A Smart City needs everything to be connected – the Internet of Things (IOT) with a good level of open data, where machine is connected to machine – so called Machine2Machine or M2M - enabling information to be provided to its inhabitants so they can go about their daily lives efficiently and safely. Today the driver for FTTH is Video, in the near future it will be M2M or IOT. That is what the future will bring and it will mean more fibre. The future is definitely fibre.