Intel’s New Chips with Integrated Accelerators Could Boost vRAN Performance Enough to Spur Disruption

Summary Bullets:

Ed Gubbins, Principal Analyst

• Intel’s new system-on-a-chip (SoC) features integrated accelerators, which help close the performance gap between virtual RAN (vRAN) and traditional RAN. Thus far, accelerators have been offered as separate hardware cards.

• Rakuten Symphony’s plans to offer a vDU based on the new SoC, following the availability of Qualcomm’s new accelerator and Juniper’s recent move to give away its RAN Intelligent Controller, show vRAN momentum building.

Recently, vRAN vendor Rakuten Symphony revealed plans to produce a virtual distributed baseband unit (vDU) based on new Intel SoC, due in 2023, whose accelerator is integrated with the CPU rather than being offered as a separate hardware card. This represents a departure from the status quo (accelerators as separate hardware cards), but the two vendors say it also addresses a key obstacle that has been holding vRAN back.

Eutelsat and OneWeb: Can LEO+GEO Combination Compete with Starlink?

Summary Bullets:

Emir Halilovic, Principal Analyst
  • The Eutelsat and OneWeb merger brings two operators’ satellite constellations together, promising to combine strengths of 36 Eutelsat GEO satellites with OneWeb’s 648-strong LEO constellation.
  • Orchestrating services by utilizing both constellations will represent a significant network management challenge and an industry first.

The announced Eutelsat-OneWeb merger claims to be the world’s first combination of geostationary orbit (GEO) and low Earth orbit (LEO) constellations, creating an opportunity to utilize the advantages of both to address the growing market for satellite connectivity. The announcement mentions intentions of creating a single GEO/LEO services platform over time, which will provide services to customers using hybrid terminals. The intention of the merger makes sense conceptually: GEO platforms will provide superior per-unit capacity and compelling economics, while LEO satellites will provide ubiquitous coverage and low latency.

Continue reading “Eutelsat and OneWeb: Can LEO+GEO Combination Compete with Starlink?”

The FCC-Proposed Faster Broadband Spells Tectonic Changes for US Broadband Ecosystem

Emir Halilovic, Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

  • US FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel proposed raising the national standard for broadband speeds to 100 Mbps/20 Mbps and resetting the long-term goal to 1 Gbps/500 Mbps (upload/download).
  • The speeds proposed would mean the end of a practical lifetime for legacy technologies like xDSL and earlier generations of cable, while opening a way for FWA and satellite broadband, especially in rural areas of the US.

Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s proposal still needs to be accepted by the bipartisan FCC. Once accepted, the national standard would likely be tied with access to federal funding for broadband development, which was boosted recently as a part of wider US government infrastructure investment program. As such, it would become a de facto standard in parts of the US, benefiting predominantly rural and sparsely populated areas where internet speeds slower than the proposed 100 Mbps/20 Mbps are still the norm.

Continue reading “The FCC-Proposed Faster Broadband Spells Tectonic Changes for US Broadband Ecosystem”

Network Automation (2.0) Takes on Service Assurance Challenges

Summary Bullets:

Glen Hunt, Principal Analyst
  • Automated network service provisioning (via SDN technologies) is an established industry norm; however, dealing with service quality assurance requires advanced capabilities such as real-time network visualization, multi-factor path computation, and the ability to dynamically handle high-scale network variations.
  • Service assurance benefits include optimization of network resources, increased revenue potential, and reduced operational costs, among others; achieving these objectives can yield significant operational efficiency and improved quality of experience for end users.

Operators continue to invest and scale their IP and transport networks to meet growing capacity and new use cases demands, and the need to expand automated network management beyond network element and service provisioning, as well as begin to address service assurance, has become a top priority. Experience has shown that today’s highly complex and dynamic networks rely on automation as the key to successfully delivering high-quality services. In the two most recent networking conferences (i.e., MWC 22 and MPLS SD & AI Net World), network automation demonstrations and proof of concept (PoC) presentations by vendors and network operators alike were front and center and show promise when addressing service quality assurance.

Continue reading “Network Automation (2.0) Takes on Service Assurance Challenges”

US Government Earmarks $45 Billion for Broadband, Favors Fiber Projects

Emir Halilovic, Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

  • The latest US government broadband subsidy program could potentially transform the broadband market in rural and underserved areas, but funding will need to pass through state governments, which comes with strings attached.
  • Fiber buildouts get priority treatment in the latest round of funding, potentially changing technology preferences in the US broadband market.

On May 13, 2022, the US government announced funding for three broadband subsidization programs, totaling $45 billion, aimed to bring internet to all American households and bridge the digital divide. The program will be administered through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), part of the US Department of Commerce, and distributed through state governments. The biggest chunk of the provided funding goes into the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program. BEAD funding focuses on broadband projects in unserved and underserved areas, as well as on planning and capacity-building for program administration in state offices. Program implementation will be led by the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) broadband coverage maps for identifying unserved and underserved areas (i.e., those with no access to 25 Mbps downlink/3 Mbps uplink and 100 Mbps downlink/20 Mbps uplink services, respectively).

Continue reading “US Government Earmarks $45 Billion for Broadband, Favors Fiber Projects”

Starlink’s Role in the Russia-Ukraine War Could Inspire Further LEO Investment

Emir Halilovic, Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

  • At the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Starlink – with ample financial support from the US and its allies – supplied terminals and active service in the country.
  • Starlink’s service has proven unparalleled resilience, giving a new set of arguments for further development of low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations.

Since the beginning of the all-out Russian invasion of Ukraine, Starlink has consistently proven its worth as a critical communications medium. The service has been proven resilient, both in its design and operations. The service requires no ground-based infrastructure aside from a user terminal, allowing users to set up internet access quickly. It circumvents terrestrial infrastructure, which has not only been damaged by the ongoing warfare, but has also crumbled under targeted Russian cyber and physical attacks and sabotage. This part of its performance was expected.

Continue reading “Starlink’s Role in the Russia-Ukraine War Could Inspire Further LEO Investment”

Midband 5G and Fiber Drive Increased 2022 CapEx Guidance from US Operators

John Byrne, Service Director

Summary Bullets:

  • After a COVID-related decline in CapEx in 2020, US operators returned almost exactly to 2019 levels in 2021, in line with guidance provided at the beginning of the year.
  • Operators are planning to increase CapEx by double digits in 2022, with the increase being driven by midband 5G deployments and increasing appetite for fiber from both large and small operators.

An analysis of US operator financial results based on Q4 2021 earnings releases shows that CapEx in 2021 came in nearly identically to 2019 levels after a COVID-driven dip in 2020. The nine network operators shown below – all of which spent more than $1 billion in CapEx – spent $70.6 billion in 2021 CapEx, up 5.2% from 2020 and nearly flat from 2019. GlobalData estimates that the big three that account for nearly 70% of total CapEx – AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile USA – spent roughly $49 billion, up 7% from 2020. Continue reading “Midband 5G and Fiber Drive Increased 2022 CapEx Guidance from US Operators”

FTTP and FWA Momentum in the US Grows, but MSOs (Mostly) Stick to Cable

Emir Halilovic – Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

• Despite growing fiber and FWA momentum in their home market, US cable MSOs are still mostly sticking with cable as their current and future network technology.

• This insistence on staying the course is natural, given cable’s “value for money” ratio, but the technological superiority of fiber and flexibility of FWA may increasingly endanger the very core of the MSO’s business.

Recent announcements coming from major US telcos indicate new enthusiasm for fiber and FWA investment. AT&T is forging on with its plan to add 30 million new locations to its fiber network, and has introduced XGS-PON into its network, enabling 2Gbps and 5Gbps services. Verizon has (finally) started offering 2Gbps service on its NG-PON2 network in New York City. Smaller operators like Frontier, Ziply, Vexus Fiber, and Hotwire have mostly jumped on the XGS-PON bandwagon and offer multi-gig services as well.

Continue reading “FTTP and FWA Momentum in the US Grows, but MSOs (Mostly) Stick to Cable”

2022 Predictions: Three Things to Watch in the Mobile Access Sector This Year

Ed Gubbins, Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

  • In 2022, RAN vendors will increasingly focus on the energy efficiency of their solutions as a competitive differentiator.
  • Network management applications for Open RANs will multiply – developed by both incumbent RAN vendors and third-party developers.

The past two years have been anything but predictable, but the new year brings hope for a return to normalcy. In that spirit, here are a few predictions for what to expect in the RAN space in 2022: Continue reading “2022 Predictions: Three Things to Watch in the Mobile Access Sector This Year”

U.S. Industry Associations Offer Assistance to States Eyeing Fed-Funded Broadband Buildouts

John Byrne, Service Director

Summary Bullets:

• With $65 billion in federal funding up for grabs, states in the U.S. will now have to navigate a set of complex regulatory hurdles in order to get projects off the ground.

• Two industry associations plan to introduce a playbook to help speed up this process. In the process, they hope to make the case for fiber as the best deployment option for many rural broadband scenarios.

With visions of government funding dancing in their heads, two U.S. fiber advocacy groups announced plans in December to publish a “Broadband Infrastructure Playbook” next month. The playbook is designed to help educate state governments spending some of the $65 billion in deployment funds allocated in the infrastructure bill passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Biden in November.

The two groups – the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) and the NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association – are preparing the playbook to help demystify the complex and convoluted funding mechanisms laid out by the newly-formed “Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment” (BEAD) program that will require each state to implement its own plan. While final awards will vary widely, each state will receive a minimum of $100 million in funding for broadband infrastructure development. The near-term catch is that every state is required to coordinate with local governments and submit a five-year action plan in order to qualify for funding.

Compared to most other countries (including the UK, many EU countries, Australia, and India) in which the central government directly administers subsidies, or funds wholesale national broadband networks, the U.S. plan vastly overcomplicates matters through its state-by state process. While including state governments into the process may have been necessary for passage, it risks delaying the process of subsidy distribution and broadband deployments and may open the way for more political horse trading and lobbying on behalf of various interest groups. In that context, the Broadband Infrastructure Playbook should be seen with two lenses: 1) as a badly-needed information source to help states navigate a complicated funding process, and 2) as an opportunity for the FBA and NTCA to influence the process in favor of fiber deployments.

The playbook will provide a detailed overview of the statutory requirements associated with the new broadband infrastructure law and offer recommendations for how states should structure their broadband programs. Templates will also be provided to help accelerate the process of creating state funding applications and competitive bidding evaluations.

Specifically, the FBA and NTCA have indicated the playbook will provide recommendations in the following areas:

• Overall program plan, sequencing and timing of activities
• Recommendations on how states can best incorporate federal grant programs
• Key process and information requirements (e.g., in the mapping of underserved areas, the management of the award process and post-award monitoring)
• Organizational structure, scale and distribution of responsibilities
• Interfaces with other state government departments and external bodies

The FBA and NTCA are also calling for both states and broadband network providers to participate in the research for the playbook and share lessons learned from earlier funding programs. The two associations plan to issue the playbook in early 2022 in order to give states the opportunity to have systems in place in tie for the announcement of final funding awards, expected in May 2022.

While the playbook should provide an important tool in addressing the digital divide, the motives of the FBA and NTCA are of course not entirely altruistic. The FBA in particular represents dozens of telecommunications infrastructure vendors eager to break ground on a host of government-funded rural broadband contracts that are likely to extend well through the remainder of this decade. Rural broadband can come in many flavors, notably fixed wireless, and the two groups are keen to steer many of those investment decisions to fiber. The to-be-released playbook can play a vital role in that regard.