- ADTRAN’s August 2015 announcement highlighting its more than 200 networks supporting Gigabit access speeds demonstrates the growing relevance, and demand, for ultra-broadband fixed access services, despite ongoing skepticism about the need for Gigabit-speed connections.
- With ADTRAN’s FTTH solutions enabling Gigabit connectivity – primarily for telcos but also for several cable operators – operators will become increasingly compelled to upgrade their networks to respond to competitive pressures, driving additional opportunities for networking equipment vendors.
ADTRAN, while certainly not the largest or most aggressive telecom equipment vendor in the market, has still garnered the rather notable superlative of being the first vendor to claim enabling more than 200 customer networks that offer Gigabit access speeds. While many of ADTRAN’s Gigabit customers are smaller telcos and cable companies in the unique North American market (where there are over 1,200 Tier 2 and Tier 3 service providers), this does not diminish the fact that ADTRAN’s 200-plus Gigabit-enabled communities/networks benchmark is quite an achievement.
ADTRAN made its 200 x Gigabit network announcement in conjunction with the company’s annual ADTRAN CONNECT event last August, at its headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama, USA. What is important to note is that the company actually reached the 200-network benchmark ahead of schedule. At ADTRAN’s 2014 CONNECT event, the company highlighted the fact that it had enabled 50 different Gigabit networks, and would quadruple this number by then end of 2015. So, ADTRAN reached the 200 mark almost two full quarters ahead of schedule.
Without doubt, Gigabit access has generated tremendous hype, and increasing publicity over the past two years. This is in spite of the fact that there are still very few end users, especially consumers, subscribing to Gigabit services, never mind the fact that Gigabit broadband remains unavailable to the vast majority of fixed broadband subscribers. Google Fiber generally gets the lion’s share of credit for bringing Gigabit services to market in the U.S. However, it was actually beaten to market by several operators in Tennessee, most notably, greater Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board (EPB), which built out a fiber-based smart grid half a decade ago and then decided to offer ultra-broadband services over its GPON-based FTTH network.
To be clear, Google Fiber has certainly been the primary catalyst when it comes to spurring mass-market chatter about (and actual rollout of) Gigabit access services. On one hand, the company has cherry-picked its network rollouts like no other operator in history – thanks to extremely favorable terms agreed to by its chosen cities. On the other hand, the bottom line is that if it weren’t for Google Fiber, it is highly unlikely that any neighborhoods in Kansas City, Austin, etc. would be getting Gigabit access speeds anytime soon, let alone entertaining competing Gigabit services from established Tier 1 operators such as AT&T (GigaPower) and cable giant Comcast.
Getting back to the ADTRAN angle, during the 2015 CONNECT event, Kevin Morgan, Director of Product Marketing for ADTRAN, hosted a Gigabit Community Success Stories Panel which included representatives from four of its Gigabit customers, including Wisconsin-based TDS, Troy Cable (Alabama), NE Indiana Telephone Co. and Summit Broadband (Florida). The panel provided further validation that current-generation GPON is the preferred “last mile” access networking technology for most operators deploying Gigabit services. This illustrates the fact that despite GPON’s 2.5 Gbps downstream capacity per OLT port, split ratios of 1:16 and 1:32 provide operators with the bandwidth “headroom” needed to deliver Gigabit services (thanks again to statistical multiplexing, the gift that keeps on giving!).
Of course, the reality is that for many consumer end users, even when priced very low (e.g., Google Fiber and EPB offer residential Gigabit service for US$70/month), Gigabit services are still not selected. In many cases, the 100 Mbps service tier is the most popular on Gigabit-enabled FTTH networks. The comparatively low uptake of Gigabit services gives credence to the claims of industry executives – most notably on the cable operator side – that nobody needs a Gigabit right now and Gigabit services are more valuable as a marketing tool.
However, moving forward, services such as multi-stream 4KTV (e.g., unicast OTT and VoD streams), not to mention high dynamic range (HDR)-enhanced 4KTV/content, virtual reality/gaming services and 8KTV, will require additional steps up the ultra-broadband ladder, to the point where Gigabit connections can prove the best option for end users. As more than 200 of ADTRAN’s customers have proven, there are operators that are willing to make the required network upgrades (and investments) now in order to separate themselves from rivals and best serve their communities. For ADTRAN and other fixed access systems vendors, this good news overall.