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.

Verizon Turns 5G Spotlight to Midband Spectrum in 2022

John Byrne, Service Director

Summary Bullets:

  • Verizon will exceed its 2021 plans of adding 14,000 ‘5G Ultra Wideband’ cell sites that operate at mmWave frequencies.
  • While mmWave buildout will continue, Verizon signaled that its 2022 5G buildout plans will center around the C-band spectrum it obtained at auction earlier in 2021.

U.S. operator Verizon announced in December it has already exceeded its previously announced 2021 target of building 14,000 ‘5G Ultra Wideband’ cell sites using so-called millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum. However, the company also left a clear signal to the industry that it is ready to devote more attention to providing 5G in midband spectrum in 2022 and beyond. Continue reading “Verizon Turns 5G Spotlight to Midband Spectrum in 2022”

25G PON Goes Live, Needs More Deployments to Break into Mainstream

Summary Bullets:

  • 25G PON is market ready and likely to become the technology of choice for operators seeking faster-than-10 Gbps FTTP now and in the near future.
  • Emir Halilovic, Principal Analyst

    The future of 25G PON directly depends on the magnitude of early operator demand and adoption of advanced use cases requiring 25G-specific capabilities.

The Nokia/Proximus announcement of world’s first 25G PON deployment at the end of May was a significant milestone for the global broadband industry. It primarily showed that the 25G PON technology is market ready and significantly outperforming XGS-PON, which is only now becoming mainstream. It also symbolized the increased importance of Europe as a competitive battleground for fixed broadband, which will only continue heating up with increased broadband investment fueled by national broadband plans and post-COVID recovery funds. Finally, the launch served to validate unique capabilities of Nokia’s Quillion chipset, currently the only vendor solution capable of delivering 25G PON. Continue reading “25G PON Goes Live, Needs More Deployments to Break into Mainstream”

Subsea Deployments Driving Growth and Innovation for Many Vendors

John Byrne, Service Director

Summary Bullets:

  • Subsea cable deployments have represented a small but significant share of revenue for many vendors. However, that is changing as demand for broadband capacity continues to increase.
  • These vendors are also finding that subsea deployments serve not only as a source of growth, but as an ideal venue to showcase their latest product capabilities as well, particularly in 800G coherent optics.

Recent announcements by a number of subsea cable providers are showcasing a number of key trends: not only is subsea capacity more in demand than ever, but these deployments are also serving as an ideal technological proving ground. Continue reading “Subsea Deployments Driving Growth and Innovation for Many Vendors”

Why It’s Already Time to Start Talking About 5.5G

Ed Gubbins, Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

• Huawei has begun promoting “5.5G,” assigning it three new capabilities related to faster uplink, real-time broadband, and harmonization

• 5G is already evolving faster than 4G; going forward, the conventions of technology branding may change

For much of the previous decade, the mobile telecom industry promised that 5G would arrive in 2020. Now we’re only a few months past 2020, and we’re starting to hear more about the next steps: 6G won’t arrive until 2030, but in 2025, there’s 5.5G. Continue reading “Why It’s Already Time to Start Talking About 5.5G”

US Operators Signal Higher Capex in 2021 After a COVID-Dampened 2020

John Byrne, Service Director

Summary Bullets:

• Despite the impact of COVID-19, capital spending by US network operators was down relatively modestly in 2020, falling by around 4%.

• 2021 guidance from these operators shows a return to roughly similar levels as 2019. Continued demand for additional network capacity along with new 5G imperatives clearly remain.

An analysis of US operator financial results based on Q4 2020 earnings releases shows that while COVID-19 did slow capital investment, it could have been worse. Thanks to a flurry of activity toward the end of the year, the nine publicly-reported carriers, all of which spent in excess of $1 billion in capex, accounted for just over $67 billion in spending. That was down by approximately $3 billion, or 4.2%, compared to 2019. GlobalData estimates that the big three that account for nearly 70% of total capex – AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile USA – spent roughly $46 billion, down 6.1% from 2019. However, the bulk of the decline was attributable to AT&T. Continue reading “US Operators Signal Higher Capex in 2021 After a COVID-Dampened 2020”

MWC2021 Organizers Insist the Show Must Go On

John Byrne – Service Director, Global Technology Telecom and Software

Summary Bullets

• GSMA is moving forward with plans for an-in person MWC Barcelona event, though roughly half its normal size and with numerous COVID-19-related precautions.

• Despite moving the date back four months to June 2021, there are still many obstacles to overcome before an actual event will even be feasible.

After the GSM Association (GSMA) made the difficult decision to cancel Mobile World Congress (MWC2020), the largest mobile event in the world, last February, it spent months working with exhibitors on a revised package of discounts to future events. For most exhibitors, the compromise package meant agreeing to forego any cash refund. Instead, these companies agreed to a series of rebates on future events, including a 65% credit on MWC2021, a 35% credit on MWC2022, and a 25% credit on MWC2023.

The event, held annually in Barcelona, was originally scheduled for this week. However, last September the GSMA agreed to postpone the event by four months to hedge its bets, just as Europe was heading into its second wave of COVID-19 infections. The question now is whether even the additional four months will be enough time to carry off a physical event. Continue reading “MWC2021 Organizers Insist the Show Must Go On”

2021 Predictions: Three Things to Watch in Fixed Access This Year

Emir Halilovic, Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

  • Fixed access deployments will continue in the accelerated tempo brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 10G and symmetrical connectivity will become the new gold standard, but not the norm.
  • The rift between the Chinese and Western vendors around future PON technologies will continue to drive leading broadband access markets on diversifying paths.

10G Adoption Accelerates, Benefiting Vendors with Mature and Market-Ready Solutions

Fixed broadband access has for a long time been a relatively stagnant market, due primarily to two factors: increased consumption of mobile connectivity and poor adoption of services that were to ‘fill up the pipes’ of residential broadband and generate bottom-up demand for faster internet. The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns have practically obliterated these two limiting factors, driving consumption of streaming video, two-way video communications, and general capacity demand stemming from online gaming and large file downloads. With multiple home-bound users using one home broadband for work, education, and entertainment at the same time, home broadband technologies stemming from designs deployed since the 1990s are quickly showing their weak spots. This has generated increased demand for 10G-capable fiber technologies like XGS-PON. This, in turn, accelerated finalization of the DOCSIS 4.0 standard, which is designed to enable cable operators to provide 10G services as well. Continue reading “2021 Predictions: Three Things to Watch in Fixed Access This Year”

2021 Predictions: Three Things to Watch in the CSP Transport & Routing Sector This Year

Glen Hunt, Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

  • Orchestration of IP infrastructure resources will become mainstream, replacing fragmented element and network management solutions to reduce complexity and operational cost.
  • 5G private network initiatives will go global as operators position to capture lucrative new 5G network opportunities and address the needs of multiple vertical markets.

Resource Orchestration Matures

5G services and applications are driving more routed IP traffic into the network, with the traditional role of switched Layer 2 Ethernet traffic being sidelined and replaced by more dynamic routed IP flows. This is prevalent in the mobile transport and business Ethernet services domains, which were the last frontier that could claim a cost and simplicity advantage by remaining at Layer 2. The maturation of SDN, which supports a centralized control plane and distributed data plane, has been augmented with simplified routing protocols such as segment routing and Ethernet VPN (EVPN), which minimize the need for complex node-based management and control intelligence. It is painfully clear that the telco infrastructure must be fully automated in order to avoid being crushed by its own weight. Continue reading “2021 Predictions: Three Things to Watch in the CSP Transport & Routing Sector This Year”

CableLabs and SCTE/ISBE to Merge as Insular Cable Industry Consolidates

Emir Halilovic, Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

  • CableLabs and SCTE/ISBE signed a letter of intent to combine, with the process likely to be finalized in December with the expected endorsement by thousands of SCTE/ISBE members.
  • The move marks yet another sign of cable industry consolidation, itself a product of impending cable MSO technological transformation.

The two largest R&D engineering houses focused on innovations for cable operators announced plans in November to join forces.  CableLabs, whose membership comprises only cable system operators in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, and Australia, announced it will align with the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers/International Society of Broadband Experts (SCTE/ISBE), which represents both operators and vendors.  In point of fact, the two bodies have complemented each other’s work for a long time.  The merger is supposed to bring the two constituencies closer together and accelerate the pace of commercialization of new standards – primarily the impending introduction of symmetrical 10 Gbps services (or 10G for short).  After the combination, SCTE/ISBE will become a subsidiary of CableLabs on January 1, 2021.  The activities of the two organizations will continue virtually unchanged though, and SCTE/ISBE will continue to offer memberships to potential members not affiliated with CableLabs. The combination signifies that the already insular cable industry is coming even closer together.  However, as the technology landscape outside of the cable ecosystem changes rapidly, further focusing of the cable sector might not be the most important change the industry needs.  A number of technical and non-technical challenges will continue to loom: Continue reading “CableLabs and SCTE/ISBE to Merge as Insular Cable Industry Consolidates”