Broadband Forum CEO Robin Mersh on driving connectivity forward

14 Feb 2019355 Views

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From 5G to IoT, Broadband Forum CEO Robin Mersh outlines the most pressing tasks ahead for the industry.

As ongoing digital transformation sees more expected of the internet connectivity many of us depend on to work and live our lives, there are a number of organisations at the coalface of this change.

Robin Mersh, CEO of Broadband Forum, a major industry consortium and non-profit that develops various broadband standards, spoke to Siliconrepublic.com about how connectivity will evolve in the near future.

Robin Mersh smiling, wearing glasses and a men's suit jacket with a white shirt and blue tie.

Robin Mersh. Image: Broadband Forum

What are the big challenges for broadband service providers around the world?

Alongside 5G, the proliferation of IoT-enabled devices and the connected home’s rising popularity are creating a significant challenge for service providers, especially regarding how they can monetise these services.

Building on a foundation of nearly 1bn TR-069 CPE WAN protocol devices, User Services Platform (USP) looks to address this challenge by providing an integrated, standardised way to implement, deploy and manage all aspects of the connected home.

USP is a network of controllers and agents that allow applications to manipulate service elements. It consists of a data model, architecture and standard communications protocol to transform consumer broadband networks into a platform for the development, deployment, and support of broadband-enabled applications and services.

Wi-Fi coverage and performance within the connected home is also a major challenge. As consumers and businesses alike demand faster and higher-capacity Wi-Fi throughout the entire home and office, mesh networks are growing in popularity to deliver uniform coverage to all corners of residential and commercial premises.

The fact is that this connection to consumers and their devices is critical to the broadband experience, yet is seldom managed by the service provider. The Broadband Forum Open Broadband Multi-AP project is a leading-edge initiative with the goal of ensuring that the software of open source innovators and their mesh software projects will be scalable to large service provider deployments via carrier-grade manageability, as well as bring together multiple mesh routers to form a unified network that provides smart, efficient Wi-Fi throughout homes and businesses.

How do you envision 5G rolling out at this stage?

If the full potential of 5G is to be realised, the mobile technology must be backed by a world-class fixed network. The high-capacity and high-speed fibre delivery makes it the ideal foundation to deal with the unprecedented amount of data 5G is expected to generate, providing fronthaul and backhaul.

While 5G is usually thought of as a phenomenon in mobile broadband, it also presents a huge opportunity for fixed operators as the fixed network will need to be integrated seamlessly.

This might not necessarily mean mobile operators will become customers of fixed operators, but what we will see is a closer alignment than ever between mobile and fixed operators, with technologies such as network slicing opening up new options such as network sharing.

Fixed networks are already used for mobile backhaul and, with 5G needing an unprecedented amount of capacity, more opportunities will emerge. 5G will also open up the possibility of using fixed networks for fronthaul services.

To successfully deliver 5G, operators will need to invest in a mix of technologies. Full-fibre networks will be key to delivering the increased capacity and speed 5G requires, and virtualisation technologies such as SDN (software-defined networking) and NFV (network functions virtualisation) will also be crucial to keep costs down and accelerate time-to-market.

For the transport networks, deterministic technologies will also be important to ensure reliable and high-quality performance for applications such as remote surgery, where a consistent quality of service is critical.

What are some new technologies that are improving infrastructure?

As we move towards the 5G era, new access technologies are being driven forward, with examples including next-generation PON, G.fast, G.hn, mesh Wi-Fi, 5G etc. The Broadband Forum’s role in this is to foster the ecosystem development, and compatibility and interoperability assurance that is necessary for these technologies to be mass-deployed.

In addition, new innovations in hybrid access and SDN/NFV are allowing these technologies to not only complement each other, but to be seamlessly operationalised in ways that are truly game-changing and disruptive.

The Broadband Forum is in the middle of this with multiple initiatives, including our work in Open Broadband, which is accelerating innovation and cooperation by providing a collaborative space for the integration and testing of new, open source, standards-based and vendor-provided implementations.

Can you give me some details on the Broadband QED project?

The Broadband QED project is one part of Broadband Forum’s focus on quality of experience, and brings together one of the Broadband Forum’s oldest members with one of its newest to create an ‘invisible’ network that will greatly enhance the quality of experience broadband networks provide.

Going beyond broadband speed, Broadband QED uses quality attenuation to address factors such as latency, consistency, predictability and reliability. Using quality attenuation – a framework for capturing, measuring, managing, and manipulating performance aspects of networks and services they enable – will deliver better insight into quality of experience and application outcomes.

How did Vodafone come to be involved?

Vodafone has already trialled quality attenuation over a range of fixed-access technologies in its own network and successfully used it to identify broadband performance characteristics that ‘traditional’ packet-layer performance techniques and tools failed to reveal.

Like many operators, Vodafone is facing a challenge: how to change the mindset that the solution to better broadband performance is faster speed. In an IoT world with a multitude of new broadband-ready devices and complex applications, and a network which will increasingly attempt to provide a common experience across a variety of technologies and media types including 5G, the industry will need to look beyond speed to create a superior experience.

This is not a challenge that they can solve only for themselves, as the broadband ecosystem will need to support a new approach, and consumer perceptions will need to be reshaped through education and new innovations.

Ellen Tannam is a writer covering all manner of business and tech subjects

editorial@siliconrepublic.com