‘Last mile’ problems will dog triple play hopes

14 May 2008

Unresolved issues such as the increasing broadband bottleneck at local exchanges and overcoming the ‘last mile’ between the exchange and home will mean deploying triple play services – broadband, TV and telephony – a struggle for providers in countries where copper is the dominant access method.

Connectivity expert Brian McBride, managing director of Bray-based equipment provider Data Edge, told siliconrepublic.com that service providers wishing to offer triple play services will struggle to provide anything over 8Mbps over copper loops.

“In the UK, OfCom has told BT to stop promoting services of ‘up to 8Mbps’ because in reality when you study these connections, they rarely exceed 1Mbps at the user’s end, and are unsuitable for services like TV.

“Last mile – the connection between the local telecoms exchange and the user’s home or business – is still the tough issue for triple play. If you live on a greenfield site where fibre has been installed, yes these services will work. If, however, you live on a site only addressed by copper, the only way around is to use incumbent networks like those of Eircom or BT in the UK. Fibre to the kerb (FTTH) may be one way around it.”

McBride said consumer-facing telecoms companies want to get away from offering just bandwidth and are now beginning to focus increasingly on offering content. “In theory, with ADSL and SDSL, the bandwidth is increasing, but if it can’t get beyond the last mile, then these services will struggle. You will need at least 8Mbps of uninterrupted bandwidth to enjoy proper services.

“If you are a Sky user and you want to use two hard disk recorders in your home, you will require 24Mbps if you want to watch using internet protocol television (IPTV). If you want to watch multi-room services, you’re talking about four or five streams of 24Mbps into your home, which just isn’t available today.”

Another issue that IPTV customers using copper networks will face is what McBride terms “continuity”.

“One of the problems, particularly with ADSL is a lot of ‘reset’ happens. Because twisted pair copper runs in bundles with others, if someone switches on a fax machine or a house alarm connected to a phone line goes off, the noise may knock the ADSL off and it will have to reset, which normally takes 15 seconds. During that time you have no signal to carry pictures and voice.

“Operators are fully aware of this problem but that’s the nature of the beast – they are trying to squeeze more and more out of copper loops. The truth the market doesn’t seem to be telling consumers is that copper was designed for voice and not much else.

“They are trying to squeeze megahertz through something designed for kilohertz”, McBride pointed out.

He said that with the advent of next-generation networks (NGN) with fibre to the kerb and fibre to the home the problem should abate. However, operators will need to be constantly monitoring the network for quality issues to keep consumers satisfied.

“Suppliers will have to monitor the quality of video from the head end and from the consumer’s premises. They need to know if there’s an issue before the consumer is even aware.”

McBride said that issues will soon emerge over false advertising if operators are promising and charging for broadband services that aren’t what they seem to be.

“The reason telecoms companies are doing this is they’ve got a network there and they’ve got to make money back on it. The danger is that you will disappoint people.”

He added that IPTV providers will struggle to satisfy the needs of consumers already used to a certain standard of terrestrial and satellite TV service. “If you are trying to compete with something like that, you’ll need to offer another reason for consumers so they’ll put up with it.”

By John Kennedy