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Vodafone Trial Fixed Access Network Slicing on FTTH Ultrafast Broadband

Friday, January 19th, 2018 (8:53 am) - Score 3,332

Telecoms giant Vodafone claims to have successfully completed a trial of Fixed Access Network Slicing (FANS) with Huawei in Ireland, which in theory could help to support the future UK rollout and better wholesale provision of Gigabit capable Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) broadband networks.

As we know the cost of rolling out a new FTTP/H network, which brings a pure fibre optic cable directly to your home, is hugely expensive. Openreach has estimated that reaching 10 million UK premises in the easiest areas could cost between £3bn to £6bn. As a result a lot of network operators are seeking to share those costs by trying to attract investment from other ISPs (co-funding).

Naturally ISPs also like to differentiate themselves so that they don’t all offer an identical service or price. On top of that further technical complications may arise if several operators under a wholesale partnership are building networks in different parts of the country, which may have different setups and customer types that can make cross-selling products a bit tricky.

Suffice to say that if you’re spending big to help roll-out such a network then you’d rightly want some flexibility in the control of that infrastructure and freedom to make future enhancements, which might diverge from that of your build partner(s). However such flexibility can also make the prospect of committing to a major investment in new infrastructure much more attractive.

One part of the solution to this challenge could be Fixed Access Network Slicing / Sharing (FANS), which has only recently been standardized by the Broadband Forum via their TR-370 Technical Report. Huawei’s techno babble says that this virtual access network solution essentially partitions a physical [FTTH] network into “multiple virtual network slices, creating multi-tenancy virtualization of the access network.”

Matt Beal, Vodafone Group’s Director of Strategy & Architecture, said:

“Vodafone has deployed several FTTH networks around the world and many of these are with partners. Virtualization of the fixed access network will help us build and fill FTTH networks in a more cost-effective way that takes advantage of new operating models where both Vodafone and its deployment partners are able to differentiate their services over the shared fibre infrastructure.”

The idea is that this can deliver “flexibility and full control for different operations teams (be they from different departments in the same company or from different service providers) to independently manage their own customers, even if there is only one physical access network.”

As an example, the FANS trial created separate consumer and enterprise virtual network slices on a live FTTH network. The consumer slice carried ultrafast broadband and Vodafone’s TV services, while their enterprise slice carried the OneNet business services including voice.

The trial was carried out on a Huawei MA5800, which is a new-generation smart optical line terminal (OLT). The MA5800 uses a distributed architecture similar to a core router, which can partition a physical OLT into multiple logically-independent virtual OLTs. Different logical OLTs have independent hardware resources and software systems, and can be separately managed and configured.

In the UK Vodafone and Cityfibre have recently done a £500m deal to rollout FTTH (here). Phase One of this deployment – due to start during March 2018 in Milton Keynes (here) – will seek to reach a “minimum” of 1 million UK homes in up to 12 of their existing cities and towns, which according to Vodafone is expected to be “largely complete” by 2021.

After that there’s also the “potential to extend” this up to 5 million homes (approximately 50 towns and cities, representing 20% of the current UK broadband market) by 2025, which will require more investment. Judging by the trial it’s possible that FANS could have a future role in this new network, which might in turn help to attract more investment to help pay for the deployments.

Leave a Comment
5 Responses
  1. Avatar NGA for all says:

    Is this not just VLANs as described in the NICC standards? OR may not be supporting yet, but they will need to eventually. Good and necessary for future service delivery including health care to the home. This was not referenced in the OR consultation on FTTP but needs to be if earnings are to be maximised. Matt Beale is BT’s ex 21C architect.

    1. Avatar AndyH says:

      Openreach don’t support VLANs?

    2. Avatar NGA for all says:

      AndyH I need to check on how BT’s version of GEA compares with the NICC standards on creating virtual services. BT version may now be compatible, it was not a short time ago.

    3. Avatar AndyH says:

      Where’s Ian Lawrence when you need him? 🙂

  2. Avatar Mark Tebbutt says:

    It seems the reality of the substantial cost of duplicating last mile fibre physical infrastructure are starting to bite and thus operators are considering a cost sharing models via tech such as FANS. Competition should be at services level not infrastructure.

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