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Core services manager, VIPnet, Croatia: “Hybrid fibre coaxial networks hit tremendous speeds“

Hrvoje Jerković, core services manager, for VIPnet, Croatia

Hrvoje Jerković, core services manager, for VIPnet, Croatia is speaking in the Traffic Management track on Day Three of the Broadband World Forum 2012, taking place on the 16 – 18 October 2012 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Ahead of the show we speak with him about VIPnet’s launch of LTE and its planned upgrade to a DOCSIS3 fixed-line cable network.

What were the major developments and milestones for you over the past year?

This year Vipnet continued to develop and set the trends in the Croatian mobile industry, launching a commercial LTE network that has strengthened Vipnet’s market leader position of mobile broadband in Croatia. LTE will be basis for many new business scenarios for Vipnet in the future.

Exponential growth of mobile data traffic led us towards developing multiple network layers. LTE was a natural evolution after the implementation of HSPA+. With HSPA+ our customers can now achieve speeds up to 42Mbps until the full national coverage of LTE takes its role. Simultaneously in August 2011, Vipnet acquired B.net, the largest Croatian cable operator that offers fixed telephony, broadband internet access and television services in order to provide fully convergent fixed line and mobile voice/data/video solutions to our customers.

Is fibre-to-the-premises really necessary or is fibre-to-the-home enough to handle upcoming data demands?

Most of us can agree that fiber is the future but to what extent it should be used is primarily a business decision. On the one hand, it is obvious to go to the premises if there is a real business need. But, as most of the premises already have existing infrastructure, you have to make a decision as to whether there is a real business need and a business case. Fibre is fragile, and you need to pull it through ducts, which makes implementation costs higher. General FTTx cost breakdown shows us that construction takes the biggest part with more than 50 per cent of total costs. At this point in time, the best strategy is to go with FTTP if there is an existing infrastructure for it or a real business need. Otherwise, FTTH is just fine.

Hybrid fibre coaxial networks are achieving tremendous speeds.  In May of 2012 Vipnet demonstrated 4.3Gbps speed over HFC Eurodocsis 3.0 standard, setting a world record at that time. The main advantage of this technology is the combination of multiple frequency blocks, by which the unit transfer rates per block are multiplied, thereby, achieving extraordinary results. EuroDOCSIS3.0 technology is an upgrade to the existing Vipnet or B.net fixed-line network, which significantly accelerates implementation because it does not require any installation work inside of homes or buildings. All of this is showing that there is still huge potential in hybrid networks.

Net neutrality is of concern politically right now. To what extent is it of concern to you internally?

As a member of Telekom Austria Group, Vipnet is fully committed to provide open access for all its customers to all legal content, applications and services available on the public internet. Even without any additional regulation, a competitive environment strongly pushes operators to give customers access to content, applications and services with the best possible QoS. We’re confident network operators must be able to continue to ensure the prevention of unwanted traffic, such as spam and malware and allow for the effective and time-sensitive delivery of traffic that requires priority (e.g. emergency services, health monitoring, HD videoconferencing). If one operator excluded access to certain content or degraded the QoS to an unacceptable degree, customers would simply switch as soon as possible to another access provider.

Where do you stand on bandwidth caps, line throttling and traffic management?

The question is whether traffic management could be used against the best interests of customers. Assuming that network management measures are sufficiently transparent for customers to make a well-informed buying decision, competitive forces in the access markets will immediately penalise those “abusing” traffic management. It is, however, highly questionable if traffic management alone will be enough to serve all future capacity needs.

One of the problems is that application developers look at the mobile data network the same way as they look on fixed line, so they don’t limit their applications in any way to offload signaling traffic. And why should they? Operators are offering affordable data prices and applications are utilising it. On the other hand, the average smartphone user has tens of applications installed that frequently sync themselves with servers and the only problem as far as the customer is concerned is that battery life is reduced.

In the end, competition will prevent operators from relying too much on traffic management. Customers will always choose the network operator that provides the highest speeds with the fewest usage restrictions and operators have a strong incentive to offer exactly that – fast and unrestricted internet access – in order to prevent customers from churning to another provider.

What will you be doing to ensure wider coverage to those areas that are currently underserved by fast broadband?

LTE and HSPA+ are considered to be fast broadband technologies. Vipnet is the only  operator  in Croatia to have introduced DC-HSPA. It’s present on 60 per cent of Vipnet’s 3G sites and can deliver 42Mbps.  Our 3G coverage deployment was focused on very high frequency (2100MHz), comparing to GSM (900MHz), therefore 99 per cent population coverage has not yet been achieved. Introduction of UMTS900 (3G on 900MHz band) changes this trend and its deployment will speed up improvements of 3G coverage substantially.

Regarding LTE, this spring Vipnet launched the commercial LTE in Croatia on 1800MHz,. Current network deployment is focused on the biggest cities, but coverage will expand  in the next years. LTE coverage deployment in rural areas are dependent on the 800MHz digital dividend frequency band being freed-up following the migration of TV broadcasts from the analogue to digital domain. The Croatian telecom regulator started activities on this migration years ago and completed this in 2011—the 13th country in the world to make this an important step. Unfortunately, neighboring countries have not followed the same trend, which will delay the introduction of LTE800 for several years until we get the opportunity to deploy such a network for the Croatian coast and similar areas.

What are the key challenges you expect to face over the next 12 months?

Convergent services and offers are likely to be one of the key challenges in the next year. Extending LTE to a national level and even more complex traffic management will spice things up. On the other hand several factors will influence business, such as tariffs, OTT players and the competitive market in general. On one hand we have a hi-tech automated, optimised network, and on the other hand we have customers so one of our main focuses will be keeping those things together and as close as possible. The recent achievements of our customer experience management team shows us that customers and hi-tech networks can be utilised not only to serve customer needs, but to lead operator’s development in a direction that customers are expecting.

Why is your attendance at this event so important for you and your company and what aspect are you looking forward to most?

This event offers a good opportunity to meet people from business. It is focusing on area that everyone perceives as huge potential in upcoming years. It’s a great opportunity to see how other operators are handling challenges of the upcoming years, and also, what vendors have to offer to support operators broadband business. We are really looking forward to get some new ideas and approaches regarding future business. Usually brainstorming with the people from the telco area can produce some fresh views and predict new trends.

Broadband World Forum 2012 is taking place on the 16 – 18 October 2012 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Click here now to register your interest.

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