European cable sector prepares for faster broadband, new regulations

Monday 13 March 2017 | 16:31 CET | Background

The European cable sector held its annual Cable Congress in Brussels on 8 and 9 March. The participants discussed the growth figures for the past year, but the event focused especially on what awaits the industry in the next 5-10 years. 

Major social changes are expected in the coming years: the Generation Xers have grown up and are making new demands on connectivity and content. The cable sector sees new opportunities to grow its revenues with extra services. 

Technology is also changing, with the arrival of 5G, virtual reality and AI. While most of these developments are not dependent on cable, the sector needs to be ready for them. Notably the demand for faster uplink connections is growing, and cable is falling behind fibre on this. 

Symmetric connections

CableLabs, which develops the industry standard Docsis, is working on the new version of Full Duplex Docsis3.1, for symmetric capacity of 5/5 Gbps, and within a few years, 10/10 Gbps. Chipsets for this are expected to be ready in 2019-2020. 

In the mean time, the roll-out of Docsis 3.1, supporting download speeds up to 1 Gbps, has already started in six countries. Danish operator TDC started in 2016 and expects to have its whole network upgraded by the end of this year. TDC has adopted a hybrid network strategy that allows it to roll out Docsis 3.0, Docsis 3.1 and FTTX all from the same exchanges. 

Docsis 3.1 offers greater spectrum efficiency, transmitting more information per khz per second. TDC plans to retire its analogue TV services and use the freed up spectrum for 3.1 services, while digital TV can still operate over 3.0. In time, everything will be IP-based. 

The Code

Also closer on the horizon is the EU's new Electronic Communications Code, which overhauls regulation for the telecom sector. Part of the first day of the Cable Congress was devoted to discussing the code. The Commission hopes to start negotiations with the member states and European Parliament on the code late this year. 

The reforms will see changes in how services are regulated, in an effort to include the growing number of OTT services in key parts of consumer protection. The cable sector presents itself in many countries as the challenger to the telecom incumbent, and at the European level, as a major investor in network expansion and upgrade. Its standpoint is that if regulation is needed, the rules should apply only to the telecom incumbents. 

The cable industry's position is also different when it comes to EU efforts to stimulate the roll-out of next-generation access networks. While government bodies may award subsidies for broadband roll-out, these are often tied to providing open network access. However, the cable sector remains opposed to opening up its networks to other service providers. 

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