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Broadband

KPN upgrades copper network to 200 Mbps

Thursday 2 April 2015 | 14:51 CET | Background

KPN plans a major upgrade of its copper access network in the next year and a half. In a large part of the Netherlands, the operator will be able to offer speeds up to 200/60 Mbps once its street cabinets are ready for vectoring and pair bonding. The products will also be offered on a wholesale basis, through new virtual access products for alternative operators. KPN said it has nearly completed negotiations with wholesale customers and regulator ACM on the new services. 

KPN organised on 01 April a press conference in Amsterdam on its plans for broadband over copper and mobile networks. 

Chief Technology Officer Erik Hoving talked about how the iPhone was the first phone not to use all the processing power itself, instead freeing up capacity for apps. Since then, processing power has increased exponentially, opening up a whole new world for app makers and end-users. People live a full 24-hour life in the real world and another 24 hours each day online. 

KPN is investing in its networks in order to meet the continued demand for increased capacity. Much can also be gained from data compression. The Dutch operator believes in 'Integrated Access', a combination of fixed, mobile and Wi-Fi. It also considers security a key task, as well as facilitating the development of machine-to-machine applications.

Hoving said he prefers the term 'Connected World' over the 'Internet of Things'. The latter was started by Cisco as a way to promote its routers. But KPN expects all things will be connected not necessarily over the traditional internet.

Joost Farwerck, KPN's COO, discussed how KPN has been working for five years on simplifying networks. Legacy platforms such as ATM, X25 and SDH have been disabled and replaced with IP. Half the hardware in its exchanges has been shutdown, helping the operator reduce its energy bill, he noted. 

New street cabinets

KPN is focusing on developing copper for its access network, taking advantage of the significant strides in copper technology in recent years. The operator will replace its street cabinets with higher and wider models, with space for active equipment as well as a battery. 

The cabinets house an Alcatel-Lucent DSLAM suitable for vectoring. The addition of active equipment means the protection and ventilation of the cabinets is all the more important, according to Just Hut, Program Manager for the fixed network and responsible for the roll-out. 

Space has been reserved for eventual FTTx equipment, and the street cabinets could be used for smallscale deployment of FTTH or FTTB. It's not yet clear to what extent this will occur. KPN deploys at any new-build developments double fibre, so if any new buildings are planned in an area, it can still use the closest street cabinet for connections. 

Large-scale fibre roll-outs are handled by its subsidiary Reggefiber, which uses a bigger PoP to save on costs. The upgrade of the copper network will not take place in areas where FTTH is already present or planned. 

Local loop <500m

The street cabinets remain most important for the copper network. They are usually placed in the middle of a neighbourhood, serving around 350 households with a local loop of less than 500-600m, in order to deliver high speeds.  

KPN has around 15,000 of these street cabinets and has already upgraded "thousands". This year and next "thousands" more will follow. The company did not provide any specific figures.  

Some of the cabinets will not be upgraded, as they are too isolated and connect too few homes to make the investment economical.

KPN can already provide at least 40 Mbps to 85 percent of Dutch homes and 100 Mbps or more at 70 percent of homes. This includes fibre coverage at Reggefiber, which according to KPN reached 27 percent of homes at the end of 2014. 

By the end of 2016, 100 Mbps should be available to 85 percent of homes and 200 Mbps at 70 percent. This will be supported by the roll-out of vectoring, for 100/30 Mbps connections. Pair Bonding will double the advertised speed to 200/60 Mbps. 

Hoving said that 30-40 Mbps is currently enough for most households. He noted that KPN is also working on improving network quality, with the aim of ensuring top speeds are available the majority of the time.

Regulatory adjustments

Shortening the local loop has regulatory consequences. The ACM published late in 2014 its unbundled local loop draft decision. KPN had a number of problems with the decision, especially that Liberty Global, owner of Ziggo-UPC, does not face access regulation. 

Another issue is the need for virtual unbundling. Vectoring in street cabinets (SDF level) is incompatible with physical unbundling in local exchanges (MDF access). This has meant KPN has not upgraded street cabinets yet that are less than 1,500m from the local exchange, as other operators have equipment at these sites. Its 'Buitenringen' were upgraded first. 

KPN now wants to continue the upgrade in cities. A virtual access product is needed to replace the physical unbundling, a plan also supported by the ACM. 

KPN said the regulation should not stand in the way of faster upgrades of the copper network, as planned by the operator. The proposed implementation deadline of 12 months is too long, according to KPN. "We will have a serious problem with the ACM if it holds us up," the operator said. 

The situation is not helped by the lengthy process of finalising market decisions. It's often years before a decision overcomes any number of court appeals (in which the decisions are often overturned).

ACM, KPN and the alternative operators such as Tele2, Vodafone and M7 (Online) have been holding talks on the regulation. KPN's aim in the talks is to pre-empt any appeals by first reaching an agreement on the terms of access. ACM has agreed to no longer vet the agreements with market decisions that could be subject to court appeal. 

Farwerck expects this product to be successful, as the other players can also benefit from the higher speeds. In addition, capacity utilisation on the network will increase. Operators such as Vodafone will be able to sign up customers (from the cable networks) that otherwise would not have been on the KPN network. 

Lab speeds: 250 Mbps

KPN is testing in its lab in The Hague a new variant of VDSL2, which uses spectrum up to 30 MHz rather than the current 17 MHz. Known as VPlus (Alcatel-Lucent) or Super Vectoring (Huawei), the technology aims to deliver with one copper pair speeds of 250/50 Mbps over a distance of 346m. Pair bonding can double this speed again. However it is not yet clear when this technology will be ready for commercial deployment. 

The research institute TNO offers significant expertise on copper upgrades, and KPN is working with Alcatel-Lucent and several Chinese suppliers. Hut said that vendors gladly come to the Netherlands to test new technology as the local network is fitted with high-quality copper strands.  

The Dutch network is also unique as 95 percent of households have two copper pairs, making pair bonding possible. Bonding is in most other parts of the world not possible for homes and usually used only on the business market, where multiple copper pairs are available.

Gradual roll-out

KPN makes a capacity plan for investments in each municipality. While most cities want to see fibre rolled out, Hoving noted that this is not really needed given the high quality of the copper network. KPN has developed its own hybrid model for network upgrades. 

Haarlem is a good example of the strategy. Most areas will receive an upgrade of the copper network and only a few in the north of the city will get FTTH. As soon as the roll-out is completed, residents are offered new subscription packages.  

The local council in Haarlem was pleased that its city was the first in the Netherlands to have the network upgraded in less than a year, for all 70,000 households. Council member Joyce Langenacker said this should serve as an example for the rest of the country. 

Rural solutions

The upgrade plans may work in cities, but rural areas need other solutions. Uitdam, which is 4.5 km from the exchange, was given as an example. Following a consultation and demand aggregation with residents, a street cabinet was placed in order to serve 60 households with VDSL2. The cabinet is also connected to fibre. 

According to Farwerck, customised work is needed for each situation. Still, one cannot expect that 100 percent of homes will be connected. Reggefiber is also testing using the sewer system, and in Loppersum KPN is testing broadband over 4G.

LTE network expasion

KPN is also finished connecting 85 percent of its mobile antennas to fibre backhaul. The remaining 15 percent of the around 5,000 sites in total will continue to use microwave backhaul. It also continues to fill in gaps in the 4G coverage, such as Lichteiland in the Rotterdam harbour and along rail lines and motorways.

Jacob Groote, responsible for the network roll-out, said much of the work is already done, thanks to the strategic decision to start work well before the LTE spectrum auction on the core network. As a result, the focus has shifted to capacity and services.

KPN aims to reach 65 percent of the population with LTE-1800. Carrier aggregation of 10 MHz in the 800 MHz band and 20 MHz in the 1800 MHz band provides a maximum capacity of 225 Mbps (theoretical, in practice at least 20 percent less).

However, capacity is already running out in big cities, especially at train stations. To meet this demand, the operator is testing 2.6 GHz band spectrum in Delft. Using tri-band aggregation (Cat. 9), speeds of up to 300 Mbps are possible. 

The network is also being filled in with selective use of small cells, such as a brown-painted example on top of the H&M in the main shopping street in Amsterdam. Integration of small cells still needs to be standardised, as do SON and CoMP.

VoLTE and ViLTE

KPN is testing VoLTE and is already far enough along to run a beta test with a number of business customers. The technology still needs work though before a mass-market introduction and the launch may not take place this year. KPN wants to combine VoLTE with Voice-over-WiFi using its residential customers' modems. The handover must be seamless though before the service can launch. It will be tested from this summer with a new generation of modems.  

A technical pilot is also underway on ViLTE, or video calls over LTE. The technology is still clumsy though, and commercial use requires a high level of quality. Skype, Viber and possibly WhatsApp are all working on their own networks, while ViLTE should be universal, the same as voice calls. This will still take a long time to work out. It is a good example of how everything is going 'over the top', as fixed and mobile services and networks all are reduced to the single concept of connectivity.



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