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Meet the broadband leader

09/08/ 2010

The Broadband Forum (BBF) styles itself ‘the central organisation driving broadband wireline solutions and empowering converged packet networks worldwide to better meet the needs of vendors, service providers and their customers.’ Telecom Redux recently spoke to BBF ceo Robin Mersh about where the standards body was heading.

TR: What’s happening in the BBF at present?
Mersh: One thing we’ve been working on is looking at exactly how we message what we’re doing. We really have been thinking about how we put ourselves across to the industry. And I think in the past we’ve talked a lot more about what we’ve done rather than what we are going to do.

We’ve made a lot of impact in the past - our key pieces of work, or technical reports, are used in any number of networks. However we probably could do more in terms of interacting with the industry on some newer issues.

TR: Which are what?
Mersh: For example, there’s two key pieces of work we are focusing on over the next year or two. One is IPv6 and the other is multi-service E2E network architectures, and really defining what the next generation converged network looks like.

Part of the key value proposition we have for the industry is establishing best practices and setting standards as we go forward and saying: what’s it going to take to make a success in the broadband industry?

There are various issues here. How do you reduce complexity? How do you make operations easier for service providers? How do you reduce cost and time to market?

Again how do you take advantage of opportunities? If you look at IPv6, the fact that there are so many connected devices in the home raises issues, but on the other hand there is an increasingly big opportunity. With so many connected devices you have the possibility of many fee-paying services.

TR: The BBF’s current ‘tagline’, so to speak, is: ‘engineering smarter and faster connections’. What’s behind that?
Mersh: We wanted to become much more active in terms of how we connect with the industry. ‘Engineering smarter and faster connections’ is a real message to the industry. We’re not just a think tank…it’s not just a question of talking about issues, it’s actually engineering real solutions. We develop the requirements, yes absolutely. We talk about those, but then the crucial thing is evolving the solutions. We are developing solutions that solve problems, whether the problems are operational or cost-related, or more marketing- and revenue opportunity-related.

A perfect example of this is our interoperability programme which spans core to local access, and now incorporates home network solutions. We define the requirements, develop the test suites to establish a common standard of interoperability or conformance and then work with the test houses to host test events and demonstrations. In some cases we even certify. Full circle, our work ensures new transport options roll out effectively and that service providers have greater choice and price options for network and home network solutions.

TR: Are alliances and greater co-operation with other organisations important for the BBF?
Mersh: One of the realities of the broadband industry is that there are a lot of organisations active in it, and unless you co-operate you can get duplication of effort or competing solutions – all things that have happened in the past. I’m not saying that competing solutions necessarily retard the market. You need innovation to happen and competition is natural, but standardisation is critically important, and sometimes you can argue that standards themselves can be extremely innovative. More ordinarily, though, standards are the critical underpinning of innovation and unless you’ve got a set of standards that enable you to deploy in big networks in large numbers, then you are not going to create the market you need to innovate even further.

TR: What’s the collaboration with the Home Gateway Initiative (HGI) about?
Mersh: That’s a good one. There is very active collaboration with the HGI. They work mostly on the requirements side of the equation. They’ve done a lot of work around energy efficiency and around quality of service (QoS), and generally mapping out the requirements for the architecture of the residential gateway. What we work on is very much the protocol side of it – the actual device management piece. We certainly need the HGI requirements for what we develop, and they reference our specifications in their work as well.

TR: Does your collaboration with the Femto Forum signal a greater interest in wireless?
Mersh: Definitely we’re getting more and more interested in wireless. I think Femto was one of the first wireless areas that become of interest to us. As of its very nature the femto device sits in the home or office, and it needs to be managed. It seemed to be fairly obvious that it would be managed by the BBF’s TR-069, a kind of slam dunk route to go down. So the Femto Forum, the 3GPP and ourselves had active discussions, and came to agreement about what needed to happen. We were actually part of the first femtocell standards release.

Our interest in wireless has expanded over time, very much driven by requirements. One of the areas that has come up is convergence, and fixed-mobile convergence is a big area of interest. We are certainly not doing “everything” in that arena at this point, but we are working with 3GPP, sharing requirements and putting some of the 3GPP requirements into our documents. And we are developing some specific areas of co-operation with 3GPP, and I think this is going to increase. Convergence has been talked about for a long time, but I think the difference now is that you can see an awful lot of real activity. Requirements are firming up and you can see more solid real-use cases, and markets are moving.

TR: Is wireless backhaul of interest?
Mersh: Absolutely, particularly through the work of our IP/MPLS Working Group. They’re very actively involved. There’s a whole initiative around the use of MPLS in mobile backhaul, particularly as a way of reducing cost and complexity. We’ve delivered some pieces of work, some test suites and a certification programme, and although they’re not exclusively for mobile backhaul, they can be used in that context.

TR: Is there a sense in which your interest in copper is diminishing and your interest in fibre increasing?
Mersh: Good question. At one point a lot of people might have thought that might be the case, but in fact in the last year I would say the work on DSL has increased again. There’s a lot of activity around things like vectoring, bonding and extensions to ADSL2 and VSDL2 test plans. Generally speaking the work around next generation DSL is increasing again.

And this all fits very well with the market. If you look at what most service providers are doing, they’re not making just one decision. In some places they’re deploying FTTH, in others they’re deploying fibre to the basement or cabinet and adding VDSL2 or something else on the end. Or they’re deploying ADSL2+ or even ADSL2. They’re making very educated decisions on the technology needed to deliver the services the consumer base demands. And we work on the areas where the demand from our service provider members comes from. We’re in the business of giving them the tools to go away and make smart deployment decisions with their networks.

I think the question: is it fibre or is it copper is the wrong question. It’s not about whether it’s one or the other, it’s more about in which scenarios do you choose one or the other.

Having said that, we’ve recently taken on GPON technology testing. We’re developing a few documents for GPON in co-operation with the Full Service Access Network (FSAN) group and have established a working group to move PON conformance forward as quickly as possible. PON requirements are a very important work stream as we move forward.

TR: So what are the BBF’s priorities?
Mersh: We’ve got a fairly long list which we’ve been trying to rationalise, otherwise, in all honesty, it starts to look like a laundry list.

But some of the things include: increasing bandwidth options, developing further the areas of device management and adding on new capabilities. And, as I mentioned, IPv6, which is due before the end of this year, and the full service E2E network architecture, which will be the next release after IPv6.

Looking beyond these things, a few years out, we could address what do you do with cloud computing and what do you do with 3D TV services? As you move to higher and higher bandwidth, and much more demanding QoS requirements, the question is about how the network architecture evolves. But that’s long term.

TR: Thank you

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