Asking the right questions to get a true ‘open access’ provider for fibre broadband on your residential estate.
From experience in Sweden, as well as from various studies, it is clear that open access is the way residential estate owners make the most money from providing broadband infrastructure. It can result in a 7.2% – 10% premium on home prices while also maximising the satisfaction of residents − with both consumers and business users getting the best possible choice and prices for broadband services.
Sadly, the term “open access” is increasingly and deliberately being distorted by some broadband operators who claim to provide it when they actually don’t. There’s no legal or industry standard definition of “open access”, so the term is wide open to abuse.
This short article sets out what true open access is and provides some simple questions for you to ask of anyone proposing an open access solution. There are four generic types of organisation that claim to offer open access. And the first three types aren’t capable of delivering it!
IT companies, open access novices and local internet service providers that want to reinvent the wheel at your expense. You can expect badly delayed and buggy software that may add a few customers to a small system but is not scalable, is not robust in the long term and comes from a supplier with doubtful long-term commitment. You can also expect to keep paying for even the simplest changes.
Hardware vendors that are keen to sell you equipment, but then walk away. They don’t care that integrating hardware and software and then operating a 24/7 service is not their business. But by the time you need all that, they’ve got your money, so at least they are happy!
The big established telco operators that claim they can “do everything”. They are likely to use your infrastructure for their own benefit, not yours, and after signing will simply not care about you or any awkward details agreed to in a rush of enthusiasm by their salespeople.
There is only one type of organisation that can actually deliver:
A committed, experienced and specialised open access operator that lives and breathes this business. They will have a proven track record in delivering at scale (so they can attract brand name service providers) and will have many happy residential estate fibre owners like you.
Some simple test questions to ask of potential suppliers that will help you make better choices for an open access partner.
Can multiple different service providers deliver services at the same time over the network?
Can end users see these services and select freely from them?
Can service providers create new services and easily add them to the offers presented in the online services supermarket, so that they are available to end users themselves without the need for assistance? (For example, in an open access network, an ISP should be able to create a new service, such as a 100 Mbps package, and add it to their list of offers to to be presented to end users automatically, without software development or third-party help.)
Can the real estate development add its own IP-based services to the system, such as CCTV cameras? This is important, as some operators just want to put their own services on and not help the developer with security, access control and other applications. True open access makes adding these things easy.
Is the software already developed, stable and proven at scale? If not, selecting this provider risks the classic IT problem in telecoms of long delays, high costs and associated complications. That won’t make a residents’ association very happy or popular.
Can we please see a demonstration of a deployment with multiple service providers and services? It’s better to see a live demonstration of a working system than mere promises in a proposal.
Can we please talk to some existing customers? Again, a good potential open access partner will be happy to let you talk to customers.
Do different services providers pay the same price for accessing the network? It is all too easy for a big telco to cross-subsidise services in order to disadvantage competitors. For instance, they could charge other operators a rental for the fibre that is 90% of the retail price – making it impossible for them to compete.
Can you explain what hardware choices you have made and how these help deliver high performance and uptimes? Some components last 75 years between failures, while 50% of some others can fail in three years. Better to know that your provider has thought of this and is choosing wisely.
Will the system be capable in the future of delivering multiple HD (and one day ultra-HD) TV services to end users? This is a trap. If they are choosing to use GPON, then quite simply they won’t be able to. In Sweden, the home of open access, there isn’t one open access operator using GPON. All use active ethernet.
Can we understand how you will maintain the network?
Does the business model oblige the provider to remain committed to the development in the long term, or can they run away early (e.g. if you have paid for everything up front)?
What track record does the provider have? Better to work with someone that has seen and done it all before.
THE DETAILED STUFF
THE LAST MILE TO THE HOME
Firstly, let’s stick to the part of the network that delivers the service to residential customers, not the intercity network or metro networks that take services around towns and cities (like a ring road). The ultimate connection to the customer is known as the “last mile” or access network, and this is what is being discussed here in terms of open access.
The open access concept
The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) says that there is no agreed definition, and that just confuses things enormously.
The basic concept is clear, though. An access network is open to be used by all service providers on equal terms. This implies a real choice for the end customer, which makes the network more attractive. For a fibre owner, increased take-up is THE number one value driver. So open access is much better for the real estate fibre owner and is more popular with end customers.As is often the case, the devil is in the detail.
What open access should be:
In a fibre access network, open access should mean the ability for an end customer to receive and choose from multiple types of services delivered by multiple different operators simultaneously. The customer should be able to buy broadband from one company and TV from another, as they wish.
Changing service providers should be easy, at the click of a mouse.
For service providers, the ability to add their services to the network should be completely open and on equal terms for all operators – no advantages for one, no blocking of another. In some cases, a volume discount may be justified, but the essence is to have an open market on the network, which makes that network much more attractive to the customer and better for you, the real estate owner.
OK, that’s a long definition, right? Well, it has to be, because operators are trying to hijack the term “open access” for marketing purposes, in the same way that lots of customers with a so-called fibre service in Europe are actually connected to a copper or coax connection in the last mile. Shouldn’t be allowed, but it is.
What open access isn’t:
If an operator is offering open access but you can only get their services on their network, then it isn’t open access! One incumbent claims that this is actually open because you can switch to another provider, but the cost is so high that you’re essentially trapped with the incumbent. That isn’t truly open.
If an operator is sharing their network using a thing called “bitstream”, then again that is not open access. You can’t see a supermarket of services to pick from. Yes, you can change to another provider, but the pricing can be prohibitive for them, and even if you do change, then you’re stuck with the new provider.
Ventura Next designs, builds and manages incredibly efficient and profitable operations for fibre owners who lack the time or expertise to exploit their own passive network asset. This helps them increase take-up, generate higher revenues and deliver world-class services to users. We have a track record of 120 open access networks across 45 cities.
Richard Jones – Chief Commercial Officer