What’s in your broadband toolkit to win the MDU battle?
A substantial percentage of the world, especially broadband-demanding millennials, live in multi-dwelling units (MDUs). The European Commission has proposed all European households should have access by 2025 to networks offering at least 100Mbps download speeds and upgradable to one gigabit, leading to a competitive Gigabit Society. With nearly 40% percent of the EU population living in MDUs, there are numerous and lucrative opportunities for network building to meet EU goals and real-world millennial desires for broadband services, writes Ronan Kelly, the chief technology officer for EMEA and APAC at Adtran.
No building is the same. Service providers need to adopt a broadband toolkit approach adaptable to a wide range of MDU and infrastructure environments, allowing them to rapidly deliver gigabit services at lower costs and with minimal tenant disruption. To be successful in the increasingly important MDU market, service providers need to be prepared to be flexible and adaptable.
Installing fibre is a labour-intensive process, requiring both access to the point where fibre enters the building and distribution of broadband from there to the other dwellings and businesses in the building. In-building distribution could take place via fibre all the way to individual units, however it is more likely to happen using existing copper or coaxial cable.
From an operational perspective, the most flexible and sustainable route for broadband is fibre optics as close as possible to the end-user, going as deep as possible with the build. Fibre is simpler to maintain than copper and provides more broadband speed “upside.” With MDUs, fibre to the living unit (FTTLU), has a clear path to move from gigabit today to tens of gigabit speeds in the future by upgrading, at the very most, electronics on the ends – the installed fibre remain unchanged. Fibre to the building (FTTB) is another path, with a fibre to copper switch or media conversion to extend the broadband service over either twisted-pair distribution using gigabit extending Gfast technology over existing phone or TV cable wiring. Wireless broadband is a third alternative, using millimetre wave to provide multi-gigabit MDU connectivity from the network.
In-building wiring projects need to be considered carefully. Depending on the size of the building, one or more wiring closets plus individualised wiring and/or ducting projects will be necessary to deliver services to individual units. Tenants will have to be notified of worker activity and potentially provide the necessary physical access to pull wire and conduit not only for their individual dwelling, but for adjacent units as well. An alternative to large wiring projects is fixed wireless, however that comes with its own challenges in terms of determining what the best spectrum is to use and the best way to cover the building with hotspots/cells.
Finally, MDU service turn-up needs to be as efficient as possible. An average MDU apartment stay is eight months, with long-term commitments rare. Churn is a fact of life, so being able to economically connect and disconnect users without long-term commitments is vital, preferably without a truck roll.
Next-generation gigabit technologies across a range of media offer complementary approaches to cover a range of MDU scenarios. Cost-effective 10 Gbps PON is emerging as the primary building block for gigabit-speed services, supporting symmetric data rates while also providing greater capacity than generic GPON/EPON fibre access technologies at nearly the same cost per connection. Using 10 Gbps PON technology provides the network scale necessary to support the population of large MDUs while providing an upgrade path to multi-gigabit broadband service delivery.
Extending gigabit services beyond fibre using existing twisted-pair phone line and coax TV cable is both practical and affordable. Second-generation Gfast being rolled out today can deliver anywhere from 1.5 to 2 Gbps, plus has the bonus option to provide reverse power feeding (RPF) from the customer premise to power a distribution point unit.
Given average MDU tenant contract lengths and high levels of churn, having service models to win and hold market share are vital. Using 10 Gbps PON as a baseline for MDU installation provides the bandwidth necessary to support current and emerging video applications needs, as well as headroom for other customers and applications to monetize the fibre build, such as Smart Home IoT security systems.
Wireless 5G backhaul is a definite revenue opportunity for an MDU fibre build. As carriers deploy wireless 5G small cells into neighbourhoods and buildings, they need ultra-fast connectivity back to their core networks. Buying a connection into an established 10 Gbps PON network is easier and faster than having to create a new backhaul network in a building-by-building fashion.
Mixed-use buildings with a combination of residential and business tenants provide another way to monetize an existing fibre build. Service providers can offer SLA-based services to businesses along with additional products not typically purchased by a residence, such as multi-line phone, call centre, and unified communications (UC) applications. Businesses are desirable anchor customers for MDU builds, providing higher revenue and longer-term contract commitments than residential tenants.
From an installation and operational perspective, the most important upgrade in the delivery process is a flexible, simplified customer end-point, with the heavy lifting done in the service provider’s cloud by using SDN and NFV. Unseen by the customer, software-defined networking (SDN) automates network functions and simplifies service orchestration. Network function virtualisation (NFV) means customers get additional services via software, rather than having to add one or more pieces of hardware.
Using SDN and NFV, customer installation can be simplified to a plug-and-play box that is easily setup by the customer without the need for a supporting truck roll, simplifying the process for both service provider and end-user. The customer can start service on their own schedule at their convenience, rather than having to schedule an on-site technician visit. Service provisioning, changes, and adding more features and services are all done by the customer via an app-based model, drastically reducing the need for field technicians or call centre staff to be involved.
With nearly 40 percent of the EU living in flats or apartments, MDUs are an essential part of any telco or MSO service provider strategy for broadband penetration and growing market share. Delivery of gigabit broadband to MDUs is challenging because the environment is heterogeneous by nature – there’s no single “one size fits all.” Service providers will need a full broadband toolkit, including the latest 10 Gbps PON fibre technology, coaxial cable, twisted pair, and wireless solutions to effectively deliver service into MDUs. To accelerate time to market, improve subscriber experience, and gain cost efficiencies, service providers will need to take full advantage of modern cloud-based operational and user-driven tools in the millennial-driven, high-churn world of MDU tenants.