HONG KONG The names of the forums scheduled for Telecom World, the International Telecommunications Union show opening here Monday (Dec. 4), paint the big picture: Digital Ecosystems, Digital Lifestyle, Digital Society. But at the grass roots, substantive work is under way that is bringing real progress toward expanded access.
The conference, moving to Asia after three decades in Geneva, is dominated this year by Asian carriers and OEMsa reflection not only of the new location but of a shift to broadband deployments in developing nations. Consequently, a primary topic on the ITU forum agenda is how carriers can bring service to as many citizens as possible at a low baseline subscription cost, without sacrificing bandwidth.
Panels featuring chief executives from Cisco, Motorola, Lucent, KDDI, NEC, China Mobile and NTT Docomo will tell the conference that ubiquitous broadband access is not only achievable, but it's also a done deal in some places. Expanding its footprint might not be a matter of looking for government subsidies. Instead, alliances of carriers, equipment suppliers and semiconductor vendors are writing a playbook for using aggregated simple services to pay for high-speed Internet Protocol backbones.
The lessons learned in bringing wireless voice services to Africa and rural China can be applied to both wireline and wireless broadband services. In the 1990s, the prospects for expanding telephony service in developing nations appeared bleak, but, since then, operators and industry have realized that many citizens of the developing world don't need wireline service. In some regions of Africa, in fact, wireless operators have created a minimalist infrastructure that assumes the mobile phone is the only service. It further assumes that cellular infrastructure can be brought to small villages when one key citizen, or an entrepreneurial business within the village, can provide services for dozens or even hundreds of residents.
Elements of this strategy are entering the broadband world. IPTV, for example, is making strides in China because carriers there consider several dozen IP flows to be the only "channels" they need to serve the citizenry. If IP group membership "channel changing" is fast and flows are error-free, there is no need for a community to offer traditional cable or broadcast service; IPTV becomes the only service.
A similar trend can be observed in the buildout of passive optical networks, where PONs can provide broadband fiber infrastructure at a fraction of the cost of the active fiber networks favored by smaller, richer nations such as Japan. In recent months, regions in China have shifted from plans based on digital subscriber lines to PON-based plans for which the only remaining DSL implementation is the VDSL2 feeder used to carry broadband service from the neighborhood optical node to the home. PMC-Sierra Inc. will demonstrate several PON architectures at ITU this week, including one developed for China's networking standards.
In wireless realms, carriers and equipment vendors are developing models in which broadband service is used as a baseline transport. Sylantro Systems Corp. has worked with Motorola Inc. in Pakistan to offer voice overlays on a WiMax infrastructure. In this case, WiMax is not added to an existing cellular service; rather, WiMax physical networks come first, to support voice-over-IP as well as broadband data.
In basestation infrastructures, aggregation of multiple channels of basic voice can help pay for advanced data services, in terms of both silicon processing power and per-channel subscriber costs. Texas Instruments Inc. will show a basestation DSP, the TCI6487, at Telecom World that will earn its keep by supporting maximum densities of GSM or TD-SCDMA voice calls, while bringing WiMax service to the node as an added attraction.
For such network topologies, achieving multifunction aggregation at the network edge is key. Cisco Systems Inc. is poised to make a splash at the ITU show, but its CRS-1 and 12000 series routers will play only supporting roles. The star of Cisco's Hong Kong appearance will be the 7600, an Ethernet edge services router that will put in added duty as an IPTV delivery platform and a soft switch supporting the IP Multimedia Subsystem standard.