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The wider availability of fiber and the advances in its performance have triggered a new paradigm, and Nokia, as a major global equipment vendor with leading fixed access solutions, significantly contributes to this. In an exclusive with Telecom Review, Mohamed Salama, head of fixed networks, Nokia MEA, shared insights on the current fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) market, Nokia’s latest innovations in GPON technology and how regional operators can benefit from high-speed solutions.

How do you see the FTTH market today?

Let me start by saying that these are great times to be in fixed networks, as we at Nokia see a lot of interest from our customers and partners in the MEA region. The demand for broadband during the pandemic triggered a renewed and accelerated spending cycle, which is [to be] sustained during the next years.

What has really changed? First, there is the scale of home passes commitments from MEA operators. Based on industry analysts and Nokia’s own insights, we can see a clear market ambition towards at least a doubling of the current fiber subscribers base in the MEA region in coming years. Interestingly, the momentum of these deployments will shift increasingly from the Middle East to underserved markets in Africa. Then, apart from coverage, the more advanced operators in the region are starting a new investment cycle to augment the capacity of its existing fiber networks.

Another reason to get excited is that this growth is backed up by strong business foundations that are driving more broadband into the region. There is 5G, of course, where you need high-bandwidth, low-latency fiber backhaul. But a key enabler in MEA is the expansion of international capacity, thanks to new submarine fiber projects, especially the two huge new cables — Equiano and 2Africa, respectively backed by Google and Meta. While this will allow them to connect more consumers onto their platforms, there is a positive knock-on effect for local companies in the form of an increased and cheaper supply of international bandwidth. These cables are now being extended inland and will eventually reach the subscriber.

Finally, we see a strong appetite from private investors and less traditional players —  so-called altnets — to invest in fiber networks. In this context, South Africa’s open fiber access deployment is a clear proof point that such altnets could indeed initiate universal fiber rollouts via private funding.

How is Nokia meeting the growing ultra-high-speed broadband needs of its customers in the Middle East and Africa?

At Nokia, we need to be very pragmatic when working with our customers, as the MEA region is very diverse. It’s also important to make our customers aware of the latest innovation and deployment strategies — even if it doesn’t have direct impact today — in order to make sure investments are well-protected.

One example is the effect of 5G introduction, which opens a new opportunity for mobile operators to diversify and grow their revenue by offering fixed wireless services. At the same time, the high level of 5G fixed wireless performance is typically triggering an accelerated copper-to-fiber transformation on wireline networks, as we see in other markets. Here, Nokia is very well positioned as a true end-to-end supplier and leader in mobile RAN, fixed wireless CPEs and backhaul networks.

Another discussion we’re having with our customers is around the introduction of next-generation PON technologies. While more advanced operators, mainly in the GCC region, are moving faster with XGS introduction, innovations such as Nokia’s multi-PON solution allow any operators to deploy any PON solution from the start. Nokia’s multi-PON solution supports any combination of GPON, XGS and even symmetrical 25G PON on the same card. Such design also allows for maximal service flexibility as now each service can use the technology that is the best fit from a performance or business case perspective. For example, GPON for the lower-end residential segment; XGS-PON for consumers and small businesses; and 25G PON for enterprises and mobile transport.

At Nokia, we believe that leveraging our expertise in building broadband networks is one of the key success factors, especially when it comes to the execution of our customer projects. Our service teams are comprised of specialists in the planning, management, and execution of large-scale network and business transformation projects. With our help, our customers can take complexity and risk out of the transformation process, preserve ultimate service quality, and give the end-users more compelling reasons to remain loyal.

What are Nokia’s latest innovations in GPON technology?

As a major global equipment vendor with leading fixed access solutions, our innovations evolve from clear operator pain points. In principle, all our innovations intend to accelerate the operator’s business case: maximize revenues on fiber broadband networks at the lowest possible cost point.

Innovations such as Nokia’s multi-PON solution allow communication service providers — including our customers stc, Proximus, Openreach, DELTA Fiber, KPN and TIM — to deploy GPON/10G and get 25G. The solution is both backwards-compatible and future-ready. Nokia has released the first symmetrical 25G PON solution on the market that enables our customers to boost fiber broadband capacity and address new opportunities.

In addition, we have developed “application containers” for CSPs on our PON ONTs in collaboration with expert third parties. Using application containers, service providers can quickly and easily install new applications directly on the ONT, bringing everything from enhanced privacy and VPN services to essential cyber security and beyond.

We know that fully autonomous networks are the future. But getting there from here is not so easy. Nokia provides a phased transition path to SDN, enabling operators to introduce our solution at their own pace and enabling specific use cases that make sense in a multi-vendor network or a multi-technology environment.

Finally, at Nokia, we’re also strongly committed to striving towards “zero waste,” which is about the responsible use of all resources. Most of the CO2 emissions resulting from our products come from power consumption while in use. Our Quillion chip helps us to slash power consumption by half compared to previous product generations. Meanwhile, progress in packaging technology means that we can make more efficient use of transportation as well as reduce waste through recyclable materials. 

How can operators in the MEA leverage high-speed solutions?

In my interactions with our customers, I have witnessed that the attitude towards fiber broadband has completely changed. We’re no longer discussing “Why fiber” or “Who needs fiber.” Operators realize they have, or are building, this fantastic infrastructure that is getting faster and smarter every day thanks to all these new innovations, and now start asking how they can generate more revenues from it.

Of course, the first thought would be to use this abundant capacity to delight residential subscribers with premium Gigabit and multi-Gigabit services. But why not use it for more than just residential services? It would be quick and easy, with small, incremental investment on the existing fiber plant, to be able to extend the use cases for fiber. There would be no need to trench streets to add additional fiber for business services, mobile transport or smart city connectivity. The possibilities are endless!

The wider availability of fiber and the advances in its performance have triggered a new paradigm. It is no longer just fiber-to-the-home; it is “Fiber for Everything”: a single-fiber infrastructure that underpins the entire telecom industry.

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