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Delivering better quality broadband for the gigabit society

14 Dec 2017Digital Society
4 minute read

Here at Vodafone we are committed to delivering a Gigabit Society, a world where consumers and businesses benefit from widespread connectivity of 1 gigabit per second, low latency and reliable performance delivered by robust, future-proof fixed and mobile technologies.

At the heart of the Gigabit Society vision is the need to upgrade, or in some cases replace, existing network infrastructure to make sure that we are able to meet the needs and expectations of customers now and in the future.

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Vodafone has built Europe’s largest Next Generation Network, passing 99 million households – 36 million of those are reached by our own fibre and cable network and the rest through wholesale arrangements with partners. As a result, we are also Europe’s fastest growing broadband provider with 18.6 million customers (including Vodafone Ziggo).

Although speed is important, a gigabit broadband network also needs to deliver stability and reliability for our customers.

There are three key elements that make up all broadband connectivity, which are all equally important in delivering a truly gigabit experience:

  • Speed: do customers have enough bandwidth to do what they want to do online?
  • Quality: is it responsive, stable and reliable?
  • Functionality: what can customers actually do with it?

So while we’re working on upgrading the physical network, laying the foundations that allow us to deliver next-generation speeds, we’re not resting on our laurels. Our next focus is to deliver next-generation quality.

Much like Sir Dave Brailsford’s approach to Team Sky, making sure we’re getting the very best out of our networks is all about ‘marginal gains’: making lots of small adjustments to every different element, which cumulatively make a massive impact.

One of the things my team is focused on at the moment is latency. Often when a customer complains of poor broadband it’s actually a latency problem. People are increasingly impatient when it comes to waiting for their tech to work – these days, they expect their webpages to load within the blink of an eye (150 milliseconds). So even if their network has the speed to manage this but the latency is unresolved, you’ll still have an unhappy customer.

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We’re working to tackle quality attenuation, using the new approach of ∆Q metrics. ∆Q (or Delta Q) is the attenuation in quality compared with an ideal network capable of perfect and instantaneous reproduction of data packets.

The ∆Q technique enables us to break down network delay into three basic components of latency: G (Geography); S (Serialisation – the only one impacted by speed); and V (Variable – which is dependent on traffic loading). As obviously there’s not much we can do about G, and the company is already committed to tackling S, our main focus at the moment is on V.

Not all bandwidth is created equal, so we have been running a project across a number of countries (Italy, Spain, Ireland and the UK) to analyse the performance of different fixed access technologies and architectures using the new science of ∆Q analysis. So far we have measured fibre (GPON FTTH), copper (VDSL) and cable (DOCSIS) technologies. We are now starting to get results for 4G Fixed-Mobile Substitution (FMS) and hope to extend the trial to (another copper technology) soon.

Although ∆Q is still a relatively new analysis technique, this project has already given us much greater insight into the different aspects of network deficiencies and events we are able to detect. In turn, it helps us understand the impact more demanding applications of the near-future (like augmented reality) may have on different access technologies. We think it could also help us work out where to place edge compute nodes (Multi-access Edge Computing) or where best to target network investments so that it maximises customers’ Quality of Experience (QoE).

The next phase is to examine ways to deploy the ∆Q probes in a more ‘frictionless’ manner by building it onto network and device capabilities that already exist, as well as exploiting the trend towards virtualisation. We think this will help us scale the process, and mean that we can move from testing the network speed to quick, reliable and accurate network quality tests.

It’s early days, and DQ is just one of a number of things we have in the pipeline, but we’re excited about the difference it will make and proud to be leading the industry on delivering better broadband for our customers.

Gavin Young is Head of Fixed Access Centre of Excellence within Vodafone Group. He is responsible within Vodafone Group for the fixed broadband access strategy, architecture and deployment practises across the 17 countries where Vodafone currently has fixed access assets.

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