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Telecommunication network innovations - getIT
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Network & Infrastructure

Telecommunication network innovations

As is the Swisscom network – both the mobile and fixed-telephone network are the most important asset of any TSP – not to mention a vital part of the national economy. They represent the digital nervous system of a modern economy and society and have quite rightly been one of the most critical infrastructures for some time, alongside electricity, water, roads and railways. This is reflected in the political world, for example, especially with the issue of basic Internet service provision for all. At 10 Mbit/s, Switzerland pursues some of the highest standards in this area – and an increase to 80 Mbit/s is already being discussed. The motivation behind this is clear: in the modern world, digital connectivity makes a significant contribution to GDP. Digital opportunities allow companies to reach new markets, increase efficiency and continuously improve customer interaction.
Christoph Aeschlimann
Christoph Aeschlimann, CTIO
10 August 2020

The corona crisis in particular has thrown this into sharp relief. I don’t think it is any exaggeration to say that, during the numerous lockdowns, the weight of the world weighed heavily on the shoulders of the global telecommunications networks.

«In the modern world, digital connectivity makes a significant contribution to GDP. Digital opportunities allow companies to reach new markets, increase efficiency and continuously improve customer interaction.»

High investment behind Switzerland’s lead

For many years now, Switzerland has continued to top the various international rankings for broadband provision. This is due to the extremely dynamic competition within the telecommunications network infrastructure sector – with around 200 strong network operators in a small and topologically challenging country, including national providers such as Swisscom and cable network operators as well as regional companies with their own cable and fibre networks. Switzerland’s per capita investment volume in IT and networks is therefore the highest in the world. (Source: ITU study, Measuring the Information Society Report) With an annual investment volume of around CHF 1.6 billion, Swisscom alone (whose net revenue in Switzerland was over CHF 8.5 billion in 2019 for example) is responsible for around 2/3 of total investments in the Swiss IT and network infrastructur.

 

This high level of investment is clearly reflected in Switzerland’s ranking in an international comparison of high-performance networks:

  • 98% of all households in Switzerland enjoy transmission speeds of 80 Mbit/s or more, meaning that Switzerland has exceeded the targets of the EU’s Digital Agenda Europe 2020. (Source: Europe 2020 Strategy, Digital Single Market)
  • At 40.4%, overall Fiber to the Premise (FTTP) coverage in Switzerland is better than the EU 28 average of 33.5%. Switzerland also ranks highly in rural coverage: Next Generation Access (NGA = coverage of at least 30 Mbit/s) in the rural areas of Switzerland stands at 93.8%, which is significantly higher than the 59.3% average coverage for rural areas in the EU 28. (Source: IHS Report on Broadband Coverage in Europe 2019)

«Switzerland has exceeded the targets of the EU's Digital Agenda Europe 2020»

Rollout of the latest technologies throughout Switzerland 

For many years, Swisscom’s network construction strategy has consisted of a continuous and nationwide rollout of the latest network technologies and capacities. On October 8, 2020 we announced the next milestone: We are the first telecommunications company in the world to have achieved transmission speeds of 50 Gbit/s in the access network under real network conditions! We did this by upgrading existing OLT (Optical Line Termination) hardware with a 50 Gbit/s PON (Passiv Optical Network) Line Card prototype. I am personally delighted by the project team’s success and would like to thank all those involved. It is a clear demonstration of our aspiration for technological lead.

 

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This is a milestone that will open up many opportunities for future applications given the continuously growing need for bandwidth – over the past 10 years, data volumes in the fixed network alone have increased by 1,040%. In the near future, the 50 Gbit/s PON option will allow us to use our existing Fiber to the Home (FTTH) infrastructure in a more convergent and variable manner. In the medium term, we expect this to be useful for the corporate business segment, for adding bandwidths quickly and flexibly, and in the development of 5G antenna sites. Comparable need is not at present expected in the mass (residential customer) market – because we recently launched 10 Gbit/s for this segment, which should be more than enough for the foreseeable.

«The 50 Gbit/s PON option allows us to use our existing Fiber to the Home (FTTH) infrastructure in a more convergent and variable manner»

However, this is just the latest in a number of steps taken to expand the network in recent years. Swisscom started its extensive broadband expansion in 2006 with a large-scale Fiber to the Curb (FTTC) expansion and rollout of the VDSL protocol – then, as now, the appetite for data was driven primarily by online videos. Today, videos and streaming account for around 75% of data traffic in our network. The measures taken in 2006 laid the foundations for Swisscom’s own IPTV television offering, Bluewin TV. Initially ridiculed and not taken seriously, it has gone on to become one of Swisscom's most important offerings. Today, Swisscom is the market leader in the television business with Swisscom blue TV. This success was accompanied by growing demand for ever more powerful networks.

 

Shortly thereafter, in 2008, Swisscom, in cooperation with local electrical utilities, began the expansion of FTTH in the point-to-point architecture within the top 20 cities in Switzerland, particularly to support economically powerful urban areas within the competitive digital marketplace. As early as 2015, more than one million Swiss households were connected. At the same time, however, the question arose as to how to advance development outside of these urban areas as up-to-date broadband provision for all regions was important for the economic development of the country. It was not only political considerations that played a part here, given the exceptionally pronounced federal culture of Switzerland, but also the self-image of a company wanting to demonstrate its commitment to the entire population and economy in all regions of the country.

Man in the pipe shaft

It was for this reason that, in 2015, Swisscom started an expansion initiative that was more ambitious than any thus far attempted anywhere in the world – to modernise the majority of the network in each of the more than 2,000 Swiss municipalities by 2021, no matter how small or rural the community. The technology used was a powerful alternative to FTTH. With FTTH, the ambitious plan would have taken decades and would have barely been economically viable. They therefore opted for the Fiber to the Street (FTTS) network architecture, which involves the installation of fibre optics to within 200 metres of buildings. From there, a MicroCAN (an active network element) converts the optical signal into an electromagnetic signal, which is then transported to the customer over the remaining 200 metres using the existing copper cable. The short copper cable distance also permits use of the G.fast protocol, enabling transmission speeds of up to 500 Mbit/s, which Swisscom was the first telecommunications company in Europe, and the second in the world, to introduce back in 2016. To date, Swisscom has connected around 2 million homes and offices, and will reach its target of connecting every municipality by the end of 2021.

Line shaft from above

«A more ambitious expansion initiative than any thus far attempted anywhere in the world – to modernise the network in each of the more than 2,000 Swiss municipalities by 2021»

Next stage already decided

We announced the next stage of development in early 2020 with the news that investments would remain at the same level until the end of 2025. By that time, FTTH coverage is to be doubled from around 30%, where we are today, to up to 60%, with FTTH to be newly installed in the point-to-multipoint architecture. Besides enabling higher transmission speeds than the 10 Gbit/s currently offered at lower unit costs, this represents the next logical step in the expansion of the existing FTTS networks. After all, all we have to do is bring the fibre the remaining 200 metres to homes and offices. This also brings a new cost issue into focus. Today, Swisscom operates parallel systems and platforms for both copper and purely fibre-based networks. As FTTH coverage continues to grow, efficiencies will soon be realised by retiring the copper networks – initially at the regional level at least. Swisscom has already launched a number of pilot projects to this end.

 

We are thus moving gradually closer to our vision of a Switzerland that, thanks to the world’s most powerful telecommunications networks based on fibre and 5G technologies, is ready to take advantage of the latest digital possibilities, such as VR/AR applications or efficient production chains with Industry 4.0 concepts.

Key insights at a glance

  • Telecommunications networks are quite rightly one of the most critical infrastructures in a country today – the corona crisis has thrown this into sharp relief.
  • Due to the extremely dynamic domestic competitive environment, Switzerland offers exceptionally good broadband coverage in an international comparison.
  • Swisscom is responsible for around 2/3 of total investments in the Swiss IT and network infrastructure.
  • Swisscom started to continuously expand its networks, capacity and transmission speeds/bandwidth at an early stage – because, within a space of just 10 years, data volumes in the fixed network alone increased by 1,040%.
  • Swisscom has continued to adopt the very latest technologies in the expansion of its networks – for example, being the first European telecommunications provider to introduce G.fast. In October 2020, Swisscom was also the first to test a prototype of a 50 Giga PON Line Card and achieve a transmission speed of 50 Gbit/s in a real network environment in the access network.
  • 2006 marked the start of a Fiber to the Curb (FTTC) expansion throughout Switzerland. This was followed by a Fiber to the Home (FTTH) rollout to the top 20 cities, which began in 2008.
  • In 2015, Swisscom launched a globally unparalleled expansion initiative with the aim of modernising the network in every Swiss municipality by the end of 2021 – the basis was Fiber to the Street (FTTS), whereby fibre optics are installed up to around 200 metres from a property.
  • In early 2020, Swisscom decided on the next stage of the expansion: to double FTTH coverage from around 30% today to up to 60% by the end of 2025.
 
What is your opinion on our network strategy and where do you see the challenges in modern high-performance networks for Switzerland or the world as a whole?
 
Digital greetings, Christoph
 
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Christoph Aeschlimann

CTIO

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