Ahmed Alsulati, CTO, Qatar National Broadband Network (Qnbn), Qatar is delivering a keynote address on Day Two of the Broadband MEA 2013 conference, taking place on the 19th-20th March 2013 at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel, Dubai, UAE. Ahead of the show we speak to him about why faster speeds are so important and how Qnbn copes with the demands on its network.
What major developments have there been within the broadband industry in your region over the past year?
Qatar has witnessed important developments at regulatory and business levels in the past two years with regard to its broadband industry and fiber optics infrastructure. At the regulatory level, in 2011 Qatar’s government established the Qatar National Broadband Network Company (Qnbn) with a mandate to accelerate the rollout of a nationwide, open, and accessible high-speed broadband Fibre to the Home (FTTH) network.
Qnbn focuses solely on the deployment of a passive network infrastructure, efficiently leveraging existing and new infrastructure in Qatar. This government-led initiative was developed in consultation with existing network operators, Qtel and Vodafone, and was meant to support the development of their broadband service offerings to government, enterprises, and consumers. The government support ensures rapid deployment and seamless access in a competitive market environment.
In August 2012 Qnbn received a 25-year license to provide Qatar with fibre-optic broadband throughout the country, thus it has been officially endorsed as the fibre-optic broadband infrastructure provider for Qatar. The license will see Qnbn offering wholesale broadband fibre optics infrastructure services to licensed network service providers and operators.
At the business and commercial level, the commercial needs of the market formed the basis for the network design. The shift to fibre ensures high speeds and high bandwidth capacities to meet the increasing needs of the end users. The affordable wholesale prices will cascade all the way down to consumers so they are offered a much improved and more effective fibre optic broadband service to empower their lives.
Are there enough applications and or business services out there to the drive adoption of faster speeds and is it up to the operators to get involved?
Qnbn foresees a huge growth in the need for such services as major mega-projects come on stream in Qatar like Doha New International Airport, Doha New Port and the new Railway Network that will connect Lusail City with the rest of Doha. There’s also the building of some 130 hotels in anticipation for greater demand for hospitality at the World Cup in 2022. So there are always new applications and business services in the pipeline. However, there has always been a gap in speeds or bandwidth to meet the requirements of these applications. The ITS (Intelligent Transportation System), economic, medical and educational applications all require greater data transport ability. Although the active layer handles the actual download speeds and transaction numbers, there is a noticeable difference between now and the last 4-5 years in the use of said applications and the output we experience as the end users.
A recent report in the UK showed that most consumers favour investing in wider national coverage over increasing speeds to existing well-served areas. What’s your view on this?
The UK is a completely different paradigm to the Qatar market. In the UK there are multiple transport providers servicing varied requirements and the competition mix is different. In Qatar, we have copper and fibre and we don’t have old legacy systems from various operators. Therefore companies have the chance to directly move to the latest technology (FTTH). This is in line with the thinking behind the government’s initiative, the first of its kind in the region, which puts consumers first to deliver a nation-wide high-speed fibre-optic network that is open, accessible and affordable. Qatar’s 2030 vision promotes the development of a knowledge-based economy that boosts enterprise and innovation to build a sustainable and state-of-the-art ICT landscape.
Is FTTH really necessary for businesses and consumers and what are the stumbling blocks to rolling it out?
Yes, it is absolutely necessary. The arrival of fibre-optic broadband will change people’s lives dramatically and empower businesses across the nation, making them more competitive and fuelling enterprise through increased connectivity. It will deliver the broadband and internet speeds people require in order to succeed at work and enjoy next generation service innovations and content, smarter utilities and environmentally sound telecommuting. FTTH will accelerate growth and encourage innovation to help build a sustainable digital future for Qatar, which will boost economic development. The stumbling blocks would be intensive forward planning, design issues and the physical resource for deployment.
In areas of great demand, high contention ratios can affect performance. What steps do you put in to ensure that you have enough capacity to deal with this?
The performance should not be affected since we support speeds of 100Mbps to the operators in any area (high density included). The Qnbn technical product range offers residential and business connections with the option for shared and not shared connections. For instance, the Enterprise P2P (Point-to-Point) connection is directly between the company and the operator and as it is not shared all the fibre capacity is available. The residential FTTH GPON connection has a shared connection between all homes connected to the network. Similarly, business FTTH has a shared connection and is designed for single companies. Even in high concurrency circumstances the Qnbn implementation of GPON supports 100Mbps. That said, Qnbn provides a wholesale service, not an end-user one and it is the service provider who manages the IP network and therefore is responsible for the speed.