Horst Schmitz,NetCologne CTO
Germany has established its digital agenda where the development of the broadband internet access is taken as one of the key tasks. NetCologne is one of the major regional broadband service providers in Germany, providing the city of Cologne and the associated region with reliable and future-proof telecommunication services. To cater to the growing demand for high-speed internet, it introduces G.Fast technology to accelerate its fiber deployment. In February, NetCologne and ZTE signed a strategic cooperation agreement for the joint development of GPON and G.Fast projects. In March, the two parties announced the start of the G.Fast pilot phase. Recently, NetCologne CTO Horst Schmitz talked to ZTE Technologies about NetCologne’s fiber broadband strategy, the significance of choosing G.Fast and his vision for the future.
What is the digital agenda for Germany?
The Federal Government of Germany has started thinking about a digital agenda for our country at the beginning of this decade. Political will and intention have so far been expressed in the broadband goal of providing all households with download speeds of 50 Mbps by 2018.
In the past months the two significantly involved federal Ministries “for Transport and Digital Infrastructure” and “for Economy and Energy” have developed respectively their own gigabit strategies. Common to both is the understanding of the future need of ubiquitous connectivity and the will to cope with the markedly increasing requirements in the course of the development of Industry 4.0 (Internet of Things, Big Data) and intelligent networking (e.g. e-health, e-government and smart cities). Thus, the government has realized that future broadband connections have to be of much higher quality: Both ministries are now strongly committed to the task that gigabit networks will have to be set up in Germany by 2025.
As the roll out of broadband infrastructure is not commercially viable everywhere, the Ministry for Digital Infrastructure has set up a special funding program in autumn 2015. The government wants to invest a total of around 4 billion Euros up to the end of 2018. Just recently, the government has announced to invest another 350 million Euros to connect industrial parks to the fiber networks. Here, connections have to have 1 Gbps for symmetrical upload and download.
In short, the awareness of the need for fiber networks as the only future-proof infrastructure has meanwhile also reached German policy. The focus should now be on the promotion and the comprehensive deployment of fiber-to-the-building/home (FTTB/H) networks and the need to deploy fiber as the basis for all communications infrastructure for the upcoming decades, and no longer stick to outdated bandwidth goals.
What’s the current status of NetCologne’s broadband service?
NetCologne offers a comprehensive product portfolio in the areas of internet, telephony, television and mobile communications. In doing so, we strive to meet high technical standards in order to offer our customers the best possible service. We are constantly expanding our own high-performance fiber optic network to provide bandwidths of 100 Mbps and beyond, not only in urban, but also in rural areas.
Taking a look at our service area, we have marked in red those parts on the map which are under deployment right now. In all blue-marked areas, broadband connections from NetCologne are already available.
This year, we are working on a new technology leap: We will be providing our customers with the next generation of super-fast high-speed connections via G.Fast.
In addition to the areas mentioned above, NetCologne is also pushing ahead with the expansion of a hybrid fiber coaxial network (HFC). Through contracts with housing companies, the modern fiber optic cable network (including Broadcast TV) is being extended on a selective basis, for example in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Neuss.
How do you plan your network evolution?
We see the broadband coverage of the area Cologne/Bonn/Aachen as one of our core tasks. However, fast internet access is not only required in private households, but indispensable for companies in particular.
By expanding our own high-performance fiber-optic network, we are making an important contribution to economic growth in the region. In doing so, we also rely on regional partners. In many cases, expansion projects can only be realized jointly with municipalities and local energy suppliers.
What’s your strategy for an all-fiber future?
We’ll deploy FTTB/H in all buildings. The final game will be the infrastructure network. In our competitive areas we’ll win this final game. Therefore, it’s very important for us to push FTTB/H roll-out within the next few years. The focus of our FTTH-deployment will be especially in new areas, new buildings and reconstructed buildings, because it is still difficult to bring fiber to customers in existing houses and apartments in Germany. In those areas, the solution will be G.Fast, as it is often not possible to reconstruct the buildings and replace the old copper lines for FTTH.
All in all our strategy is to get as close as possible to our customers with our own fiber infrastructure. Only then we are able to develop the best products, the best services and the best bandwidth.
NetCologne and ZTE signed a strategic partnership agreement at ZTE’s headquarters. What’s the significance of signing this agreement with ZTE? What’s your expectation for future cooperation?
We want to improve our business in the future with new services and applications and need a strong partner. As we are working in a very competitive environment in Cologne, Germany, we intend to accelerate our business with ZTE as a partner. By entering the strategic partnership, we hope to improve network quality and user experience for NetCologne customers.
The agreement includes the deployment of the latest state-of-the-art telecommunications technologies as well as the development of new business areas and joint marketing communications. ZTE will support NetCologne to maintain its status as the leading provider of telecommunication technologies and services in the area of Cologne/Bonn/Aachen with a strong digital competence. We are definitely looking forward to new projects in future.
What’s your impression after visiting ZTE’s headquarters?
It’s very impressive. For me, it was very important to see and get to know the people behind the the big technology brand, because I had to make a very important decision for my company.
Can you tell us the goal and status of the G.Fast project?
The goal is to offer gigabit-bandwidths to our customers. We are the largest FTTB network operator in Germany. We had to change our old DSLAMs and install G.Fast and new DSLAMs to improve the performance and services to our customers. We started the G.Fast project last year. Now the first live connections have been successfully started in the pilot phase under real-world conditions. The technology will be available in the NetCologne network in the course of the year and is expected to serve around 260,000 households. The precondition is that the respective building has a direct fiber-optic connection from NetCologne.
What is the significance of choosing G.Fast?
It’s very important for us to deploy G.Fast since the high-speed demand is increasing. The G.Fast solution based on a copper backhaul allows for a smooth migration path from 100 Mbps services based on VDSL2 in FTTB to gigabit services in a very cost efficient way, as the existing copper infrastructure within the buildings can still be used. It also allows for a gradual migration so the growth of performance can be proportional to the market demand.
G.Fast is the right technology at the right time. In the long term, we will deploy FTTH. In the short term, which means the next five years, we will be using the copper line for G.Fast to provide 1 Gbps. But in the next few years, we’ll see not only in Cologne, but all over Germany, a big FTTH deployment.
What services will be important in driving ultrafast broadband uptake?
We consider the following services as main drivers for leveraging the uptake of ultrafast broadband, as they require huge increases in bandwidth: video-on-demand services with advanced tech features like 360-degree cameras and for augmented and virtual reality scenarios as well as for use of current 4K TV and high dynamic range video options (with higher resolution in colors); cloud services for various (enterprise-class) storage applications as well as for artificial intelligence applications that are based on high- availability and high-performance servers in the cloud and the availability of centralized innovative services in the cloud; virtual reality applications & services for gaming & entertainment—for example telemedicine uses including visual technology and remote diagnostics or virtual and online payment applications and related new business models.
What is the future of the broadband market?
At this point we are just at the beginning of a completely new ICT era. We think the future of the broadband market will certainly evolve into the direction of fiber optic as the foundation of a modern industrial and service company. For that, an extended and reliable high-performance broadband infrastructure will become a main enabler for prosperity and economic growth of our modern society. The increasing penetration will become a challenge for the growing FTTB and FTTH broadband network markets—which will lead to an increase of new cooperation, wholesale and reselling business models.
How do you ensure the sustainable development of NetColgone?
We have to look at innovation. We have to look at costs, because in Germany the consumer pricing is very low. So, we have to be very cost-efficient.
We need to have a scalable network which enables us to introduce new services in short time. We cannot afford long evolution cycles. It’s clear we are an infrastructure provider, not Amazon or Google. But the network should support all the functionality to enable our customers to use the best services worldwide.
As a CTO, what is your vision for NetCologne in the next several years?
My vision is to provide the market, our marketing department and our customers with the best infrastructure in Germany. There are a lot of changes. The technology is changing. The software is changing. Therefore, it is very important for us to have a reliable partner who supports us in this complex field. We are a regional network operator, but No. 1 in the market with regard to the quality of our network. We are convinced that with the combination of our technology with ZTE’s technology, we will offer the best services for the future.