Liberty Global CTO Rodriguez fills in on 10G strategy – no fast move to DOCSIS 4.0

Liberty Global is “not going to be the leader on speed of deployment” of DOCSIS 4.0 as it seeks to upgrade its networks to 10G capability in multiple markets but will look to fibre in key markets and a carefully considered DOCSIS upgrade in others, according to chief technology officer Enrique Rodriguez.

Enrique Rodriguez

Speaking on the New Street Research Fiber to the Future event, Rodriguez said Liberty would likely be “capable” of deploying a service towards the end of next year or the beginning of 2025, “but that’s different from saying we’ve made the decision to actually deploy in that timeline.”

He said Liberty would deploy DOCSIS 4.0 by 2025 at the latest, but it would look at what the competition was doing before taking a decision.

“I don’t think we are going to be the first to commercial deployment,” he said. “Our US colleagues seem to be in a bit more of a hurry.”

He said that Liberty had some access or full access to fibre in most of its markets, which took the pressure off in most markets. “We just have a different competitive environment than in the US and we have a different toolset,” he said, pointing to the UK market, where Virgin Media O2 is able to deploy fibre in some areas. This has to do with the way the network was constructed in the first place, he said. Deploying fibre in the UK was more of an upgrade than a completely new rollout.

“Every time we had a new build we were really focused on fibre,” he said, Using RFoG to create a state of the art DOCSIS network.

This meant that there was a “pretty cost effective way” to upgrade the network to fibre. By 2027-28, “we will basically be 100% fibre to all homes passed in the UK”, he said.

In Ireland, all homes would be passed by fibre in the next two years – an even faster rollout.

In Belgium “it will be a mix” with fibre deployed in the JV with Fluvius and DOCSIS deployed elsewhere.

In the Netherlands, it is more likely that Liberty will deploy DOCSIS first, but even in this market it is likely that there will be a mix of fibre and DOCSIS upgrades.

“We think less of this as a big step. We think more about taking customers [to higher speeds],” he said. “We think of the road to 10G in the same way.”

In some regions, the roadmap to 10DG will rely on DOCSIS 4.0.

Liberty is doing 2Gbps trials everywhere with the headline speed more like 2.5Gbps, he said. “This tech can deliver at least 1Gbps on the upstream,” he said.

The gateways, first deployed in the UK, are now being deployed elsewhere, said Rodriguez.

He said that most of the cost is on the CPE side, so most investment is on customers who want the service, rather than upgrading infrastructure and then hoping that penetration would grow.

Liberty is now at 1GHz across its plant using 204MHz for a high split, said Rodriguez. “We make those decisions on a region-by-region basis,” he said. “We are trying to provide a better and better upstream experience without having to do a big investment in the network.”

Addressing the question of how far and how fast Liberty would deploy a ‘high split’ in the network – increasing the upstream specrtrum range –º said the bulk of the network could achieve a high split today because it was 1GHz enabled or higher.

He said this work was mostly to improve upstream speeds.

He said that during the COVID pandemic Liberty saw a need to improve the upstream experience because the pattern of traffic changed due to home working, and this has continued post-pandemic. “We saw an opportunity to improve the customer experience on the upstream,” he said.

Rodriguez said 100% of Liberty Global’s network was now DOCSIS 3.1 enabled. About 65% is enabled on upstream, he added.

The company is pushing for higher penetration of 3.1-enabled gateways, which are not yet universally deployed, he said.

Speaking about Liberty’s decision to drop its fibre JV in Germany, Rodriquez said that in the UK the company had “a fantastic anchor tenant” in the shape of VMO2 and those conditions did not prevail in Germany. “The fundamental economic factor is utilisation,” he said. “We didn’t see the economics in Germany leading to great utilisation.”

On the question of potential acquisitions in the UK, Rodriguez said the company was familiar with how to integrate companies, pointing to the example of Switzerland.

“We are not afraid of integration, not afraid to build new and not afraid to upgrade,” he said.

To meet its fibre targets, Liberty is “comfortable we can reach those goals by doing it organically”, he said. The company did not rule out M&A, but his job was to ensure that the company was in a position to meet its commitments organically.

Cost considerations: fibre vs DOCSIS and set-tops vs connected TV

Rodriguez said that since fibre is a passive network and a more modern network than HFC, and that is was all IP, led to lower operating costs that could be “50% or more”. But this is “only a proportion” of overall operating cost, he added.

HFC networks are built over decades so there is an ongoing maintenance cost in addition, he said. Fibre networks, being newer, required less maintenance. All of this contributed to lower operating costs for fibre.

Against that, DOCSIS 4.0 upgrades are relatively cheap, at around €130-€140 per home compared to some fibre upgrades.

“Mileage depends on how you drive. There are so many variables – the network segmentation you have in certain areas; how your network was constructed – was it ducted or buried – and so many aspects that it is difficult to give a black and white answer,” he said.

To take full advantage of DOCSIS 4.0, users will need a new modem, but the advantage of deploying the upgrade across all homes is huge, said Rodriguez.

Other costs could also decline. The cost of set-top boxes had declined significantly. In the Netherlands, all customers were now on the Apollo or Mini set-top, which expended less power than previous generations and was much smaller.

He said this trend would continue even in the HFC nertwork, driving down costs.

“Every country will be in this position, where all customers will be on IP and on newer and smaller boxes,” he said.

Liberty’s TV services are now also available on other devices or “non-dedicated hardware”, he said.

“It’s not all going to go boxless or BYOD,” he said. “You are seeing the same thing from competitors and that’s the general direction of travel.”

The box is “less than 40%” of the cost of previous generations of box, he said.

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