European multiscreen TV held back by regulations

Europe’s regulatory climate is stifling investment in the broadband infrastructure that will carry pay TV and Internet video traffic as migration to fiber-based wireline networks gathers pace. This warning was sounded by the French/U.S. telecommunications giant Alcatel-Lucent at the first of its annual technology conferences in Paris.

Differences between countries comprising the European Union’s 27 member states, combined with a general lack of clarity over policy, are inhibiting infrastructure investment and, ultimately, Europe’s ability to provide the high-speed network services needed to deliver HD multiscreen TV. The greatest impact will be on over-the-top (OTT) and IPTV services, but with the whole pay-TV industry increasingly reliant on shared IP-based transport networks in future, the consequences will be felt by most operators unless the regulatory climate is improved.

“Europe is lagging behind,” said Gabrielle Gauthey, Alcatel-Lucent’s senior vice president of public affairs. “Investment is not happening, and countries are resting on their laurels. The problem is not lack of vision but the means to enforce the vision. There has not been a common policy saying now is the time to start rolling out networks in parallel and start doing things differently. Currently, the infrastructure layer is not organized to attract the investments and foster the rollout.”

Gauthey was referring to the passive fiber core providing long-distance transport, which plays no part in competition among individual operators because there is no intelligence there for service differentiation, but it’s vital for the long-term success of a region. This passive component of the infrastructure accounts for about 80 percent of total investment in network transport. And because payback only occurs over a long term, it has typically required significant public support — in the past often from state-owned telcos.

“We need new investment models in Europe to drive forward this passive infrastructure,” Gauthey said. “The goal of governments should be to foster sharing of this infrastructure because it is not feasible to have duplication of the transport layer. Service differentiation can then be fostered by the active intelligent part of the network.”

This distinction between the passive optical core and active segments of the network around the edge will be increasingly relevant in the broadcast world as online video converges with pay TV. This will take place around common cloud-based delivery infrastructures where operators compete on their ability to reach customers on whatever devices they want to consume content on with a consistently high quality of experience. This will depend on their handling of the network edge and consumer device platform, with the last hop increasingly over a wireless link, either within a home network or external 4G cellular service.