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The Critical Lowdown Podcast Episode 3

Harnessing the Power of Open Disaggregated Networking to Speed up Broadband Rollout
Feka Samakuva - Netomnia

Providing access to high speed networks has long been a priority for Governments and enterprises alike. The UK Government has set ambitious targets to have gigabit capable broadband coverage to 85% of the country by 2025. In the US, the FCC has pledged $60bn in grants to help bring broadband to rural areas and to rip and replace unsecure equipment. In Germany, the federal Government has committed €12bn for broadband funding through its “grey spots” program.

So with the intent clear from Governments around the world, how can Service Providers harness open networking to speed up deployments and cut costs?

Our Head of Sales in Northern Europe and Africa, Mark Downey, sat down with Netomnia's Director of Networks, Feka Samakuva, as part of a discussion with the Internet Service Providers Association UK (ISPA UK) to discuss their success in partnering with EPS and how it all went from a plan drawn on a napkin, to one million premises connected to 10G networks.

They discuss:

  • Netomnia's roll-out plan is to cover 1 million UK premises by 2023. How is the build is going?
  • How is EPS Global supporting their deployment?
  • Why they have chosen open disaggregated solutions over traditional, and what challenges are they helping to overcome?
  • What gives Netomnia the competitive edge?
  • How can the vendor community make a difference in the race to bring nationwide gigabit-capable broadband by 2030?
  • The UK broadband market is maturing. Our speakers' market predictions for the next 5 years...

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Transcript of Episode 3: Harnessing the Power of Open Disaggregated Networking to Speed up Broadband Rollout 

Projects such as Gigabit Britain have drawn a lot of new entrants into the market. Netomnia is one of the key players helping to achieve the UK government's ambitious rollout plan. It is the fastest growing network operator in the UK, building a wholesale fiber access network and aiming to pass one million connected premises by 2023. Along with its retail ISP sister company YouFibre, it announced last week that it has raised £295m coming only months after the duo raised £123m.

Our head of sales in Northern Europe and Africa, Mark Downey, sat down with Netomnia as Director of Networks, Feka Samakuva, as part of a discussion with the Internet Service Providers Association UK (ISPA UK) to discuss their success in partnering with EPS and how it all went from a plan drawn on a napkin, to one million premises connected to 10G networks.

This story begins several years ago when Jeremy Chelot, Netomnia’s CEO, approached EPS Global about open networking solutions. Over a coffee in Carluccio's near Liverpool street, he drew his cutting edge network design for Mark on the back of a napkin. He was interested in taking a disaggregated approach in the design of their network because it would give them the flexibility and agility that they needed to support their ambitious growth plans. It's also cost competitive, although this wasn't the prevailing factor in this case.

Our engineers advised Netomnia on the hardware and software options available and worked hand in hand with Feka and his team and the chosen software vendor IP Infusion in setting up a proof of concept.

We're now working with Netomnia on the next phase of their network design.

Let's hear now from Mark and Feka on how the Gigabit Britain rollout is going.

Mark Downey: Hi Feka, thanks for taking the time to join us today. I know you and your team are fairly busy with some ambitious growth plans and deployments at the moment, and with that in mind I’ll jump into a few questions. You and I have been working together for a few years now, but it would be great if you could give us a bit of background on Netomnia, and what exactly you do?

Feka Samakuva: Netomnia is a full fiber access network infrastructure provider, and we're deploying a full fiber network to homes and businesses in towns and cities up and down the UK. We've been deploying for just over 2 years now and in that period of time we've grown to become the fastest network infrastructure provider in the country. We're deploying multi gigabit services, offering residents and businesses in areas, some of which have been deprived, underprivileged, or have not had access to this technology and now we are playing an important role in being able to drive gigabit connectivity up and down the country.

Mark Downey: Great. Your rollout plan is to cover one million UK premises by 2023, could you tell us a little bit about how the build is going and what are your main challenges that you've encountered through that process?

Feka Samakuva: The build is going very well, we have well over 100,000 premises passed and we're building in over 25 cities in England, Scotland, and Wales, and we're adding premises to the network every month at an ever increasing rate. By the end of the year we see us being in at least a 100 towns and cities across the country. The build is progressing well, we're very much on target to meet our forecasted goals but this hasn't come without its challenges. Internally we've had to grow through some of those growing pains that come with a rapidly growing business and like many others in the industry we haven't been immune to some of the economic and political events such as global supply chain issues geopolitical issues or general resource scarcity, but we have a very experienced and dynamic team and we've been able to cope really well. Early on we also sought to form strong relationships with our partners like EPS Global and we've leveraged those relationships to be able to be able to overcome some of the challenges I mentioned earlier. Yes, we are very much aiming to connect a million homes by 2023 and were very much focused on that target, but Mark you know us well, we’re very ambitious and when we consider the team that we have, the partners that we'll work with like EPS Global, and the product that we're delivering, our ambitions go beyond a million homes and we see no reason why we can't connect two million premises by at the end of 2024.

Mark Downey: Always impressed by the numbers and the amount of areas that you guys are working in and the towns and cities around the UK, it's extremely ambitious and good to hear that it's all going reasonably well so far. You mentioned EPS Global, it would be good to get a little bit about how you how you think EPS Global are supporting that deployment.

Feka Samakuva: EPS Global have supported our deployment in in a number of ways, like our other key partners EPS Global through their industry know-how and understanding of our business have been able to provide practical and cost-effective solutions which have helped to accelerate our rollout.

EPS have matched our dynamism and enterprise with flexibility and foresight. Their knowledge of the industry and market trends have really helped us to mitigate some of the issues that I mentioned earlier. For example, securing supply chains to ensure that we key components that are part of our active network deployment, continue to be delivered on time and to allow us to be able to deliver against our aggressive build program.

Mark Downey: You're using the open disaggregated solutions over traditional solutions.

Can you expand on what kind of challenges that has helped you overcome by using the disaggregated solutions?

Feka Samakuva: Going down a disaggregated path was decided early on in the ethos of the of the business and how we were going to operate. I mean, we're very technology driven company and we were quite attracted by the flexibility and choice offered by disaggregated solutions. This greater openness and in design, and lower costs, have allowed us to leverage new technologies and innovate a lot faster and be more cost effective.

Mark Downey: I agree with that there's definitely a faster rate of innovation in this space which is great for companies like you. Netomnia is quite an innovative company and we've seen that through dealing with you. What would you say gives you your competitive edge?

Feka Samakuva: I can't reveal a recipe to the secret sauce Mark! But I will say that we're very technology focused, but we're also people focused. I think there's a unique spirit within the company that's a bit hard to put into words. It's not just that we have highly driven people or passionate people in the business, but there's a real and palpable sense of innovation and optimism in what we're doing by everyone in the company which I think sets us apart.

We want to try new things. We want to be open to working with a broad range of people and companies. We want to take engineering principles and advancements in automation and programmability to not only improve operational efficiency, but to actually improve the satisfaction that people get from doing what they're doing. I’m not just talking in terms of the active network which I’m responsible for, but you see this across the board within our company and with the partners that that we work with, and I think that's what gives us that competitive edge.

Mark Downey: That's interesting, I mean technology is important but the culture within the company it's good to hear you talking about that people make the business. Thanks for that Feka.

Nick Lansman, ISPA UK: I just have a few quick questions. First one is:
How can the vendor community make a difference in the race to bring nationwide gigabit broadband by 2030?

Feka Samakuva: That's a very good question. I think from our experience it's very much important for vendors to work collaboratively with network operators to overcome many of the challenges that are inherent in a roll-up such as the one that we're currently involved in, be it from community engagement to product selection. Across the board I think it's important that we work closely together in their spirit of partnership to be able to add real value and integrity to the infrastructure that we're deploying. I think if the experience of the past couple of years have taught us anything, it is that the importance of working collaboratively with other people to be able to achieve our goals. Ultimately this is not a zero-sum game and so for us in Netomnia we think it's very important to embed our partners within our business to foster understanding and build confidence. We see our vendors as very much an important part of driving the success of our business.

Nick Lansman, ISPA UK: Very good, and if I may I’m going to ask Mark the same question as a vendor, where do you see your role being in this to help the market?

Mark Downey: It speaks to some of Feka's points from earlier on. We entered into the world of open networking or disaggregation a long time ago. We saw that as the future and we started to work with us several years ago, the market was in its infancy in that space. You're going up against some of the bigger, more well-known vendors, but we keep trying to put the message out there that it is a good option, it's something to look at and Netomnia is a good example of a company that have these deployed in their network and it is working well. Our plan as a company is to stay innovative, stay at the leading edge of the market, and to ask questions of the industry, what can we do differently and how can we do it? And that involves us knowing about the technology and what is coming down the line, and been able to have open conversations with our customers about what's coming. We can easily say what we think is bad as well is good and those open relationships with the customers have served us well and it's resulted in some good partnerships with ourselves and our customers globally.

Nick Lansman, ISPA UK: One final question for me. Obviously 2030 is a quite a long way off, but where do you both see the market in the next say 4 or 5 years time?

Feka Samakuva: That’s a very interesting question, I mean I wish I had a crystal ball and by no means I’m a futurologist! But I think broadly speaking we'll see a shift in focus in the industry from rollout to services. I think we'll continue to see higher bandwidth requirements from consumers and this will be partly driven by new applications and an increasing number of connected devices and over the top services. From an operator perspective I think we will see an increase in the demand for higher bandwidth broadband packages and the need for high bandwidth capable technologies like XGS-PON which Netomnia are currently deploying, but even looking at 25G PON or 50G PON which really excites us here at Netomnia. Lastly, I think we'll see the leveraging of the fiber that we've laid in the ground by most likely an increase in 5G penetration, and possibly even the early adoption of 6G technologies which is starting to create a buzz now.

Nick Lansman, ISPA UK: Mark can you get your crystal ball out?

Mark Downey: I wish I could! It is as straightforward as that, the bandwidth is going to increase as we go forward and we sit down with our vendors and we look at their road maps and they're bringing out 400G and 800G switches down the line. As a value-add distributor and what we do is our relationships with our vendors are as important as our relationships with our customers and we're seeing a lot more niche vendors coming into the market in the open space, around OLTs and devices like that. There are more players in this market and I think they'll offer a better selection to customers like Feka and the bandwidth is just going to continue to grow and grow, the customer base is going to grow as well, customers out there rolling out fiber so our plan is to is to match that and give them a flexible and interesting selection of vendors which is happening at the moment in the market for them to be able to develop their businesses.

Glossary of Terms:

  • XGS-PON: Passive Optical Networks supporting over 10G
  • ISPA UK: Internet Service Providers Association UK

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