Ahead of our Gigabit Access 2017 conference, Total Telecom caught up with keynote speaker Geert Standaert, CTO at Proximus, to discuss the work they are doing across Belgium to deliver enahnced broadband networks as well as the key opportunities and challenges the project is bringing.

Can you outline how Proximus are delivering enhanced access networks across Belgium?

At Proximus, the user experience is key. To anticipate the customers’ needs in terms of speed and to keep a strong competitive position, Proximus has been frontrunner on new copper technologies since the beginning. When you look at the Proximus access network evolution in the past decades, you can see that we have constantly executed transformational network upgrades. We started with the introduction of ADSL in 1999, then launched the first generation and second generation VDSL respectively in 2003 and 2008, bringing massively Fiber-To-The-Curb. In January 2014 we were the world first to start the roll-out of vectoring technology. 
To stay further ahead of the customers’ future needs we recently announced an investment of €3 billion for the coming 10 years to accelerate the roll-out of Fiber in Belgium with the objective to reach more than 85% of businesses and more than 50% of households. Next to that, we are exploring the next generation copper-technologies such as VDSL2 35 MHz with enhanced vectoring and G.FAST, and are looking at mobile to enhance fixed experience in a hybrid solution or to complete the last mile.
How has the European Electronic Communications Code changed your strategic priorities? 
Investing in the future networks is core in our growth strategy to become a digital service provider and deliver superior customer experience. So, we welcome the fact that the proposed Code has an important focus on stimulating investments. It is a good basis to start from to let it evolve into a simple, secure and clear framework that will support the players who invest and take the risk in building Europe’s future networks. It is indeed important that policy makers provide investors with incentives to build large-scale high capacity networks. The positive signals given by the Code were helpful for our recent important investment decisions. 
What are the biggest challenges that Proximus faces in delivering next generation access networks?
Next to the operational challenge of the massive scale increase of our FTTH/FTTB plans,  we see that there is no longer a “one size fits all network solution”. So our biggest challenge in the further network evolution will be to manage an heterogeneous network with different optimum solutions depending on the geographic location (rural vs urban) but also on the applications. This will of course increase the complexity of the operations. 
What are the biggest opportunities open to Proximus from building next generation access networks?
In the coming years, data traffic and digital services will continue to grow exponentially, mainly driven by cloud, teleworking, video applications (UHD) and by the Internet of Things demanding increasing bandwidth. To stay a pioneer in network technologies and be a key player in the ongoing digital revolution, Proximus wants to anticipate these evolving needs by preparing its infrastructure for the future with high quality access network investments. This, with a maximum of synergies with the mobile network evolution too.
Moreover, Proximus will also continue to develop end-to-end solutions answering its business customer’s needs, rather than ‘just’ selling them connectivity. 
Finally, to enable market innovations, Proximus is also opening its assets through API.
What is the single most important change you have witnessed in telecoms since you joined the industry?
Since I joined the industry, the most important changes I have witnessed are the continuous acceleration of speed of change and the common understanding that this exponential rate of change will continue. I remember when we still dared to question out loud whether anyone would ever need more than 3Mbps.
Today everybody realizes that we must no longer build a network for the needs of today, and even not for the applications in the near future, but we must really dare to dream of what the future will bring and start to prepare our networks for after-tomorrow. This makes it really an exciting time for the industry. 
What do you think will be the big telecoms trend in 2017?
I think that the trend for Telcos is an accelerated move towards virtualization and automation in telco applications. Everybody is convinced that this is the way to go and technology becomes mature, so all the elements are there to scale up.
From a customer point of view, I expect that the further evolution of video based applications will further drive the data usage on fixed and mobile networks needing higher speeds and capacity. Also the fact that Augmented Reality will move past the hype, and we expect some real applications to emerge.
You can hear more from Geert at Gigabit Access 2017, being held in Brussels, Belgium on 4th and 5th April. To find out more about the conference visit the website where operator access specialists can apply for a free guest pass.