Telecoms operators should be preparing their networks for multiple 4K screens per household and new bandwidth business models based on SDN, according to Adtran exec

There has been much talk in the industry about whether or not consumers really want multiple gigabits of bandwidth into their homes and, more to the point, whether they are willing to pay for it.

The answer, according to one industry expert, is a resounding ‘yes’, and far from bringing about a situation in which operators roll out fatter pipes only to see the revenues syphoned off by over-the-top players, the telcos can make money too, provided they use the tools available to them in the new software-defined world.

"Demand for the Gigabit society is real," said Ronan Kelly, chief technology officer for EMEA and APAC at network equipment provider Adtran, said at Connected Europe in Lisbon this week.

There are many potential requirements for higher bandwidth, including virtual and augmented reality services, education applications, cloudification and the move to everything being delivered as-a-service, and, of course, higher-definition TV.

35% of households in Western Europe will have a 4K television set in the next two and a half years, Kelly said, while new iterations of smartphones and tablets with 4K screens are starting to hit the shelves.

"When you’re dimensioning these networks you’ve got to think about multiple 4K screens," potentially running six or seven feeds in a single household at any one time. "That will have a much bigger impact than most people are planning for," he warned.

However, it’s "not just about ever-higher-resolution video," Kelly said. "There are tonnes of use cases out there that we haven’t even envisaged."

Kelly shared an anecdote, in which he attempted to download the latest version of the video game Doom to an Xbox during some rare downtime. Two hours after entering his credit card details, the game was 97% downloaded, Kelly said. "I didn’t get any gaming time."

Kelly said he has a 100 Mbps broadband service, which is sufficient much of the time. However, a good solution would be to have the ability to boost the bandwidth, as a consumer, say through a phone app, or, better still, through an application-aware network.

"Would I pay a premium for that service and have it come down faster?" he asked. In this case, the payment could be an extra €5-€10 for the game.

"I think I would," Kelly said.

Telcos will be able to offer those kinds of capabilities if they embrace software-defined access networks, he explained.

"SD access networks will allow for the network to be driven by other software applications," Kelly said. The next generation of network equipment will be able to react so quickly that the network can be application-aware, can adjust parameters based on flow and provide a richer user experience.

"The potential for the service providers then to work in conjunction with those app providers to open up new revenue streams and new business models is huge," Kelly said.