Dennis Steiger, NBN Co ‘s CTO talks technology trends and strategies for a hyper-connected world
Mr Steiger is responsible for overseeing NBN Co’s Technology and Security teams. He joined the company in July 2014, with the remit to develop strategies and technologies that enable the secure build and operation of the NBN network so all homes, businesses and communities can have access to high speed broadband.
Mr Steiger brings with him more than 25 years’ global experience in the telecommunication and technology industries with extensive experience working across different access systems technologies. Previously, Mr Steiger was the Chief Technology Officer at Shaw Communications in Calgary Alberta. He also worked as a Senior Engineer with Canadian telecommunication company TELUS.
1. Tell us more about your ambition to roll out a national broadband network in Australia. What are your goals?
Our goal is really very simple, we want to have 8 million happy homes on board the NBN by 2020 and that is what we are working hard on achieving.
We are using a whole range of technologies to achieve that goal in the fastest manner possible and at the lowest possible cost to the tax-payer. The bottom line for us as a company is to make sure that everybody in Australia – no matter if you live at Bondi Beach or as they say here ‘out the back of Bourke’ – meaning in a remote area – then you can access high-quality broadband via the NBN.
2. What technological challenges are you facing in realizing this objective?
Technology is not really a problem for us – all our platforms work fine on that level – the problem we have really is on the scale of the project, Australia is a huge country and we are having to deploy an awful lot of fibre to connect comparatively few people – we are certainly not in the same boat as the likes of Singapore or Hong Kong.
Even deploying our fixed-wireless network – which is going to cover over 500,000 homes – is a massive challenge because all the new base-stations we are building still need to be connected with fibre and that’s a massive job just in itself.
3. In your view, what are the technology trends driving the sector and your business forward?
When we look around the world at what people are doing we are seeing this massive trend towards offering faster and faster speeds across every technology platform – and that’s great for us as we are working with all those technologies.
On GPON you can see HKT in Hong Kong launching 10Gbps residential services, BT in the UK are announcing they will run 500Mbps over G.Fast and on cable we are already seeing folks run 500Mbps over Docsis 3.0 in several markets and there are operators in Asia looking at delivering 1Gbps on Docsis 3.0 – that’s before we even talk about about Docsis 3.1!
The other big trend to note is this whole move towards convergence with so many people now looking to offer quad-play services – that does not just mean more M&A activity it also means that cable operators have to think of new ways to add value such as with Wi-Fi voice-calling and so on.
4. How is cable using technology to differentiate itself in the marketplace?
I am not sure that differentiate is the right word to use – whether you are talking about FTTP, VDSL or HFC the networks are basically there to provide the same thing: high quality connectivity.
The reality is that most folks really are not interested in the technology they get their broadband over, they just want a service that gives them what they need and they want it at a good price.
That being said I guess that one of the biggest innovations we are seeing from cable is the move into Wi-Fi – especially in markets like the US where they have achieved a lot of coverage and that really does change the equation.
5. How are you cooperating with content providers in Australia?
We are a wholesale operator so we don’t have the relationships with content providers that most other network operators have, those relationships are between our Retail Service Providers (RSPs) and the content companies.
That being said we recognise that content is a big part of the value proposition for high-speed broadband because it really allows consumers to get access to all the great OTT content that is out there from all the different providers in the market.
6. Cable is a technology leader, but is there an area where cable must be better and what will it take to do so?
From a cable point of view things are really exciting at the moment – the arrival of Docsis 3.1 will take cable to the next level in terms of performance and we really need to make sure we deliver on that.
We all know that Fiber-to-the-Home is a great product but we need to make sure people understand that cable can deliver an excellent level of performance at far lower cost and in much quicker time than FTTH can.
We really don’t want to see cable positioned as a second-best solution – we need to make sure that people understand cable networks are already delivering great broadband speeds around the world and that we are only going to get better.
7. What strategies does cable need in order to effectively compete for consumer attention in a hyper-connected world?
Again our position at NBN Co is a bit different to most operators but from a personal perspective I guess I would say that – accepting that broadband is really the main game these days – the market really is about content, connectivity and customer service.
Subscribers want access to great content, just like they always have, but they also want access to that content across a whole bunch of different devices and they want access to that content both in their homes and while they are on the move – that’s really important.
In terms of connectivity subscribers don’t just want to be connected to their cable broadband at home, they want to be connected out of the home too – and that’s where Wi-Fi really comes into the equation.
Finally, but perhaps most importantly of all, cable operators need to get their customer service up to really exceptional levels, the competition from OTT players is fierce but the trump card that cable operators hold is that existing relationship they have with their subscribers.
It’s really important to leverage that relationship and look to do things like set up personalised offers for subscribers that really add value – in effect the cable operators need to become digital partners with their subscribers and surprise and delight them with new things as often as possible.