Superfast broadband? Upgrade your cable TV network, says Denmark’s TDC

Alan Burkitt-Gray
Published on:

Carsten Bryder, CTO of Danish fixed and mobile operator TDC, says the company is upgrading its decades-old coaxial cable TV network to deliver gigabit internet speeds

Carsten Bryder, TDC

Carsten Bryder: Cable TV technology can already deliver
3.6Gbps and later this year it will offer 10Gbps


Denmark’s TDC is addressing the challenge of fast broadband to the home. And it thinks it has found a money-saving way to achieve it. 

Like most fixed operators around the world, it has been following the established line that fibre into each home is the only way to achieve superfast broadband. But it’s expensive to replace existing copper with fibre going along every street and down every driveway.

Fortunately for TDC the company has an alternative. It owns a coaxial cable TV network that already delivers programme channels to 1.4 million households. And the company is in the middle of upgrading that network – not the coaxial copper cables, but the electronics on each end of them – to deliver fast broadband. Very fast broadband.

The company is using its cable TV network as the basis of a nationwide network that will deliver 1Gbps to most households in the Denmark by the end of 2017 – and maybe 10Gbps in time.

TDC has already started the upgrade, and the first homes should be getting 1Gbps from the beginning of December 2016. TDC's cable serves 1.4 million homes, about half the homes in Denmark. 

According to Carsten Bryder, CTO of the operator, there is still a role for the existing fibre-to-the-home infrastructure, which will deliver broadband to around 10% of homes, but TDC’s cable TV network will play the biggest part in the national programme. 
Faster and cheaper than fibre

But the coaxial is there and it can be faster than fibre, he says. GPON – that is, gigabit-capable passive optical networks – “have a maximum [speed] of 2.4Gbps”. For the coaxial cable network TDC is using the latest implementation of DOCSIS, which stands for “data over cable service interface specification”, and that’s faster. 
Even better, he adds, "a 1Gbps DOCSIS solution is approximately 12-14% of the cost of green-field FTTH". 
DOCSIS has been in use by cable operators around the world for almost 20 years to deliver internet services over networks that were designed to carry analogue TV channels. The original specification was DOCSIS 1.0, but TDC is now pioneering the latest implementation of the technology.

“DOCSIS already gives 3.6Gbps and with DOCSIS 3.1 later this year it will offer 10Gbps,” says Bryder. That means the company has a network that can support services that are four times as fast as GPON.

TDC is unusual in having both a conventional telephone network into customers’ homes as well as a cable TV service. This dates back to an initiative decades ago by the regional telephone companies that were merged in 1995 into Tele Danmark, later TDC.

Cable was popular in Denmark. The reason, as with most of the other early centres of cable TV in Europe and North America, was to extend choice of channels. Just as rural Americans signed up to cable to get services from their nearby big cities and Canadians signed up to see channels from south of the US border, Danes wanted more choice.

Until 1988 Denmark had just one TV channel – and most would agree that it was dull. If you wanted more entertainment, the cable networks brought in TV from nearby Germany and Sweden, or other channels that were available around Europe by satellite.

That means TDC has an extensive cable network, which gives it the potential to deliver superfast broadband to most of the country without the expense of installing fibre networks.

“We are swapping out 2.7 million network components with new technology. We have to be careful because we are interacting with people’s TV,” says Bryder. TDC believes that it is among the first to implement DOCSIS 3.1, which is just being certified.

New standard 

According to CableLabs, the US-based laboratory and certification centre for the cable TV industry, DOCSIS 3.1 will support up to 10Gbps downstream and up to 1Gbps upstream. In the US, Cox and Comcast are both planning to use the new standard.

In Denmark, TDC is spending 3.7 billion kroner ($530 million) a year on IT and operations, says Bryder, including the cable upgrade. “We own our own network. The investment profile needs to fit into our yearly spending without handing over ownership of the network. I’ve seen cases where an operator hands over ownership of part of the network, but that’s not the case with TDC.”

TDC is “one of the only operators in the world with fibre, DSL, cable TV and mobile,” he says. “We are familiar will all four infrastructures. We have already been there for years.”

But the company wants to be simpler, so technology is being used only where necessary. Existing DSL will not be upgraded with, the bonding technology that potentially allows speeds of 1Gbps, but only on short connections – up to 500m – from the streetside cabinet. The company does not plan to use new DSL technologies, says Bryder. “ is not part of our strategy.”

Existing fibre networks provide services to up to 10% of homes, and they will not be replaced by coaxial cable. They’ll be left in place – and fibre will be the preferred technology for new-build estates, says Bryder.

The aim is for more than 50% of all Danes to have superfast broadband at speeds of at least 1Gbps from the end of 2017. The next 20% or so of the population will have more than 100Mbps.

Outside the main centres of population, in Denmark’s rural areas, fixed wireless can have a role, he says – and that’s where existing DSL will be used. Not upgraded to, but used in conjunction with LTE wireless to deliver extra bandwidth: “We are taking existing DSL services, and adding 4G capacity,” he says.

There’s an advantage here in the fact that TDC has 99.5% population coverage with its LTE network. “We have two-carrier and three-carrier aggregation and we are testing four-carrier aggregation, to achieve speeds up to 1Gbps – that makes us one of the fastest in the world.” 

Peter Trier Schleidt, TDC

Peter Trier Schleidt: With the new infrastructure, the
customer is closer to the network and TDC can get higher

Operations transformation

The company has already started the roll-out of fixed gigabit services, and is aiming at 10% population coverage by the end of 2016, says Peter Trier Schleidt, the chief operations officer of TDC. Both Bryder and Schleidt were speaking at Huawei’s Operations Transformation Forum, a conference of several hundred executives that was held in Wuzhen, China, in early November.

Huawei’s services division is TDC’s main partner in its rebuild of its cable network and the plan to simplify operations across the company.

TDC is handling the upgrade carefully, says Bryder. “We are interacting with people’s TV services, so we have to be careful.” The upgrade should lead to cost reductions, adds Schleidt: “There is a lot of cost involved in running [existing] DOCSIS. The quality was not so good, because the network had been built over decades.”

The upgraded network will be decentralised, says Bryder. “We have a very centralised architecture at the moment and we are decentralising that. It means the customer is closer to the network and we can get higher speeds.” And a new network means lower maintenance costs, he hopes.

TDC is proud of the fact that it is one of the pioneers of the latest version of DOCSIS technology. The operator’s chief procurement officer, Mohammad Asim, says: “Huawei is a credible partner, very reliable. It has focused on the partnership. Trust is the key word.”

TDC’s marketing strategy is being changed along with the technology upgrade. “We are simplifying the brands,” says Schleidt. “We have a huge amount of legacy products that we’re still selling. We want to get rid of them. We are consolidating and simplifying.”

All of TDC’s consumer offerings – cable, mobile, DSL and fibre – will be put into one brand “to make it simpler for our customers”. The services will be brought under the YouSee brand, which it introduced for the cable offering in 2007. 

Content strategy

Unlike many operators, TDC is not planning to start creating its own programmes. “That’s not part of our strategy,” says Schleidt. “We are trying to aggregate TV content from companies such as Netflix and HBO to ensure we have all the TV built into our solution. We have very much an aggregator role. Video and entertainment is at the core.”

The relationship with Huawei is close, says Bryder. “It’s a question of getting the right perspective. The tradition in telecoms for many years has been selling boxes, but that doesn’t create joint incentives,” he says. “It comes down to this: if customers are not satisfied with our services they will not pay us.”

How customers experience TDC’s network is built into the company’s managed services deal with Huawei, he says. Measurements are “from an end-user perspective, not in the network. We have created incentives round that – and not only financially.”

Some of this is to do with speeding up the delivery time of services. “When you order a TV package, when do you expect it to be delivered?” asks Schleidt. “Five days later? No, I would expect to be able to use a phone for the service right away, and then to collect a set-top box the same afternoon.”

That’s a lot faster than the traditional approach, which requires customers to sit around at home for the installation team to arrive – or not. It’s not the technology and the IT that’s the toughest part of this, he adds. “It’s the culture.”