Interview of Alexandre Fonseca, CEO of Altice Portugal by Chris Kelly of Total Telecom
Portugal is one of the most ambitious nations in Europe with regards to FTTH penetration targets. How are you progressing with this and what challenges are you facing?
Due to the work developed by Altice Portugal in the last years, Portugal is today an international case study with proven experience in several countries, such as USA, France, Russia, New Zealand, India, the UK or Brazil, regarding FTTH projects. Altice Portugal presents one of the best and largest next generation network infrastructures, reaching 4.8 million of households in Optical Fiber, moving closer to the 2020 target of 5.3 million. This brings Portugal as one of the first countries in Europe to reach nearly 100% of the population. We deployed FTTH throughout the country, both in urban and rural areas, boosting the economic development and digital inclusion.
Despite the significant investment performed, it is important to underline that Portugal still awaits for a 5G Roadmap, regarding the availability of frequencies and licenses in order to launch 5G commercial networks. The country needs a clear strategy and vision for 5G, to continue to take the lead, as in previous technology generations of telecommunications.
Does Europe need to agree a single unified switch off date for its existing copper networks?
The optical fiber infrastructure is more robust and more reliable in technological terms, being more immune to adverse weather conditions, thefts or vandalism, with a much lower failure rate than the copper networks and, consequently having better operational responsiveness, besides the significantly better performance it brings to Services.
The replacement of copper by optical fiber, being a natural evolution both for technological and business reasons, depends on each country´s dynamics, not being determinant the existence of a single date for this to happen. However, this change is essential for Portugal to remain at the forefront of Europe and is also sustained by the fact that copper networks are obsolete and unable to support new innovative services. Optical fiber is undoubtedly the technology that makes it possible to offer a set of new future proof services and features that copper no longer supports. Altice Portugal has started a pilot project in parishes of six Portuguese municipalities that were 100% covered by fiber. The project contributes to digital inclusion growth, broadening access to advanced services, promoting economic development and modernization and of course, copper decommissioning.
With the emergence of new technologies, what scope is there for delivering 10Gbps services?
10Gbps services will help us build the ultra-connected future we all require. The predicted increase in number of devices and data volumes requires intelligent networks with a new level of speed and capacity. Homes with 50-100 connected devices will drive unprecedented demand. Now, life-changing technologies for connected health, augmented and virtual reality, will deliver incredible experiences and require significant speed, low latency and high capacity. 10Gbs services are becoming more crucial for the enterprise market, namely for data center access, data center interconnection and trunk circuits to collect high bandwidth traffic from data, video & voice under virtual private networks.
The launch of new technologies is not a goal in itself – what really matters is the experience provided by services and the added value for customers. That’s the world we are building, one in which everything is connected everywhere.
What role will fibre play in underpinning 5G mobile network rollout in Portugal?
5G technology is not simply about faster internet connections, it will bring huge changes in network architecture and services. It will enable a step change of ultrafast broadband connections, boosted by low latency, ultra-reliable communications, massive machine-type communications and slicing capabilities. The major characteristics introduced by 5G can be summarized in the Throughput, Latency and Density of the connections.
Fibre optics will be a key enabler of 5G, especially as a backhauling technology, once it provides the extremely high speeds, capacity and low latency required to connect each 5G station. FTTH rollout is a key differentiator for providing nationwide 5G coverage and Altice Portugal is ready and prepared for 5G rollout, with over 95% of its mobile stations already connected through fiber. Besides the FTTH deployment, Altice Portugal performed the first 5G live demonstration in a commercial network environment with pre-commercial terminals in July 2018 and the first live television broadcast in Portugal using the 5G network in real environment in June 2019.
How much of a game changer is 5G going to be in regard to IoT uptake?
5G will have a fundamental role boosting the era of smart connectivity, capable of taking advantage of unreachable response times with today’s technologies, to grant new scenarios of digital interactivity on multiple devices. 5G will reinforce applications for B2B, B2C and B2B2C markets, especially in areas as IoT, or IIoT, industrial automation and critical services, especially in Healthcare, Smart Grids, Smart cities, Industry 4.0 or Autonomous Vehicles, being a relevant factor in the development of the economy of each country and the world in general.
Altice Portugal has been exploring, for a long time, the opportunities related to IoT. In 2018 we opened the Golabs.IoT, a live technology Lab that generates synergies between developers, universities, startups and industry players.
Altice Labs, our R&D unit, also has projects in 5G and IoT landscape, with several national and international institutions, including Portuguese municipalities, such as the city of Aveiro, with 5G being available for the development of early adoption services for cities or citizens, on an open community enviroment.
What predictions do you have for the industry over the next 12-18 months?
Companies and businesses are undergoing a very important digital transformation process…the telecommunications sector is amongst the ones suffering the most, but also well positioned to have a leading role on this transformation.
We will surely see a transition´s process from automation to true digitalization. Digitalization has accelerated information production and distribution, innovation and process disruption, together with the integration of the physical and virtual worlds and the use of real time data. All this has a huge impact on organizational structures, business models, logistics operations and products and services themselves.
But this is not just a business-level transformation. This represents a social transformation, with new ways for people to relate themselves, to learn, to work and providing all equal access to technologies.
The process of digital transformation and technological development requires us to always innovate and our effort and commitment must be dedicated to always bring more and better services to the Portuguese.
We believe that the Smart Living concept will bring forward a set of new and combined technologies, for personal and business usage that will improve our live, generate the opportunity to save time and therefore improving our work life balance. Technology will continue to improve people’s life’s and business productivity, providing quality time to individuals, families and communities, turning content and experience the most relevant killers Apps in this new technology generation.
Altice Portugal is the largest telecommunications service provider in Portugal. Since June 2, 2015, the company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Altice Group, a multinational cable and telecommunications company with a presence in France, Israel, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, French West Indies/Indian Ocean Area, the Dominican Republic (“Overseas Territories”), Switzerland, and the United States. Its assets in Portugal were sold to Altice in 2015 per request of, Oi SA, to reduce debt. The African assets were mostly sold for the same reason. Portugal Telecom, SGPS SA was split in separate companies: PT Portugal (now Altice Portugal) and Pharol (formerly PT SGPS), which owns a 27,5% stake in Oi.
The company owns MEO, the largest landline operator in Portugal. Its operating brands include MEO, a quadruple play service provider and SAPO, an ISP and producer of web content. Portugal Telecom also owns Altice Labs (formerly known as PT Inovação), an IT services and research and development company; PT Contact, focused in the business of managing contact centers.
Altice Portugal Building in São Jorge de Arroios