The Veteran in fiber access
Fiber infrastructure is an essential national resource
Fredrik Nyman is product manager at Waystream and a veteran in fiber access. For the past 20 years, as part of Waystream and PacketFront, he has been involved in creating the products and functions that make up the infrastructure for a large part of the Swedish city networks.
We pass on the RELAY question from last month's interview with Patrik Fältström to our own Fredrik Nyman, product manager at Waystream:
"Many people have fiber for their homes, but far from all. Can anyone do something to drastically increase the pace of expansion? Or should we just wait for the expansion to be completed eventually? If there is anyone who can do something, who should it be and what should they do? ”
Feel free to read and comment on Fredrik Nyman's opinions.
What do you want to answer Patriks Fältström's question?
“According to PTS, the order of SEK 20 billion is needed to complete the build-out of the broadband networks in Sweden to achieve the goal set by the government. However, the government is only contributing just over a billion in the coming budget, so it is heavily underfunding its own broadband target. This at the same time as COVID has shown the need and benefit here and now of having a good fiber infrastructure.
Much of what remains to be built is what is expensive. That is, customers who live far from the population center. When you then set the price tag accordingly, there are of course few who take advantage of offers to join if it costs SEK 100,000. It is therefore difficult to see that the "market" can solve this by itself. It will be very expensive for the last customers to join. At the same time, the municipalities have realized how to save money through digitalisation. In very many industries, good digital communications can reduce costs and create new opportunities. Access to the digital society will therefore be a prerequisite for taking part in more than just entertainment. It's about community services. Even things that you may not think of such as school, child and elderly care, which are part of the municipal responsibility, get more and more digital elements such as reporting sick-leave for children in school or making contact with doctors and monitoring of health status.
Therefore, it is in the state's and municipalities' interest that all citizens can be connected so that the benefit of digitalisation can be maximized. To then put it all on the individual to pay for a very expensive connection to something that is a prerequisite for, for example, to fully take part in the municipality's services, where the municipality tries to save and streamline by going digital ... that reasoning does not hold. Therefore, it will a catch 22. The municipalities need to get all their residents connected so they can maximize the benefits of digitalisation.
The government must engage with incentives and support for all parties so that all citizens can join. It should be a right in Sweden to have a fiber connection at home. You can think of several different solutions with subsidies, tax rebates, grants or why not an infrastructure loan on the property that runs for many years with low interest rates? I am convinced that the money is there and that it is possible to count on the savings you can make with more efficient and accessible services.
A fiber connection increases the quality of life and gives more people the opportunity to settle outside metropolitan areas or stay at home longer. Therefore, it is also good regional policy to support the expansion outside Stockholm as everyone benefits from it. Municipalities outside Stockholm need more inhabitants who increase the tax base. Being able to live with nature around the corner, clean air, far from noise but still be able to commute to work digitally, I think can attract many who are tired of the congestion of big cities and the high housing prices. The decisive factor is how much the individual will have to pay to have fiber installed. Demand exists. But the price for the customer is the decisive factor in reaching the goal and the state needs to put in the effort to make it happen fast enough.
So the state should pay for the whole party?
The state is the only one that can go in and support it financially with a different return on investment philosophy, in the same way as today, for example, they support investments in electric car chargers or ROT deductions for home improvements. The new infrastructure is needed for society to be able to change and evolve. On purely commercial terms, it becomes too expensive for the individual. So the support is needed. But I think you are in error if you think that "the state should pay", because as I said earlier, there is also money to be saved for the state in more efficient ways of providing services.
How do you think you can get your money back?
There are lots of examples of projects that show this. To take two examples in health and care that are paid for by the public sector. In Blekinge, there has been a project where patients with heart conditions have been able to read their values with the help of digital equipment at home. The values are reported daily to the hospital. It creates security for the patient to know that the healthcare system keeps track of them and can act quickly if something changes. The patient also avoids the hassle and stress of going to the hospital for regular check-ups. The hospital receives fewer physical visits and can therefore help more patients with their time, but still has better control of its patients' health status than before. Everyone wins on this.
Another example is the giraffes (robot communication platforms) that have made their way into the home care service, where patients at home, in elderly care or in other needs of aftercare, for example, can see and talk to care staff and relatives via these machines. Where there are long distances, it can be more efficient and more environmentally friendly to use a giraffe than to send staff by car. It does not replace the need for human social contact, but it complements and used correctly reduces costs for the municipality.
Socio-economically, I am convinced that fiber connection is sustainable. So I think that if the state pays now, they and the municipalities will have that money back in savings in just a few years through reduced spending despite a growing population.
Who will own the fiber infrastructure?
Fiber networks can be owned by both private and public actors. But the fiber infrastructure is an essential national resource and infrastructure. Therefore, the state must legislate certain requirements to protect national interests. I think, for example, that ownership should lie in the country where the infrastructure is located. In Sweden, the fiber networks should be owned by Swedish companies under Swedish law, in Germany by German companies or organizations under German law. It is in the state's interest that the fiber networks are robust and functional, and this can also be requirements for how they are to be built. But perhaps most important of all is that control over the networks remains in the country. In the event of a crisis or disaster, a foreign power or other foreign interests must not, through ownership or other influences, hinder or have the opportunity to sabotage communication. It must not be the case that someone in a boardroom on the other side of the world can decide to switch off half of Sweden's fiber network. Therefore, the state also needs to have the means to protect the national interest if private actors derail and therefore I also think that the municipalities should think twice before considering selling out the fiber networks. No one would think of selling out the municipal road network.
In the digital society, infrastructure must be protected. It is so easy today to spread misinformation or disrupt communication and the more dependent we are on the digital infrastructure, the more important it is to ensure access and accessibility for everyone.
How reliable are the fiber networks?
Our industry organization SSNF has done a great job in the project "Robust fiber". They have produced a guideline, a quality document that describes how to build and through certifications, both installers and networks can show that they are building correctly. One could wish that this had been in place 20 years ago, but better late than never and above all, other countries can benefit from these experiences. But we probably also need to go back and look at what has not been built according to the new standards for robust fiber and give it a refresh. So there is a need to redo and do it right on some of the worst examples. It is necessary and for that a long-term plan is needed for the next twenty years.
What is the most significant thing that has happened in the last 20 years?
At the turn of the millennium, the 2000 bug and things related to it were very hyped. In our industry, it was a fantastic time, because it was such a boom with Jonas Birgersson and other entrepreneurs. Then the air went out of the bubble. But before there was an incredible enthusiasm and Jonas Birgersson was, to say the least, an important influencer in creating an image of the future. Back then he talked about 10 Mbit and broadband to everyone and was a big driving force to get the ball rolling with broadband expansion. After that I think it was a combination of different things. From 2000 until 2010, the open city network grew and it was a very important prerequisite for things to happen in the Swedish market. It was the countryside that began to build. The combination of government investment support and the concept of open city networks made it start to gain momentum.
Revolutionary gadgets and services not to forget
If you look at other important events that have affected us, I must of course highlight the iPhone. iPhone revolutionized the way we use the Internet. We went from having the Internet at the computer to having it in our pocket. It made the Internet and services available in a completely different way. Although it does not have much to do with broadband and fiber, it had a very large effect on the popularization and use of the Internet. Today there is an app for everything, we think it is obvious.
The next big event was the breakthrough for Netflix, which was only possible with the capacity of the fiber networks. Today we have a hard time imagining the time when we were still watching live linear TV. My teenagers never watch regular TV, but everything is NetFlix, YouTube, Disney+ etc. Just ten years ago, this did not exist and in the latest survey, at the end of 2020, Netflix passed 200 million paying users. Video is 70 percent of the content transported in today's network.
The generation that is growing up now can probably not even imagine what the world looked like before smartphones and streaming services. These are the two changes that have had a huge impact on and revolutionized our daily digital lives over the past twenty years.
What do future services such as home care require of the network we have today?
They must be robust. They have to be smart. You can not build a critical infrastructure based on the criterion that it is the lowest bid that wins. There are other characteristics that play a role now. Fiber networks are critical and therefore operation and maintenance must become more proactive. A smarter network can tell the network operator what is wrong before the customers are affected and keep the customers informed so you avoid frustration and uncertainty. You do not want the monitoring of a heart patient to suffer from disruptions in the infrastructure. Artificial Intelligence I therefore believe will play a significant role in securing the digital infrastructure against all types of threats but also shortening the time it takes to fix errors.
When we talk about critical connections, it is not enough that it can take a week or two to get the Internet back if someone digs a fiber, or that large areas are shut down due to complicated network failures. Some of the fiber infrastructure built in Sweden has not been built in a good way. You get scared of the dark sometimes when you see examples.
What did you do on New Year's Eve at the turn of the millennium?
“We were on the stairs on the way up from the subway in Kungsträdgården when the 12-stroke struck. We were heading downtown to see the fireworks out over the water in central Stockholm. But there were so many people that we did not make it up from the subway. I even still have the champagne bottle we celebrated with somewhere. However, we got to see some of the fireworks because they lasted so long. ”
Fredrik Nyman leaves the Relay to Johan Ullström, Affärsverken with the questions:
"Affärsverken's fiber expansion is a real success story and has been for several decades. What are the most important lessons and do you have any advice on the way for those who have not come as far?"