Telecom is an intensely capex-heavy business and operators need to carefully consider their strategy before deploying new networks. Digicel Group spent a lot of time planning its network strategy and recognized that advanced video services would be an important differentiator for the operator in its Caribbean and Pacific markets.
In 2015, Digicel launched a full-featured video service, with network DVR, time-shifting, device-shifting, OTT and linear programming. It was also the first in the region to offer HDTV. And this was in a market that was largely broadcast-only at the time. The operator has now passed more than half a million homes with its fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network, picking up more than 100,000 subscribers. Video has been an important part of the company's success, anchoring the triple-play bundle.
Following up on our initial conversation with John Quinn, Digicel Group CTO, where he talked about the company's rapid journey from zero fixed-line subscribers three years ago, we talked about the importance of video services for the operator, the elements that made it successful and the major challenges Digicel has had to overcome. (see Digicel's Quinn: From Zero to 100K in 3 Years.)
Telco Transformation: It seems that an advanced video service was an important part of your thinking when you launched fixed-line services. Why was that?
John Quinn: It's a good question. We could have looked at a lot of different verticals -- enterprise, or look at security. There were a number of reasons [why we chose video], and video really has worked for us. For one, no one was really catering to this need in our markets. There was no real incentive for the incumbent to up their game. People were just using pirated content or copying DVDs. So there was a real opportunity in the market.
We also felt that video is always relevant. It is the primary source of entertainment, whether it's virtual reality, UHD at 4K, 8K. We just saw that Apple has decided to support HEVC [high efficiency video coding] -- that's an important driver for the video service space. We made a bet on HEVC last year -- from an efficiency perspective we just felt we needed it. Bandwidth usage will not reduce as a result of HEVC, but it will change the types of services and the immersiveness of the experience will change. We are seeing VR and HDR today; linear viewing is also transitioning to on-demand. Maybe it won't completely shift -- there will be some linear and some on-demand, but the mix is changing.
TT: What are the key elements that made the service work?
JQ: Well...we have a fiber network. That's important... I think the definition of video is going to change -- just look at the evolution and take-up rates for Netflix, how the linear model is changing, new initiatives from companies like Samsung… it's all going to be about video. Even 5G -- 80%-90% of traffic probably on advanced networks will be video. You have to have fiber. Copper networks just can't do it. Even coaxial networks, DOCSIS 3.1, will struggle.
[What we offer] is all very new in our markets. These were broadcast-only markets before we launched our TV service. We've brought in very advanced services, comparable to the features and services you would get in advanced markets in the developed world.
We've also benefited from a partnership with a teleport in Miami. This allows us to get a broad variety of video content, we can get most programming and we have the ability to package it as we like and send on as an OTT stream to any device. And all this is live today. We're getting 60% of the market, in rare cases even as high as 70% market share.
Our all-fiber network allows us to offer high speed connections -- we use GPON, and we can provide 1Gbit/s connections to customers. In Kingston, Usain Bolt gets a 10Gbit/s connection -- there we are using XG-PON. Our network is built on NG-PON or WDM-PON, which allows us to combine wavelengths, so it's built for the future. We can cope with growing bandwidth requirements -- we have flexibility built into the design of the network.
We also offer voice. It's a commodity service in some ways now, but people do want it. They ask for it and it's a good bundled service to offer along with broadband and TV.
TT: What were the biggest challenges you faced deploying the service?
JQ: We are an island nation -- or more correctly, we are a number of islands. Things here are different from deploying in Europe or the US. It was important when designing and deploying the network that we put a lot of intelligence into it, to ensure we got the maximum QoE for services. This meant using CDNs effectively, network prioritization -- a lot of thought and planning went into looking at CDNs, locations of caches, direct peering with major CDNs etc. So it's not just that we built a network and a headend, and turned it on. There were more complexities because you need intelligence in your network to deliver the kind of services we wanted to.
Now we are looking at 4K, HDR and other next-generation immersive experiences, now that we have all this bandwidth. We are experimenting with some cool stuff -- we have a VR application running in our labs in Kingston, on a mock-up of our network with Huawei. When the market is ready, we'll be ready to go.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation