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  Robin Mersh, DSL Forum Chief Operating Officer, ex-officio member DSL Forum Board of Directors
  Robin Mersh, DSL Forum Chief Operating Officer, ex-officio member DSL Forum Board of Directors
Scoping Broadband’s Future

The Broadband Forum’s Chief Operating Officer Robin Mersh, talks to Intercomms about the comprehensive remit of the organization

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Robin joined the Forum as Chief Operating Officer in July 2006 and is the senior full time executive.

He has worked in the telecommunications industry for over 14 years, starting in sales and sales management for Cable & Wireless and then moving onto BT before meeting his wife and moving to the US in 1999.

Robin has worked in business development and alliance management for various OSS software companies in the US. Mostly in network and service provisioning and activation for companies like Astracon, TTI Telecom and Evolving Systems, where he negotiated and managed several large OEM agreements.

He is originally from Cambridge in the UK. He received a B.A. degree (with Honours) from Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London in 1992. He now lives in North Carolina.

Q: Why the change?
A: Since its inception as the ADSL Forum, the Broadband Forum has evolved, starting in copper access and expanding outwards. We dropped the ‘A’ in ADSL, signifying we were addressing all DSL technologies. Then we moved into access agonistic technologies and over the past couple of years into fibre related areas, leading to our renaming. Technical Report 69 (TR-069) was the culmination of some of our work in access agnostic approaches and was written without DSL being specifically in mind.

We became aware over that period, after we were writing non-DSL specifications, that our current name didn’t fit with our complete scope and that sometimes raised questions. Our name now matches our complete scope, so it takes those questions away.

Q: Is it just a rebranding or have cultural changes in the organisation occurred?
A: I don’t think you go through changes like this without there being some changes in identity and I think that is happening within all of our member companies as well - we are not changing in isolation. Our older members who were very much leaders in the evolution of DSL have themselves moved into these other areas. Most of them are very active in PON and DSL and many of the other technologies like WiMAX.

The bottom line is that the scope will carry on changing and the evolution isn’t going to stop. We weren’t doing this to change our scope. It was the scope that was changing and our name changed to mirror that reality. That work will increase and the balance will change between DSL and newer technologies. Exactly where that is going to go is an even bigger question, one that addresses how the entire industry itself is evolving.

Q: How do you think it will evolve?
A: Our service provider members all accept that their networks are hybrid; they choose different technologies for different environments. Where you see high density populations, you will see more fibre roll out. You will see VDSL2 rolled out where that makes most sense and in other areas DSL will carry on maturing to deliver higher speed technologies. Today you can get increasing speed out of copper and in certain environments IPTV is being deployed on ADSL2/2plus. The patchwork of networks is going to carry on maturing. Service providers will deploy higher speeds with whatever makes the most sense for them within their geographies.

Q: How will the Broadband Forum help that take place?
A: The big question from our point of view is how to make it easier for those service providers to deploy and support new services, while extracting all the value possible from their existing networks. The one thing they don’t want to do is build out multiple access networks, all deployed over different architectures and supported by different management systems - that is a nightmare of resources, quality control and cost. Yes they have these hybrid networks but they don’t want to have stovepipe solutions, so each one is managed in different ways which means there is a difference in terms of Quality of Service and Quality of Experience. They want this to be as unified as possible and on single platforms as much as they possibly can. They need the hybrid network to share a common architecture and management solution, and that is what the Broadband Forum is delivering to the industry in our latest releases.

Q: How is progress with Broadband Suite release 3.0?
A: The major elements of the BroadbandSuite Release 3.0 are on target for delivery late this year, and delivering what they were intended to, which is that hybrid DSL PON architecture capable of supporting IPTV from both a network quality and remote management perspective. I think that there will also be a lot more discussion related to fibre access as it becomes approved.

Q: How does this differ from earlier releases?
A: Each new release builds on the platform of existing releases. There is a lot more detail around PON specific to Release 3.0. We always like to put it in an overall framework, relating PON back into the existing specifications for network optimization and architecture. That was one of the ideas in putting the BroadbandSuite together - to help better explain how the more than 150 technical reports that we have issued work together. Work is unified across all the working groups into solution sets and that was quite a change from the way we originally produced technical reports, which were very much point solutions.

Triple Play was certainly aided through Release 2.0. Release 3.0 will absolutely augment IPTV with much higher bandwidth. It will address triple play via GPON and bonded DSL, which is QoS enabled, over Ethernet and multicast. There are going to be further releases which augment that in terms of VDSL2, and we will be looking at other major changes with an eye towards empowering effective fixed mobile convergence from the perspective of the wireline carrier.

Q: What’s your metric for success?
A: We measure the traction we have within the industry, which you can often see in ‘soft’ ways. For example, we look at how many times technical reports are being referenced via proposals within the industry; which specifications service providers are actually using in their network and management work; and how many times our technical reports are being referenced by our vendor community. Last year, there were over 115 press references to us – not just by our member vendors but generally by vendors in the industry – in vendor press releases, stating that they were compliant with our technical reports. In terms of our membership, we are pretty constant around the 200 mark. One of the things that has happened over the past couple of years is that the mix of members has changed. We now have a lot of non-DSL related technology companies and a much larger Asian presence, which has grown to make up 18 percent of our global membership.

Absolutely the biggest single factor in measuring success is the number of technical contributions we get in and over the last two years we have beaten our previous level of contributions. Last year we had over 900 contributions and we are certainly on target to beat that this year. A lot of people have said to us in the past – haven’t we done most of the major work on DSL? In fact our contributions are going up all the time. It doesn’t mean that the technology isn’t mature, but we are doing more to it; getting more speed out of it and achieving more in terms of QoS to make the technology even stronger.

Also, our liaison activity is much higher than it used to be. It was always very good but we are getting much more formalised about it. Probably the most public expression of our success is the amount of technical reports that we produce. We are now over the 150 mark over the fourteen years since our inception.

Q: Any problems?
A: I can honestly say that there is no single area where we can say there is a problem. You could argue that we have a ‘nice’ problem; we have so many contributions - it makes for packed meetings! Our scope of work is very well defined within the areas of architecture, transport, testing interoperability and the home. Each of these areas however is expanding. We have got to the point where we have to add time onto our meetings because we have so much work to do. The reason why we get more work to do is because we performed our previous work so well. Our member companies send their work to the bodies that get things done, and I would say that is definitely a sign of success. When new work areas come in, that is because they know we can do it. That is a real positive and we are so pleased to continue our service to the community.

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