I received an email this week from the NICC’s Ethernet Working Group with links to the finalised Active Line Access (ALA) document. This is very exciting news for all sorts of reasons.

ALA is the industry agreed model designed specifically for the next generation broadband world, and at any number of levels it fundamentally changes the way broadband will work in the the UK.

The documents are not an easy read (this is, after all, a set of engineering standards designed to be implemented by engineers) but its impact should be understood by everyone who has an opinion on the future shape of broadband, the internet or net neutrality.

I attended some of the early meetings as an observer and because, like any opinionated techy, I wanted to help shape some of the early aspects. The Ethernet Working Group under Chris Gallon’s chairmanship is something of a technical dream team – they are the deeply technical architects and engineers from the major vendors and key network operators tasked with working out how their organisations can interoperate.

The work they have done is undoubtedly impressive – they have taken diverse standards from the Broadband Forum, the Metro Ethernet Forum and other standards bodies from around the world and carefully and creatively sewn them together into a single framework which unlocks the potential of next generation broadband across a wide range or network architectures and technologies.

Whether you opt for GPON, point to point ethernet or VDSL from a cabinet, ALA works and can hand over a connection in a seamless and universally consistent way to a service provider. And I see few reasons why it wouldn’t also work for many wireless technologies based around Ethernet and supporting VLAN’s.

Now this brilliant piece of work is published, we have a duty to understand what is possible and to start to consider what is desirable. It is no longer reasonable to opine on net neutrality or the future of the internet without properly appreciating the impact of this work.

If you are a community, commercial organisation or public body thinking of building a network under the BD-UK framework you will need to be open access – by law – and that means you need to understand ALA – no if, no buts.

So before you say another word on any of this, and you are of a technical bent, your homework is to read it!

If you aren’t technical, turn to your favourite geek and do them a favour – tell them to read it and explain what its all about.

The documents are published on the NICCs website:

  1. PhilT says:

    Be interesting to hear which aspects you think will cause problems with wireless.

    To me it looks like a raft of complexity ( = cost ) that Open Access will impose, furthering my negative thoughts about it and its lack of widespread success elsewhere. Another reason to avoid public subsidy I guess !

    • adrian says:

      ALA was designed with GPON, metro Ethernet and VDSL are reference technologies but with an abstracted Ethernet layer as the basis. While wireless technologies weren’t specifically considered, many of the base standards unpinning ALA are equally available in some wireless technologies – 802.1p QoS and 802.1Q VLANs for example. Its really not so much problems with wireless using ALA, more that someone will need to do the work to check specific technical characteristics against the ALA reference, and to document how WiMAX, for example, can provide ALA compatible services.

      Personally I don’t see it as complexity; more a different way or working. Since I left the JON Exchange I have been approached by several organisations looking at the problem from quite different angles – I think we will see a number of new approaches to open access begin to appear in the UK which have been missed by other markets, and for two key reasons. Firstly, the UK has held back so we have spent (too long?) thinking about the best way to do NGA rather than by a more organic evolution, and secondly we have scale that many of the countries which are ahead of us simply don’t have. I’m still optimistic (most days) which is an odd sensation for me.

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