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The buzz from Cable Tec

June 27, 2008

Posted by Meghan Fuller Hanna

Lots to talk about from the Cable Tec Expo, but the biggest question seems to be around FTTH. Will they? Won't they? What is the real market opportunity for PON vendors?

I attended a session early yesterday morning during which independent consultant Victor Blake gave a presentation entitiled, "Cable's Competitive Response to Verizon's FiOS." He began by asking for a show of hands: How many believe FiOS represents a competitive threat? From my vantage point, it looked like the majority of hands went up.

When Blake recapped Verizon's future plans--eventually migrating to 40G upstream / 10G downstream--you could hear murmurs from the crowd. Assuming Verizon doesn't change its split ratios, that's 40G x 32 subscribers, which yields more than 1 Gbit per subscriber. And when you add a WDM-PON overlay, said Blake, it gets even worse--for the cable competitor, that is. There seems to be a growing awareness that their existing architecture just isn't going to cut it.

Blake believes that FTTH is more capable than any current or foreseeable coax technology, and he had some interesting things to say about EPON in particular. (Look for more on that later.) That said, he also cautioned that the MSOs need to get the timing just right--too early and they tie up precious capital, too late and they may miss the opportunity to compete. "It's not a crisis now," he said, "but we can't wait until it becomes a crisis either." Just when the timing will be right remains a subject for debate.

The PON vendors--including Tellabs, Alcatel-Lucent, Hitachi Telecom, Calix, Alloptic, Enablence, and Salira--are all here this week, many touting RFoG or some version of DOCSIS-over-PON. The consensus seems to be that the MSOs will deploy PON for commercial services first. In fact, both Calix and Motorola announced GPON wins this week, specifically for commercial services delivery. From there, the MSOs may begin to deploy PON for residential services in Greenfields, but it will likely be some time before we see them overbuilding their existing architectures.

In fact, if the MSOs do decided to make a wholesale change and deploy PON in overbuild situations, the PON architectures they are most likely to deploy probably won't look much like what's available today. It may be something developed by CableLabs. It may be derived from EPON or GPON. It may be some version of 10G PON. At this point, it's anyone's guess.

That said, almost everyone I spoke with at the show believes the MSOs are serious about PON. Said one source: "The interesting thing about the cable industry and PON is that PON is actually well suited to the MSOs. It's point-to-multipoint. It uses the same wavelengths that the cable industry is used to worrying about. In fact, talking to the telcos about PON is sometimes more difficult than talking to the MSOs."

I plan to write an article for Lightwave's August issue about these trends and others, including some discussion about RFoG as well as the need to integrate with DOCSIS provisioning systems. Keep your eye out for that.


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The Lightwave editorial staff uses The Lightwave Blog to share their thoughts on optical communications and whatever else might be the current topic of conversation from cubicle to cubicle. Feel free to add your own opinions.

Stephen Hardy is editorial director and associate publisher of Lightwave, which makes him responsible for the editorial aspects of the Lightwave franchise. A technology journalist since 1982, he once had his job duties described as "gets paid to tick off advertisers ".

Meghan Fuller is senior editor of Lightwave. She has degrees from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, and the University of Delaware and is a card-carrying member of Red Sox Nation.