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Fiber optics was invented in the 1970s and its potential to revolutionize telecommunications was recognized early. Its initial applications were in long distance networks such as international submarine cable, national and regional backbones.
Gradually as costs came down, fiber moved into metro and access networks, data centers, IT server rooms and office cabling. Fiber is also used to backhaul other access networks. For the multiple system operator market, fiber is being deployed in three types of networks: HFC, PON and FTTx.
Hybrid fiber-coaxial is an architecture that includes a combination of fiber and coaxial cabling to distribute video, data and voice content to/from the headend and the subscribers. Typically, the signals are transported from the headend through a hub, to within the last mile via fiber optic cable ending in an HFC node. While HFC networks remain popular and widely used, operators continue to deploy more fiber into their networks. One way of doing that is by deploying PON.
A Passive Optical Network (PON) can be deployed by various network operators who want to deliver advanced voice, video and data services to their users / subscribers using fiber. Passive means no active electronics, batteries or power supplies are used in the outside plant. This translates into lower failure rates and maintenance costs, and a more reliable network, particularly in areas prone to flooding and harsh conditions. PON differs from other fiber offerings because it bridges the gap from HFC network to a converted Ethernet/IP platform. PON is the most popular of the methods used to provide fiber to a host of other FTTx locations.
FTTx represents a generational technological shift in much the same way that copper networks did a century ago. Its benefits are not disputed, rather the question is how to drive costs down even more to increase coverage. Civil works and construction costs for laying fiber underground or up on poles account for two-thirds or more of the total cost of deploying FTTx. Similar to other infrastructure projects, up-front costs are high and require careful planning. Maintenance and operating costs are lower than for other fixed access networks, so this compensates for the initial outlay of capital and helps the network achieve a reasonable payback period.
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For greenfield (i.e., a new real estate development) sites, fiber and FTTx is the preferred choice. Investing in the latest technology, which has a proven track record, is clearly preferable to sinking money into technologies with limited upgrade potential. It is also the preferred choice for business and enterprise customers, where the upfront costs can be more easily justified.
As the industry evolves, competition is intensifying with more service providers building FTTx networks and positioning their higher-speed services as a key differentiator over other access network providers. Cities and municipalities have also joined the “fiber offering”, bringing alternate sources of funding and new business models. Ubiquitous broadband access represents a competitive advantage for the local community and economy, attracting businesses and homeowners.
If you want to learn more about HFC, PON, FTTx and other broadband options, then I recommend the CommScope Infrastructure Academy’s SP1000 Infrastructure Solutions for Broadband Applications course. It the right course for those who to improve their knowledge and working practices of these networks.