Topics of conversation

by Stephen Hardy

Usually when I go to a trade show, I try to avoid arriving with an agenda of topics to discuss. That's because I don't want to subconsciously slant what I learn into a preconceived set of assumptions or miss an emerging trend because I was too focused on following a trend I've already identified.

That's not to say there aren't things I'm curious about. For example, when I arrive in Nashville, TN, this month to attend the FTTH Conference and Expo (and, with Corning, hand out the FTTXcellence Award September 23), here are some of the topics that should serve as conversation catalysts:

The next generation of PON. Not surprisingly, with GEPON dominant in Asia and GPON hitting its stride in the U.S. and Europe, the technical community has already started thinking about what's next. We've covered this extensively, whether here in the magazine (see "Next-generation PON options promise greater bandwidth," by Scott Wilkinson on page 1 of our July issue) and on our Website (check out the video on the subject showing in the Video Features area of the Lightwave Channel). Both the IEEE and FSAN/ITU-T communities have standards activities well under way. The question now is how closely these activities will parallel each other. The fact that they'll both end up with support for 10-Gbit/sec downstream speeds will remove one of the existing differentiating factors—so will that mean that the choice of PON technology will become less relevant in the future?

And that could be WDM-PON. The initial impressions I've received from most observers at the mainstream vendors is that the next-gen PON standards will focus on serial approaches. But that's not going to stop some vendors from pursuing options based on WDM. The questions here revolve around affordability and need. It may turn out that the only customers who need it and can afford to pay for the kinds of higher-priced services that will give carriers an appealing ROI are businesses—which might provide WDM-PON vendors with a test market that will help them shake the kinks out of the technology in time to challenge the shared bandwidth approach of 10-Gbit/sec serial PON.

Meanwhile, Ethernet stays active. Active Ethernet remains extremely popular in Europe, where it's the technology of choice for the municipal networks that are springing up over there. As I mentioned last week, open access is the watchword in most parts of Europe, and the municipal network administrators have viewed active Ethernet technology as the easiest way to accomplish this goal. Meanwhile, active Ethernet platforms can provide 10 Gbit/sec directly to end users right now. With municipal networks still in vogue, will active Ethernet catch on more strongly in the U.S.?

Munis keep trying. And speaking of the municipalities, it seems that for every iProvo that founders in the U.S., another government-inspired network rises to take its place. I haven't heard much buzz about the incumbents working at the national level to stop this trend, nor has there been much about new state-level initiatives. Do the incumbents have bigger fish to fry (like net neutrality) or have there been enough failures that they have decided to raise objections at the start of such projects, then sit back and wait for an opportunity to say, "I told you so," a year or two later? If this is the case, what happens as the number of muni success stories increases?

The fiber wars. There's nothing more heartwarming for a journalist than passionate differences of opinion. In the optical communications space, such differences frequently develop around competing approaches toward a lucrative market opportunity. Such has been the case most recently with bend-tolerant fiber technology, developed to address multiple-dwelling unit (MDU) applications. I will undoubtedly wear out a path among the Corning, Draka, and OFS booths as I attempt to sort out the various claims each vendor will make about its technologies and the counterclaims issued regarding those of competitors (an example of which can be found on page 19 of this issue).

The pursuit of the MSOs. That din in the distance hybrid fiber/coax network technology vendors hear is the PON community massing for an invasion of the cable-TV space. MSO interest in FTTH is on the conference agenda—and will certainly be on the agenda of the technology vendors that populate the show floor. But how real is this opportunity, particularly with the major MSOs?

As I said at the start, I'm hoping these won't be the only areas that catch my attention as I'm running around the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville. If you've got a lead I should pursue, please tug on my sleeve as I pass by. I'll be the one with my head on a swivel.

Stephen M. Hardy
Editorial Director & Associate Publisher
stephenh@pennwell.com

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