MSOs use fiber extensively. Just don’t expect wholesale replacement of HFC with FTTH any time soon.
Cable multiple system operators (MSOs) will be happy to brag about how much fiber they use in their networks. But when it comes to fiber to the home (FTTH)—well, them’s fightin’ words, thanks in the U.S. mainly to Verizon.
Their existing hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) plant is plenty good enough to keep pace with FTTH-based telco competitors, cablecos assert. Thanks to the advent of DOCSIS 3.0, this situation shouldn’t change in the immediate future, they’ll add.
Yet the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) has nearly finished specification work for RF over glass (RFoG), a DOCSIS-friendly way to run fiber all the way to the home. DOCSIS-compatible PON products keep popping up as well—not only in vendor product portfolios, but in MSO networks as well.
So is this an example of an industry that says one thing to Wall Street while doing something else? Not really—it’s more like an industry that is keeping its options open.
When it comes to backbone networks, MSO infrastructure looks a lot like those of telcos. That means routers, DWDM, ROADMs, an interest in 40 Gbps and above (expect Comcast to be among the first to adopt 100-Gbps technology)—and, as they embrace IPTV, beef up their offerings to business customers, and ponder wireless backhaul approaches, an interest in IP/optical convergence and Carrier Ethernet-friendly gear.
The interest in battling telcos for business customers in particular should ensure that cablecos continue to build out their optical networks, with an eye toward ensuring that they can keep pace with both customer requirements and their competitors’ capabilities.
A toe in the water
At SCTE Cable-Tec 2009 in Denver, CO, October 28–30, estimates of how many of U.S. MSOs’ lines use FTTH ranged from 1% to a high of 10%—with most observers closer to the former.
Vendors hoping to sell FTTH gear into this space offer a variety of explanations for this relatively low number but are unanimous in asserting that MSOs in general have interest in FTTH. With the move toward FTTH likely to be a slow evolution—one that an uptick in the housing market would accelerate—suppliers should continue to expand their portfolios to aid each step toward an all-fiber future. Companies that focus on the MSO market, such as Aurora Networks (www.auroranetworks.com), as well as vendors also associated with the telco space, such as Motorola (www.motorola.com) and Cisco (www.cisco.com), exemplify the trend toward supporting “fiber deep” HFC, RFoG, and PON within the same product portfolio.