Unlocking the future of PON deployments: A world beyond vendor-lock

Oct. 30, 2023
Service providers can accelerate PON deployments if equipment manufacturers embrace a more open ecosystem.
By Harj Ghuman / Precision Optical Technologies

Demand for Passive Optical Network (PON) equipment is stronger than ever. According to Fortune Business Insights, the global PON market will top $35.59 billion by 2030. Broadband Access Intelligence Service also says revenue generated by the sale of PON equipment will exceed $18 billion in 2027, just four years from now. Because PON technology enables network operators to deliver revenue-generating, high-speed broadband services with high efficiency and scalability, network operators are increasingly adopting it to meet surging demand for greater FTTH capacity. By 2026, 55% of the PON market will feature symmetrical 10G PON (XGS-PON) deployments.

There’s a problem. What constrains the adoption and deployment of XGS-PON – vendor lock. Briefly, vendor lock complicates PON deployments, limiting the ability of network operators to tailor their PON architecture to their specific needs. It also results in many related challenges, including higher equipment costs, slower lead times, problems with equipment configuration/integration, and difficulties with upgrades.

To help solve these issues, it will be necessary for equipment manufacturers to embrace a more open PON ecosystem, enabling network operators to reap all the benefits of PON technology in a more efficient, economical, and simple way. Here’s how.

PON Vendor-lock impact

As with all kinds of network expansions and upgrades, network operators moving to deploy and manage XGS-PON networks seek to do more with their existing infrastructure while reducing their capital expenses on new equipment as much as possible. Designing a PON system, however, is no easy feat. First, network operators must consider multiple environmental factors when deploying XGS-PON or any other type of PON architecture, including:

●     Population density

●     Geographical location

●     Brownfield vs. greenfield deployments

●     Provider/Customer requirements in terms of bandwidth, quality of service (QoS) and redundancy

From a technical perspective, PON design highly depends on the optical link budget. While link budgets vary by PON type and ODN class (i.e., nominal versus extended), the XG-PON max loss budget varies between 29 dB (class N1) and 35 dB (class E2). That said, staying within these parameters depends on optical specifications, split ratios, link distance and other existing elements like splices, connectors, and distribution panels. As the split ratio goes up, for example, so too does splitter insertion loss. Consider the splitter insertion losses listed below:

●      <3.8 (1X2)

●      <7.2 (1X4)

●      <10.3 (1x8)

●      <13.5 (1X16)

●      <16.5 (1X32)

●      <20.5 (1X64)

Additionally, vendor lock prevents network operators from innovating to overcome these obstacles. Consider a scenario where a network operator adopts a closed PON system and later needs to procure custom PON range extenders from another manufacturer to surpass the initial transmission limitations generated by their initial PON architecture. In the vendor-lock scenario, the primary vendor might withdraw support, blocking innovation and progress. This creates unnecessary barriers for broadband providers, particularly those in rural areas, who wish to bring the benefits of PON (including XGS-PON) to their subscribers.

Embracing a post-vendor-lock future

The key to eliminating vendor lock lies in equipment manufacturers being willing to embrace a multi-vendor ecosystem, where the preeminent goal among vendors becomes simplifying the journey for their network operator customers.  A more open PON ecosystem can offer network operators (MSOs, telcos, service providers) several advantages, including integrating various hardware components, even white box hardware, into existing networks and the flexibility to reuse existing ODN and passive resources. This approach, therefore, empowers network operators to lower capital expenditures, reduce the costs associated with configuring and maintaining equipment, and expedite deployment times. The ability to buy individual components that seamlessly interact both with each other and existing equipment can remove the barriers generated by current vendor-lock scenarios.

It's much more than just the equipment, however. Detractors of open ecosystems often point to customer support as “proof” that a multi-vendor world creates a “hot potato” environment where different vendors bounce their customers around to avoid getting involved in troubleshooting. This is another area where forward-thinking equipment manufacturers can step in. An open PON ecosystem is compatible with providing turnkey, all-inclusive PON solutions that eliminate vendor lock and provide network operators with agile, responsive, in-depth technical support.

The ideal turnkey solution should encompass all critical PON components, including Optical Line Terminals (OLTs), optics, splitters, Optical Network Units (ONUs), and state-of-the-art controller software. Designed by leveraging a white box hardware model, this comprehensive solution would liberate network operators from vendor lock. Instead of being limited to choosing from a few different hardware models from a specific vendor, network operators could select from a broader range of hardware models – each with the ability to integrate and interoperate with other equipment in the network. At the same time, having one point of contact mitigates concerns over customer support. If a vendor were to pair such a solution with an intuitive management software offering, network operators would have an easier time bringing the different components of their system together and optimizing their performance.

We’re at a point in history where “one point of contact” customer support no longer has to equate with vendor lock. Placing the network operator’s needs first is the direction in which the PON equipment market must go to support the forecasted levels of PON adoption (especially XGS-PON). To properly serve the needs of forward-looking network operators, vendors must embrace a more open ecosystem and provide the systems integration expertise they need to turn their goals into reality.

Harj Ghuman is the Vice President of Strategic Products at Precision Optical Technologies and previously held the role of Principal Strategic Access Architect at Cox Communications for nearly a decade.  He holds over 15 patents and has authored numerous papers and publications, specifically in following-gen solutions for accessing HFC and PON networks. 

For related articles, visit the Optical Tech Topic Center.

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