Shaw Vetting FTTH for All New Builds
US towns and cities are going ga-ga for Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s 1-Gig experiment, but north of the border, Shaw Communications Inc. is already laying the foundation to test out such lofty speeds in markets such as Vancouver and Calgary, and is crafting a plan to eventually use fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) architectures in all its "greenfield" opportunities. (See Googlemania!, My Town Wants Google 1-Gig! , Google's Gigabit Fiber Fantasy, Google's Pointy Stick , and Google Jumps Into Gigabit FTTH.)
In February, the Canadian MSO outlined its intentions to try out 1-Gig speeds starting as soon as next month, but, in a recent conversation with Light Reading Cable, company execs supplied more details on how it intends to provide those speeds, where it will offer them and at what scale, and how that work might factor into Shaw's network of the future. (See Shaw Preps 1-Gig Jig .)
Shaw, says MSO senior director of infrastructure systems Scott Atkinson, is getting ready to test FTTH and 1-Gig technology in a variety of scenarios, including in multiple-dwelling units (MDUs), in single-family homes, and with small and mid-sized businesses.
The first trial will involve a new 256-suite high-rise in Vancouver, where the MSO had some control of the riser and suite ducts. "Getting cable into a building can be a bit of a challenge if you don't have the right infrastructure," says Atkinson. "In this case, we felt we had enough access and control to do the type of things we wanted to do."
So, what's it going to do? Shaw is starting by building out a physical passive optical network (PON) coupled with RF over Glass (RFoG), an emerging Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) standard that allows MSOs to bring fiber to the premises but preserve its existing headends and backend systems and RF-based video, voice, and Internet services. (See Who Makes What: RFoG Systems and RFoG Gets the Squeeze.)
Shaw expects to have that construction done as tenants start moving into the building in April and May. After that, a separate Shaw team will come in and manage the installation of the Gigabit Ethernet layer.
The MSO hasn't revealed whether it's going with GPON, EPON, or 10G-EPON. "At this juncture, we're not advising which way we're going, but all of that [discussion] is happening within our Internet and transport teams," Atkinson says.
Shaw intends to apply the same general process in Calgary, where it's already identified a 53-lot, single-family area to do the test. Atkinson says that one will start coming together in the May to June 2010 timeframe, and will utilize any technical and operational adjustments and improvements it gets from the initial Vancouver trial.
The MSO also hopes to get a commercial services pilot underway by the end of this summer, and has five or six trial areas already under consideration. It will go with the same architecture, although business customers may not be as interested in the video services that come into play with RFoG. "But the focus will be primarily on Ethernet or added services [enabled by] the Ethernet PON underlay," Atkinson says.
With the architecture work pretty much solidified, Shaw has since moved into the product-specification phase.
For the trials, Shaw intends to involve at least two vendors for each of the "major" components. For example, it's already been looking at ONUs from suppliers such as Hitachi Telecom (USA) Inc. , Aurora Networks Inc. , and Alloptic Inc. , along with optical taps from CommScope Inc. , but hasn't made any vendor commitments yet.
Shaw's future: fiber-to-the-greenfield
Although Shaw hopes to use these trials to test out apps that require 1-Gig speeds in relatively small-scale scenarios, that work will also pave the path toward a fiber-to-the-premises architecture that the MSO may eventually use in all new-build situations.
Presently, Shaw is using an "N+1" architecture in greenfields, whereby just one power-hungry, "active" amplifier resides between the node and the homes it's serving. If Shaw goes with PON and FTTP, it would leap right over an "N+0" approach being touted by suppliers like Aurora Networks. (See Aurora Networks Plays the 'Green' Card and Costs Could Keep RFoG a Niche Player .)
"You'll see us move from N+1... into a fiber-to-the home architecture, hopefully using the PON architecture and RFoG overlay [with] an appropriate Ethernet underlay, as required, from now on," Atkinson says of Shaw's future greenfield strategy.
But Shaw still views RFoG as a transitional technology. "At some point, I think RFoG will give way to more IP or data-oriented transport schemes for all services."
Shaw likewise thinks an eventual migration of services to IP, which will take years, will alter its overall business in terms of how it delivers high-capacity Internet services, as well as voice and video.
"There's no doubt in our minds that IP-based set-tops are going to quickly outpace anything available in the more traditional, digital cable proprietary worlds," says Dennis Steiger, Shaw's group vice president of engineering. The move to IP "will make it possible to create a whole new customer experience down the road."
And Shaw believes that will help get it prepared to handle cable's transition from a broadcast medium to one that provides more and more unicast services. According to Shaw's forecast, unicast services (which include video-on-demand) will eat up about half of its plant capacity within 10 years.
But that transition won't happen overnight, so technologies like Docsis and RFoG will likely remain important factors for awhile. In fact, Shaw is already using Docsis 3.0 to deliver services that provide bursts of 100 Mbit/s. (See Shaw Maxing Out on 100-Meg.)
"But there will come a time when [those technologies] become less important as we [connect] our customers with fiber access," Steiger says.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable