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Time Warner Cable's Fiber-licious RFI

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
2/6/2009
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Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) has issued a request for information (RFI) that aims to take a deep, hard look at next-gen fiber-to-the-home architectures for so-called "greenfield" areas and multiple-dwelling unit (MDU) environments, and to support high-end, business-class services.

Cable Digital News has learned from multiple industry sources familiar with the RFI that the MSO sought out a raft of information about current gear, pricing details, and product roadmaps for RF over Glass (RFOG), EPON, 10-Gig EPON, and a "Docsis management plane" that would enable these fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks to speak the same language as the operator's existing Docsis OSS (operations support system).

RFOG is an emerging Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) standard that enables cable operators to push fiber all the way to the premises, but also allows them to preserve their headends and to continue using the same digital set-tops, Docsis cable modems, and embedded multimedia terminal adapters (E-MTAs) they already deploy on their hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) networks. A small adapter on the side of the home or business handles the optical to electrical conversion. (See RFOG Comes Rolling In , Lifting the Fog on RFOG, Fog Lifting on RFOG, and SCTE Moves on RFOG.)

As envisioned, RFOG enables MSOs to bid for some new housing developments that require FTTP infrastructures, and allows operators to extend services to rural areas that previously were not economically reachable with HFC. But RFOG doesn't give MSOs much of a capacity boost. That's where EPON and 10-Gig EPON extensions could come in.

TWC is said to be partial to RFOG with EPON-based enhancements, particularly for business services, because the EPON is considered to be more compatible with Docsis than GPON is. Additionally, EPON standards are developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) , said to be more "cable friendly" than the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) , which is linked to GPON. Other operators, however, have not ruled out GPON as a component of their next-gen fiber strategies.

Time Warner Cable declined to comment about the RFI, noting only that as far as RFOG and other fiber-based network architectures go, "we're looking into those technologies."

But a source who has seen the RFI says the MSO is "interested in RFOG for both business and residential and MDU [environments], and EPON or 10Gig EPON to supply more bandwidth to all of those applications. But the first driver is probably business services."

That last comment shouldn't come as a big surprise. Earlier this week, TWC execs said commercial services represent the growth engine with the most near-term potential. To that end, the MSO is throwing more resources at the initiative, going as far as hiring an executive to take up the biz-service mantle in each of its regions. (See TWC Tees Up More Meters and Time Warner Cable Subs Growth Slows in Q4 .)

Time Warner Cable, we're told, issued the request in early December, giving suppliers just a couple of weeks to scramble and submit their documents just prior to a pre-Christmas deadline. It's not known how many vendors responded, but sources say several suppliers teamed up with others for some submissions.

This list is not exhaustive, but the following vendors are likely to have participated in the RFI individually or in combination with partners: Alloptic Inc. , Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Aurora Networks Inc. , Calix Networks Inc. (NYSE: CALX), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), CommScope Inc. , Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT), Hitachi Telecom (USA) Inc. , Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and Salira Systems Inc.

With that information now in hand, what will Time Warner Cable do about it? Industry insiders say it's not clear if the MSO will follow up with a formal request for proposal (RFP), but the expectation is that TWC is interested in conducting tests and trials later this year, with some initial deployments possible in 2010. The operator is also expected to use the RFI process to whittle down its number of approved vendors. On the optical network unit (ONU) front, the MSO wants to have access to interoperable devices from a handful of suppliers.

Although Time Warner Cable has yet to endorse RFOG and new FTTP architectures in the form of deployments, it is the largest U.S. MSO to give this much attention to the idea. Last year, Cox Communications Inc. issued a fiber RFI of its own. (See Cox Flirts With Fiber .) In the meantime, several small- and mid-sized operators have started to deploy RFOG or some form of FTTP where it's been needed, including Armstrong Cable , BendBroadband , Bresnan Communications LLC , Bright House Networks , Cable ONE Inc. , Sunflower Broadband , and NPG Cable Inc.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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