Bringing EPON to Cable: It's a Scale Thing
Two years after CableLabs set the stage for EPON, cable operators -- Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), in particular -- might finally be getting the tools to deploy the technology at scale.
U.S. cable has already identified EPON as a preferred way to deliver symmetrical services to business customers over fiber. And the cable industry has some sound operational reasons to adapt their Docsis provisioning and back-office systems to EPON. MSOs already use Docsis back-office systems to auto-provision cable modems with little or no interaction from the installer, so the plan now is to duplicate that for the EPON environment, which tends to be saddled with a variety of proprietary provisioning systems.
To help cable bring its Docsis back-office systems to the EPON world, CableLabs developed the 1.0 version of the Docsis Provisioning of EPON (DPoE) specs in March 2011, followed by a 2.0 version in October. Early on, implementing DPoE involved time-consuming manual processes, requiring "bench configurations" for the network interface devices (NIDs). That has contributed to a general lack of DPoE rollouts so far, save for isolated deployments by Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable. (See CableLabs Completes DPoE Specs, Cable Prepares to Blend Docsis With EPON and Docsis Gets Its EPON On.)
But operators and vendors are trying to solve that problem by adding pieces that will make the installation and provisioning process more streamlined and automated.
Much of that work centers on the integration of a critical piece called Demarc Auto-Configuration (DAC), a process also defined by CableLabs that is now part of the DPoE specs. In addition to making the provisioning process more automated, having DAC in the picture should also help cable operators build Web service portals that, for example, would let business services customers set their own service levels and create configuration files that can be sent directly to the EPON NID.
Kicking the tires on DPoE and DAC
Some proof-of-concept testing has already been completed. Time Warner Cable and a small set of vendors, for example, recently finished a lab trial, detailed in a white paper presented at last month's Cable-Tec Expo in Orlando.
TW Cable's lab work, conducted earlier this year, centered on DAC and what's referred to as a DPoE-ONU (or D-ONU). It teamed the Omnitron Systems Technology Inc. iConverter GM4, the first known NID with integrated DAC support, with a small form-factor pluggable (SFP) EPON ONU transceiver from Finisar Corp. (Nasdaq: FNSR) that is also built to the CableLabs DPoE specs. Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), meanwhile, supplied a network-side component that emulated an OLT (optical line terminal) outfitted with the DPoE and DAC functions.
With those pieces tied together, the D-ONU essentially mimicked the actions of a traditional Docsis cable modem, allowing it to use the Docsis OSS to provision Ethernet services and auto-configure the ONU. (See Omnitron Unveils iConverter NIDs.)
TW Cable's conclusion: The specs were "technically feasible," and resulting products should significantly cut deployment time and human error, reducing operational expenses by 20 to 50 percent. More detail about that trial and what's next on tap at the operator will be presented and discussed during the "Ethernet Takes Charge" panel at Light Reading's Future of Cable Business Services on Nov. 29 in New York City.
What's on the horizon for DPoE?
Omnitron's NIDs have been available for a couple of years, but the company's new DPoE-ready, DAC-capable version should reach general availability by the end of 2012, according to VP of Marketing Rammy Bahalul. He says Omnitron is already set up to conduct a lab trial with a second tier 1 MSO either late this year or early 2013.
Bahalul expects DPoE/DAC field trials to get underway in the first half of next year, followed by some "limited deployments" during the second half of 2013. Rollouts should continue to pick up in 2014, and reach volume deployment by 2015, Bahalul predicts.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable