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Why Cable's Feasting on Fiber

Alan Breznick

While most cable technologists insist that the industry's HFC pipes still have long lives ahead of them, cable operators are installing more and more fiber strands in their networks. Whether they're planning to go nearly all-fiber throughout their footprints like Altice, deploy Fiber Deep like Comcast, Charter, Cox, Liberty Global and other major MSOs or just split more fiber nodes, operators are clearly feasting and fattening up on fiber these days. (See DOCSIS 3.1 & Fiber Deep Top Cable's List.)

In fact, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) alone intends to spend several billions of dollars on its Fiber Deep program over the next four to five years to extend fiber links further into its HFC network and eliminate amplifiers and other active devices. Plans call for installing more than 1 million additional optical fiber nodes in its network over that time, which would be nearly quadruple the 250,000 to 300,000 fiber nodes that Comcast has deployed in the field today. (See The Big Cable DAA Update.)

"Node plus zero is a starting point," said Phil Miguelez, executive director of network architecture at Comcast, speaking on a panel at the SCTE/ISBE Cable-Tec Expo in Denver last month. "But you can't build it all at once. It's obviously a ramp-up." He noted that Comcast aims to end up with eight to ten times as many nodes as it has now.

Not to be outdone, Altice is going even further with fiber, installing FTTH networks across its territories in the US, France and Portugal. So far, the international MSO has deployed fiber links to more than 10 million homes passed in France, nearly 4 million homes passed in Portugal and 150,000 homes passed in the US. Plans call for extending the three-nation fiber rollout to more than 22 million homes passed by the close of the decade.

"We're accelerating our FTTH coverage at an expanded pace across France, Portugal and the US," said Altice CEO Michel Combes, speaking on the company's third-quarter earnings call last week. In the US, for instance, Altice aims to pass at least 1 million homes with fiber lines by the end of next year. (See Altice USA Plows Ahead With Hubs & Fiber.)

Why are cable operators indulging in such a fiber-feeding frenzy these days? The reasons are many, including customer demands for greater bandwidth capacity, the higher performance and reliability of optical fiber and the reduced signal egress it offers. Cable operators also find fiber appealing because it allows them to remove or even eliminate signal amplifiers and other active devices from the outside plant, reducing power needs and costs and cutting overall operating expenses.

In addition, with the help of at least deeper final links in their networks, cablecos can take full advantage of such other new technologies as DOCSIS 3.1, Full Duplex DOCSIS, Distributed Access Architecture and virtualization. Finally, operators can leverage fiber to make use of the various flavors of PON technology traditionally reserved for the telco market.

Want to learn more the commercial market opportunities and challenges for cable operators? Join Light Reading in New York on Thursday, November 30 for the 11th annual Future of Cable Business Services event. All cable operators and other service providers get in free.

But adding more fiber to the cable plant isn't as simple as just digging up underground trenches or stringing new aerial strands on utility poles. With the shift towards more fiber comes fresh operational and technical challenges, which include inflexible connectivity options, proprietary fiber connectors and the risk of fiber contamination. Fiber installation is also very labor-intensive, time-consuming and, of course, costly.

That's why Light Reading and SCTE/ISBE will tackle this subject with a jointly presented webinar, entitled "Fattening Up on Fiber," next Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 11 a.m. ET. Sponsored by Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN), Clearfield Inc. (Nasdaq: CLFD) and Viavi Solutions Inc. , the one-hour session will address how cable operators can add more fiber to their diets in a smooth, safe and efficient manner. Speakers will include Steven Harris, Senior Director, Technical Field and Engineering Education for SCTE•ISBE; Wayne Hickey, Advisor for Product Marketing at Ciena; Douglas Clague, Solutions Marketing CIVT, for Viavi Solutions; and Sev Sadura, Director of Product Marketing at Clearfield.

To sign up for the webinar, please click here. It should be quite the feast.

In the meantime, check out the following four video interviews for information about the energy-saving and other benefits of virtualizing the cable architecture, as well as SCTE/ISBE's Energy 2020 Program. Here are the links to those interviews:

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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