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RFOG Comes Rolling In

Jeff Baumgartner
10/1/2008

Driven by business service requirements, network "rehabs," and some limited new buildouts, cable operators seem to be warming up to RF Over Glass (RFOG).

Some even view it as an interim step toward the deployment of passive optical networking (PON), even though RFOG is meant to preserve the cable infrastructure.

RFOG, which is on its way to becoming a Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) standard, lets cable operators pull fiber to homes and commercial buildings but still uses cable infrastructure elements including headends, Docsis cable modems, embedded multimedia terminal adapters (EMTAs), and digital set-top boxes. (See SCTE Moves on RFOG.)

RFOG does not produce faster Internet speeds on its own, but it could help operators clean up the upstream and tap into noisy, unused chunks of spectrum for upstream channel bonding. Upstream channel bonding is a key feature of Docsis 3.0.

RFOG has been a hot topic in cable tech circles since formal discussions got going last June at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo. (See RFOG Update .) But recent evidence shows that operators are biting on RFOG even before a standard is fully baked. Alloptic Inc. , for example, says it has added 15 new RFOG customers, extending its total to 44. (See Alloptic Notches 'RFOG' Wins.)

Most operators believe HFC still has plenty of gas left, but they're using FTTP in targeted situations. Some home developers, for example, are insisting on FTTP in the belief that it will goose property values.

"My sense is that there are a lot of [cable companies] kicking the tires right now" on RFOG, says Alan Breznick, senior analyst with Heavy Reading, who is penning a report on the topic. "There are some pilot deployments going on, but no one's made a big commitment yet for it." He says some MSOs may be holding off until the SCTE standard is approved and published.

"I've got a mix from Tier 1 to Tier 4 [customers]," says Shane Eleniak, Alloptic's VP of marketing and business development. "We're not seeing a heavy grouping one way or the other. We've moved beyond the early adopter phase."

The customers Alloptic has announced so far are smaller names, including Armstrong Cable , BendBroadband , NPG Cable Inc. , Midcontinent Communications in portions of North Dakota and South Dakota, and Allen's TV Cable Service of Morgan City, La.

Gateway to PON?
Not every MSO that's implementing RFOG is shouting about it from the hilltops. They don't want to create a perception that they are chucking their old hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) networks in favor of fiber-only strategies.

But Breznick holds that RFOG might give cable operators a gateway to future PON adoption, a position emphasized by Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Hitachi Telecom (USA) Inc. (See Moto Expands 'CablePON' Strategy, SA Pitches Cable PON, and Hitachi Rolls Out RFoG Gear .)

"Many [vendors] are pushing RFOG as a stepping stone to what they really want to sell to operators, which is PON," he says.

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