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Choosing the Unified Fiber & Coaxial Access StrategyChoosing the Unified Fiber & Coaxial Access Strategy

Many cable operators have already started to deploy FTTH when expanding their network footprint, and even more are preparing to do so.

November 20, 2018

4 Min Read
Choosing the Unified Fiber & Coaxial Access Strategy

In recent years, cable operators have been experiencing very low or even negative growth of TV subscribers. Fortunately, increasing growth of their broadband business has been able to compensate for the loss of video subscribers. The higher speeds offered by DOCSIS has been superior to the lower and distance-dependent speeds offered by xDSL. This has been crucial for enabling MSO broadband growth. However, MSOs now experience increasing broadband competition coming from FTTH operators. In some countries, FTTH rollout happens surprisingly fast, and it is even quite common to see FTTH operators overbuilding cable networks.

In response, many cable operators have already started to deploy FTTH when expanding their network footprint, and even more are preparing to do so. Many practical issues need to be addressed when introducing this new network technology. Training, IT, network management, spare parts, test equipment, etc. are only a few challenges, but new, unified access technologies, that provide both DOCSIS and FTTH on the same platform, can help to solve a good part of these issues. So MSOs are on the right long-term track when expanding their footprint, but because of the high FTTH rollout speeds of the competition, MSOs urgently need to consider an even faster upgrade of their brownfield cable networks in order to meet the challenge.

Fortunately, the technology itself is not the problem. By introducing DOCSIS 3.1 with the high split of 204 MHz, the cable network can get a capacity of about 10 Gbit/s downstream and 1 Gbit/s upstream. We have seen MSOs who have done such upgrades, and since 2017, they have been able to offer commercial services of 1 Gbit/s downstream and 500 Mbit/s upstream. With such products, speed is no longer a reason to churn from cable to fiber.

Financials are not a major problem either. Performing the upgrade creates so much extra capacity, it avoids many years of node split investments. So, simply put, the capex goes to network modernization rather than to traditional node splits. The financial challenge has clearly also been reduced due to the increased vendor competition seen in the DOCSIS market.

Details of the future architecture of the cable networks is under discussion right now, and CableLabs, the MSO member organization, will standardize several options. FTTH is currently not part of this work, but FTTH technologies are well standardized by ITU, and in the market, there are solutions available from some equipment vendors which support both CableLabs and ITU standards on the same platform, so called unified access platforms. Such platforms will of course provide substantial technical flexibility as well as capex protection in case of later migration from cable to FTTH, and we already see them gaining market share.

It is no secret, that Huawei as a relatively new MSO vendor, but very experienced telco vendor has been able to take a leading position outside the US. Their unified access platform supports both cable with all types of flexible MAC architectures as well as being the industry’s largest FTTH platform. It is also worth noticing, that this platform has been the first to receive the CableLabs DOCSIS 3.1 base qualification in 2018 Q3.

Another trend in network technology development is to draw benefit from IT technologies in order to increase O&M efficiency as well as agility in product development. As standard CPUs become more and more powerful, control and management functionality especially can be moved from the network elements to “the cloud”. Gradually, we will also begin to see actual network functionality being implemented on standard servers instead of on dedicated hardware. It is obvious, that in such an architecture, network capacity can be scaled in and out as easily as server capacity in a data center. We talk about networks being software-defined (SDN), using network function virtualization (NFV). Organizations such as ETSI, ONF and ONAP are working on standards that will secure multivendor interoperability in such architectures.

We also see MSOs beginning to pay attention to this approach, and CableLabs is releasing TRs to make sure that MSOs also will be able to benefit from this development.

Also in this area, Huawei draws benefit from their scale on fiber. We see the unified access platform already offering advanced features like TPIA (Third Party ISP Access) and advanced PNM (Proactive Network Management) features based on this cloud approach.

Huawei describes their vision for the coming time as the “Intent Driven Network” in which network operation can be much more efficient and reliable. High-level language for intent based APIs will simplify operators OSS and BSS, and self-learning algorithms will take care of continuous network optimization.

Especially in Europe, we have seen a significant consolidation where telcos and MSOs have merged. Such combined operators now offer most of the cable connections in Europe. The mergers have a strong focus on being able to offer “Next Generation Access” as a part of an FMC (Fixed Mobile Convergence) bundle to their customers. For such integrated operators, it is particularly important to consider their networks in a unified manner in order to deliver a customer experience of true convergence.

The coming years will show the value of choosing the right strategy in a rapidly changing market.

— Mads Arnbjoern Rasmussen, CTO Fixed Broadband & Video, Huawei CEE & Nordic Region

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