CableLabs sparks 100-Gig PON project

CABLE NEXT-GEN TECHNOLOGIES & STRATEGIES –The cable industry's "10G" project aims for networks that can deliver 10-Gig symmetrical speeds alongside enhanced security and low latencies, but CableLabs has already initiated a project that will size up and specify PON-powered 100-Gig technology.

CableLabs recently launched that project – dubbed Single-wavelength 100G PON – with a focus on coherent modulation and detection and a point-to-multipoint topology, Curtis Knittle, vice president, wired technologies, CableLabs, said today during a 10G-focused panel on Day 1 of Light Reading's two-day Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies digital event.

Though the project is starting at CableLabs (with a working group set to launch in May), it could later be fed into one of the international standards developing organizations, Knittle said. CableLabs also intends to welcome participation from other industries and possibly have non-cable operators be part of an advisory panel.

"This one will be run a little differently," Knittle said, referring to the project as a "subsequent step" for PON along the cable industry's ongoing 10G initiative. CableLabs has already completed some work that specifies the use of point-to-point coherent optics that bring techniques traditionally used in long-haul networks to cable's access networks.

The '10G' journey

In the cable industry context, the tools for "10G" are being designed to support multiple access network types, including hybrid fiber/coax (HFC)/DOCSIS 4.0, fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) and even wireless, with goals focused on increased speed, capacity and network reliability, lower latencies and enhanced security.

"It's like a guiding document, the Magna Carta of wired technologies," Knittle said.

"It's an all-encompassing concept," Jeff Finkelstein, chief access scientist at Cox Communications, added.

Finkelstein likened the industry's 10G expedition to the game of golf. While a hole-in-one would be great, the reality is that it will take multiple shots to get the ball to the green and, ultimately, into the hole. Those shots could represent everything from doing mid-splits or high-splits that upgrade HFC upstream capacity and deploying passive and active components that help push HFC networks to 1.8GHz.

"The trick is to make sure you don't putt any more than you have to," Finkelstein said. As a first step/putt toward 10G, Cox's outside plant team is undertaking a "Herculean effort" to analyze its cables, taps, faceplates and other elements to help the company get a proper fix on the real-world situation of its plant.

"You're not going to do this all at once," Finkelstein explained. "When you start breaking it down into bite-sized chunks, it becomes very manageable – not saying easy, but manageable."

A blended network will reign

10G will also pour the foundation for what will be a mixed network as MSOs look to upgrade their HFC networks and continue to deploy FTTP in a more targeted way.

Meanwhile, PON technologies are expected to play a bigger role for "cable" operators in the years to come.

"I really think we're going to start to see PON as the preferable solution for distributing capacity to the intelligent edge," Knittle said. And that intelligent edge, he added, could be comprised of a DOCSIS remote PHY device (RPD) remote MACPHY (RMD), a remote OLT or a 5G wireless access point. "They are all very complementary to each other and helping us get to that 10G future."

"It's going to end up being a blended network," CommScope Engineering Fellow John Ulm said, noting that HFC and FTTP will coexist for years to come. "Maybe 20, 30 years from now we're 100% fiber-to-the-home, but the coax is going to handle 80, 90, 99% of the subscriber demand for the next decade or more."

Robin LaVoie, senior director of network evolutions strategies at Cogeco, said FTTP could eventually be used in these blended environments to target and support high-bandwidth users. That heavy-user offload scenario could also extend the life of the DOCSIS network.

"That's where I think PON is going with this next technology that we're going to specify," Knittle said. "It's complementary. It totally helps to extend the life of DOCSIS and HFC … It's a technology and solution that's got a lot of legs for the industry, I think."

If 10G is indeed a journey, it's not clear how long that journey will take. However, LaVoie does expect the journey to end, eventually, with fiber-to-the-home. In the meantime, there are still many questions to be answered about the operational impact of upgrading the DOCSIS network to 1.8GHz versus jumping to FTTP.

"It might end up being that the [1.8GHz] operation is very expensive," LaVoie said. "Is it worth doing it? We'll find that out."

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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