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Cable Tech

DOCSIS 4.0 and FTTP to shape the future, says Vodafone Germany CTO

CABLE NEXT-GEN EUROPE DIGITAL SYMPOSIUM – Faced with data demands that continue to rise more than a year into the pandemic, particularly in the upstream direction, Vodafone Germany is being forced to rethink and reassess the shape of its future access network.

Does it make sense to stick with hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) and upgrade to DOCSIS 4.0, or to go with a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) upgrade? For Vodafone Germany, the answer ultimately will be all of the above.

"We'll see a mix of both," Gerhard Mack, Vodafone Germany's chief technology officer, said Thursday in a keynote that kicked off day two of the Light Reading-hosted, all-digital event.

There's still plenty more to assess, but his early guess is that there will be a bigger share for FTTP than there will be for DOCSIS, at least in high-density areas.

Vodafone Germany plans to field-test DOCSIS 4.0 later this year and into 2022. But Mack notes that there are some operational challenges ahead should the operator opt to expand its spectrum and take full advantage of DOCSIS 4.0 technology.

"In the German case, the problem is that going for higher frequencies and allowing to use the benefits of DOCSIS 4.0 and following, you have to exchange a large part of your passive plant," Mack notes. That means replacing taps or splitters that, in many cases, are buried below the sidewalks.

"It's a huge cost and it's really cumbersome to get these passive components exchanged," he added.

For now, Vodafone Germany is deploying fiber nodes to smaller and smaller segment sizes, and connecting fiber to almost every amplifier (Mack estimates that number to be in excess of 250,000) in its network. This "fiberization" of the network and the move toward a more distributed architecture is now the name of the game, Mack said, noting that the operator is shifting to "GPON-like" segmentations that see 64 customers – or as few as 32 customers – connected to one fiber node.

A future step could involve the introduction of DOCSIS 4.0, or going with FTTP in MDU scenarios, and making similar decisions with respect to the in-home wiring.

"This is the war we have to fight … The question is: What will happen in the last mile?" Mack said, noting that Vodafone Germany will need to resolve that question in the coming years.

"That's a big challenge for all of us, but also a big opportunity to make sure that we keep cable as competitive as before but also to keep it in a leading position in delivering superior network quality and also superior network speeds," Mack added.

The nature of the network has changed… likely for good

Mack also shared some network data that illustrates how data demands have risen during the pandemic.

Vodafone Germany, an operator that serves about 11 million broadband customers and is now signing up 60% of its new customers for 1-Gig service, has seen spikes in both the downstream and the upstream. While download peaks jumped about 35% along with average usage increases through the rest of the day, upstream peaks, driven by the use of videoconferencing, soared 230% during the lockdown period.

"This had a huge impact for us … The nature and usage of the network has drastically changed," Mack said, noting that the operator had to adjust when it conducted network maintenance activities. "You don't dare touch the network" at 8 a.m. or 10 a.m. when customers were working or schooling from home," he added. "You need to change your maintenance policy."

And that impact was felt well beyond the access network. Mack said Vodafone Germany was also forced to accelerate backbone extensions and backhaul projects and to stay on top of peering requirements with mobile operators, as well as companies such as Google and Netflix to ensure it could sidestep potential capacity bottlenecks.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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