Cable Tech

PON Pushers Huff and Puff

Desperate times call for ... yet another industry forum!

In a bid to help boost the ever-floundering market for passive optical networking (PON) gear, a group of vendors, carriers, and other intrepid PON proponents are expected to launch a forum to promote PON technology. An announcement is set to happen at or close to the time of the NFOEC show next month.

Helped by founding member TeleChoice Inc., the group will sponsor a Web site and a range of activities designed to educate the world about PON.

Up to now, PON, the technique of using passive couplers to siphon bandwidth to multiple destinations via one fiber, has met with limited success, largely due to lack of adoption by major carriers. Nevertheless, a core of persistent PON promoters still maintains that PON success is just around the corner. At least a couple of them have scored sufficient wins with alternative carriers and cable multiservice operators (MSOs) to hang in there (see PON Believers Hang Tough).

The arrival of new specs is now helping vendors keep their spirits up. Specifications for faster, "gigabit" rate PONs (GPONs) are being finalized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The new specs will enable PONs to run faster than the 622-Mbit/s limitations many ATM-based PONs (APONs) now support. Vendors also have developed Ethernet-based PONs (EPONs). And other ways are emerging to support a range of traffic types in native mode instead of converting them to a single format for use on the PON -- a tack used by most PONs on the market today.

But innovations could have a downside, if they prove to complicate and confuse potential customers, adding to the ongoing difficulties of promoting PON to large carriers.

"We've got APON, EPON, GPON, coupon," quips Danny Briere, CEO of TeleChoice, who's spearheading his firm's involvement in the forum. He says the problem with multiple emerging specs in an industry that's still nascent is reminiscent of what happened with the DSL (digital subscriber line) industry. While vendors fought over and promoted disparate flavors of DSL, potential customers who still didn't understand the economics of the basic technology were confounded. "The DSL industry lost almost lost three years in building out the market due to infighting over emerging specs," Briere says.

The new PON forum is meant to help avoid a similar fate in the PON market. The first priority will be the Web site, featuring a boatload of educational materials for interested parties. The info will aim to clarify the different PON approaches without muddying the waters about the underlying premise of PON.

"We plan to publish negative information too," Briere says. If an article appears in the press that's relevant, a link will be featured on the forum's Web site as a means of helping everyone understand both the pros and cons of PON technology.

Briere is firm about the seriousness of the forum's goals: "This forum is not about meeting in exotic places all over the world each quarter," he writes in an email message to Light Reading. "All of our meetings are planned for either major trade shows or on the phone (conference calls). None of us have budgets for flying anywhere to spend time in meetings..... The focus is all on education and getting the word out."

Briere's also clear that the forum isn't meant to replace other organizations, such as Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Council or the Ethernet in the First Mile Alliance (EFMA). "We're not trying to compete with standards-setting bodies or any other groups," says Briere. "We just want to provide education about PON in a single place."

Members will stump up $5,000 to join, although educational institutions, analysts, and press can ride free.

Despite the forum's no-nonsense charter, it looks like getting vendors to sign on could be an uphill climb. Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), an influential but relatively new entrant to the PON market (see SBC Takes a Dip Into PON) says it's decided not to join. A spokeswoman says the vendor sees no need to join yet another forum, given its membership in existing bodies such as the FTTH Council.

Another vendor, Optical Solutions Inc., which specializes in residential PONs, says it won't be joining the forum "at this time." Business PON maker Quantum Bridge Communications Inc. says it's on the fence, undecided about whether to sign on.

At least one vendor says his company's likely to join. "There's been a problem marketing PON," says Oren Marmur, CTO of FlexLight Networks. "The forum will have the sole goal of evangelizing PON in all of its flavors."

Briere can't say who else has decided to join, because potential members are still making their minds up. But he expects the forum to represent all types - from the ATM-based PON players like NEC Eluminant Technologies Inc., Paceon, and Terawave Communications to the newer EPON startups such as Alloptic Inc. and Salira Optical Network Systems Inc.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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hyperunner 12/4/2012 | 9:50:09 PM
re: PON Pushers Huff and Puff It's true that, in the past, industry fora did meet in some nice locations that were clearly intended to allow participants' families to benefit from the experience.

However, in recent years the trend has been towards practical locations, many of which are on the US mainland. This is not so true of the ITU, which has to show a truly international choice in its operations.

Perhaps Mr.Briere's comments were drawn out of proportion, but it seems like he's just a tad too keen for the new forum to be seen to be doing the right thing.

lastmile 12/4/2012 | 9:50:06 PM
re: PON Pushers Huff and Puff I am in the midst of a dinner party and two of my friends ( employed optical geeks ) feel that there are no cons in PON technology. The only problem they say is that PON is not 'future proof'
What they mean by 'not future proof' is that it is another form of bottle neck but at a higher level. FTTH is what my friends believe in but they are unsure how quickly the deployment will start at a large scale.
I do not have any article to substantiate my claim.
whyiswhy 12/4/2012 | 9:50:06 PM
re: PON Pushers Huff and Puff Mary:

PONS works, and has been around for many years. Up to this point, it has been called HFC, or hybrid fiber coax. Most HFC equipment vendors make their stuff work multiple branches (fanout) with passive splitters. Upgrades to digital fiber are handled with passive combiners. That way it is affordable.

One of the big problems we have in this industry is marketing spin. Come to think of it, most industries have spin. But in this industry, we actually confuse ourselves along with the customers. Come to think of it, that happens in other industries too. Just not as much.


Anyway, IMO PONS is not going to sell to anyone but the trunk and branch network specialists: the cable people. And they are already customers.

This must be FTTD or FTTH in disquise. In the case of FTTH: cable is already there. In the case of FTTD, let's get to Firewire first: we are not even there yet.

This crosseyed hidden agenda huff and puff hurts the industry. I thought we put the starry eyed dreamers back to sleep with Gilder?

USA 12/4/2012 | 9:50:06 PM
re: PON Pushers Huff and Puff Has anyone seen a good article or whitepaper that spells out the pros and cons of PON technology and market positioning?
dbriere 12/4/2012 | 9:50:05 PM
re: PON Pushers Huff and Puff Again, more two cents, I agree with you -- it's totally confusing. One of the reasons why the core group of members convinced me to help out, was because this is an industry that really needs education and definition. If left to competitive forces, PON will be all about EPON versus APON/BPON/GPON -- all about technology -- and never about "Why PON?" to begin with. If it is HFC in disguise, then they should just say so, link to that known entity, and tell why they are better than what's out there. If they are different from it, then write a white paper about that and make it clear. What about FTTx -- what's the role here and why? What about EFM -- what's the role here and why? I don't have all of these answers, but what I am finding out is that collectively the members do. So we're trying to corral it all into one place so people can read it. If they walk away shaking their heads, at least they'll be educated and smart heads, not confused ones.
dbriere 12/4/2012 | 9:50:05 PM
re: PON Pushers Huff and Puff Well, that's the point, and why we're launching the Web presence -- so you can see all the white papers and articles on PON. Where would you find that now? Send me your email address at [email protected] and I'll send you some ideas.
dbriere 12/4/2012 | 9:50:05 PM
re: PON Pushers Huff and Puff Well Mary obviously has her reasons for writing the article the way she did. To single out PON as huffing and puffing must give the rest of the optical industry some sort of energy pill. It's clear from the intro that she sees PON as an industry in trouble. Other postings here seem to say the same thing. Lack of knowledge of the role PON plays is one of the biggest issues hitting the industry. So many in this industry are spending time talking to themselves, and not to the customers that count. Our group is planning on changing that, as regarding passive optical networking.

I'm not the official spokesperson for the group, nor am I the leading founding member -- I'm one of a group. A formal announcement will come out when it's time -- for now, the members are focused on preparing whole range of information for the launch of its Website and upcoming press tour.

As for the mention about exotic places, the last two places the DSL Forum has met were Rome and Prague (rescheduled for London due to floods). Those are pretty exotic and non-practical locales for my organization to be sending me to in order to debate DSL strategies. The number one thing that people have said to us is that they have neither the time nor budget to be attending yet another set of meetings for a Forum. That's why we've set this up as a virtual Forum, with emphasis on clear near term shared goals. Only makes sense in this day and age. Most of the people who are joining see this as almost shared marketing expense -- they have to educate the market, why not pitch in with others and educate it together on the things they all agree about. Makes sense to me.

At the end of the day, there needs to be a focal point for those interested in PON to be able to get some decent information and to figure out the business case rationale for PON. There's no place on the Web for that today. If you are thinking about PON and have questions, where would you turn for information?

PON is one of many new technologies trying to get traction. Education can only help accelerate this learning curve. And that's what we're focused on. The other entities we've seen active in the marketplace are not doing that today -- they are focused on other things. If they were focused on education of PON, the PON Forum would not have started. It's hard for me to understand why anyone would be opposed to educating the marketplace. Seems odd to me.

Regardless, the stance of members she listed we inaccurate; the Chairman will be announcing the Forum with its membership in due time.

Let me know if all of this is still a 'tad too keen' -- it's just business.
splitEndz 12/4/2012 | 9:50:04 PM
re: PON Pushers Huff and Puff re: "....there are no cons in PON technology.
There are CONS to every technology. As a previous poster indicated, TDMA PON is just a glorified HFC(+2-way-data) deployment, without the FDM or intra-channel QAM modulation, and having lower split ratios than today's typical HFC. Just another incremental band-aid, and just another new bottleneck that is outside of the control of the customers (the end users). Why even bother with the expense?

Someday, in the not-too-distant future, tunable WDM PON (which is an entirely different animal, not to be confused with TDMA PON) will be cost-effective, and athermal AWGs will be icing on the cake. WDM PON is the hold grail for the last mile. All the benefits of fiber pair-gain (of the passive and active point-to-multipoint topologies), and (single wavelength) home run fiber, rolled into one.

Anyone that deploys TDMA PON will be doing the equivalent of installing a token ring network in the enterprise today. You'll be sorry you did. All this just my opinion based on my crystal ball, which may or may not be any better than the next guy's.

It is impossible to prove or disprove that TDMA PON is a sufficient solution for the future, but once it is deployed by a service provider it becomes sufficient for a large number of years, by definition--whether you like it or not. Personally I don't like putting the growth of broadband in that position (yet again).
whyiswhy 12/4/2012 | 9:50:04 PM
re: PON Pushers Huff and Puff Lastmile:

Humm, with all due respect to your fiber friends, I can say for certain that PONs can be future proof. Whether it is or not is another question. I am also absolutely certain that is not a question service providers give a damn about.

Most things in this world are far from future proof. It depends on how far out you want to go. In my book that usually means five or six technological lifetimes, or the payback and milkcow period, whichever is longer. In reality, until someone with money will pay to change it.

That's the problem here: engineers always think that the customers SHOULD buy their latest widget because they love it so much. It is so technically elegant. Wizz bang!

In reality, decisions to buy new stuff are not made on technical grounds; finance dominates everything. Near term finance at that: real cash flow, short term interest rates, realistic (even worst case) revenue models. Crap: NT is STILL financing their equipment sales. Banks won't do it. That should tell you what is going on.

Let's get real: that means 99% of everything will be incremental upgrades...exactly like what we are seeing now. One new wavelength channel added to the existing DWDM plant, or additional digital channels on the cable. Maybe, just maybe, you get cable to install backhaul so you get a modem and telephone services. And that is only thanks to channel monopoly and bundling services.

That (and NT financing) should calibrate everyone on how much money really flows in, because you certainly know it does not cost much to add backhaul to cable.

So are they are not going to drag a fiber to your house any time before Hades freezes over? No way Jose. Way too much money.

Sigh. The quicker we get real here, the better.

Just My Humble Opinion


dbriere 12/4/2012 | 9:50:04 PM
re: PON Pushers Huff and Puff BTW, for the record, I mentioned no other firms nor other contacts in my discussions with Mary. All of her suppositions about companies and their potential or non potential involvement is purely from her research of the market from other sources. As I said before, the official announcement will include those members taking part.
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