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Lifting the Fog on RFOG

Alan Breznick

Now that the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) (SCTE) is busily developing a tech standard for fiber extensions to cable plants, the big question is just how quickly cable operators will actually install fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) lines.

At Heavy Reading, we're working on a couple of studies to tackle that question. We're also looking into how extensively MSOs will make use of SCTE's still-evolving "Radio Frequency over Glass" (RFOG) standard, which is expected to be completed sometime next spring or summer, and whether RFOG will drive cable deployment of telco-like passive optical network (PON) technologies. Stay tuned for more on that research later this fall.

In the meantime, though, some preliminary answers emerged from a Light Reading webinar that I moderated on RFOG last week. During that webinar, entitled "Fiber Extensions for Cable: An Overview of RFOG," we asked cable operators when they expect to start deploying new fiber additions to their HFC plant.

Nearly one seventh of the respondents, or 13.3 percent, said they plan to begin rolling out RFOG technology before the end of the year. That group may well include Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), Bright House Networks , Cox Communications Inc. , and Source Cable & Wireless , which have already been extending fiber to select households.

Nearly one quarter of respondents, or 23.5 percent, indicated that they will start deploying RFOG sometime next year. Another 9.2 percent said they will begin the rollouts in 2010. So close to half of cable operators polled, or 46 percent, expect to deploy the new technology within the next two and a third years.

On the other hand, slightly more than one fifth of cable operators, or 20.4 percent, don't think they will launch RFOG until at least 2011. And slightly more than one third, or 33.7 percent, have no plans to deploy the technology right now.

We also asked webinar attendees what they viewed as the biggest obstacles to deploying RFOG. In the poll, the largest portion of respondents, 29.9 percent, checked off a lack of competitive urgency as the biggest barrier. Another 26.2 percent called the technology too costly to implement. Some 21.5 percent of webinar participants said there's insufficient customer demand for RFOG-enabled services. And 15.9 percent said there's no need for the extra bandwidth that RFOG offers just yet.

What these poll numbers tell us is that many cable operators have strong interest in deploying RFOG pretty quickly. But, for a good number of others, the jury is still out. It will be interesting to see how many members of the latter group, if any, become converts to the RFOG cause down the line.

These results also tell us that many cable operators aren't sure yet whether they really need to go the all-fiber route. More than two thirds of respondents said they saw a lack of competitive urgency, consumer demand, or need as the greatest hurdle to deploying RFOG.

My hunch is that all these numbers will shift greatly by next fall, once the SCTE has completed its RFOG standard, cable operators have begun rolling out Docsis 3.0 en masse, and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) have further expanded their fiber networks. Then we'll truly see how quickly cable will put more fiber in its diet.

— Alan Breznick, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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12/5/2012 | 3:30:56 PM
re: Lifting the Fog on RFOG
There is a statement and even a poll question that RFOG offers extra bandwidth. This is incorrect. RFOG does not offer any extra bandwidth, it just provides a way for the cable upstream RF freq to be carried on PON networks as is. One would have to move to G/EPON or
other fiber technologies to get extra bandwidth.
RFOG is just a first evolutionary step for MSOs, preserving their investment in cable modem, CMTS, back office etc., while taking fiber to
the premises. But they will have to do somethign different than RFOG to realize the full bandwidth of fiber. This will happen when the competition changes and they are faced with bandwidth hungry apps (3d TV ??) that verizon and others with true FTTH technologies can support but not the MSOs ....
12/5/2012 | 3:30:55 PM
re: Lifting the Fog on RFOG
RFOG is just a way to provide copper-type services over expensive and impressive-looking fiber.

It was invented after the builders of luxury dwellings found that they could get people to pay more for places that had fiber-data connections. Never mind that what they get is no better than if they just had copper.

Cost of PON with performance of HFC. That's RFOG.
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