In case you haven't noticed, cable operators just can't get their hands on enough fiber strands these days.
Even though most cable engineers keep insisting that the industry's hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) pipes still have long, productive lives ahead of them, operators are scrambling to install more fiber in their networks for a whole host of well-documented reasons.
Whether they're planning to go all-fiber like Altice USA , Fiber Deep like Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. and Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) or just split more fiber-optical nodes like many others, cablecos are investing in fiber to offer more bandwidth to subscribers, remove amplifiers and other active electronic devices from their networks, leverage advanced PON technology, support new wireless services like 5G, deliver such advanced video services as 4K/UHD TV, and/or cut operational costs, among other things.
But what's not so well known is what cable operators are already doing with fiber, how they aim to go about adding more of it to their plant and what they actually intend to use all that extra fiber for. While several major operators have disclosed their broad intentions, the industry's overall fiber deployment strategy has not been spelled out in much detail.
Further, there has been relatively little discussion about how operators plan to carry out their fiber buildout plans in conjunction with the industry's other key technological and architectural initiatives, such as the deployment of DOCSIS 3.1, Full Duplex DOCSIS, coherent optics and PON, the shift to Distributed Access Architecture (DAA), the virtualization of network functions and the rollout of 5G wireless and small cells. Nor has there been much talk about the challenges that cable operators face in installing, testing, monitoring and managing all their new fiber links.
Now, in a new report produced in partnership with SCTE/ISBE, Light Reading's research arm, Heavy Reading, has come up with the answers to these and many other critical questions. Based on the results of a comprehensive online survey of 310 industry executives worldwide, the report, Cable's Fiber Outlook Survey Report, looks at what is fueling cable's fiber-feeding frenzy and examines what it all means. The report -– sponsored by Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN), Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) -- also homes in on the challenges that cablecos are struggling to overcome as they strive to add more fiber to their diets.
The findings make it clear that cable operators have no intention of ceding the fiber advantage to the telcos and other rivals. In fact, nearly 87% of respondents said their company has already started extending fiber deeper into the access network or plans to start doing so by the end of this year. Just as notably, over one third of respondents (nearly 36%) said their company aims to go all the way to a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) architecture, while another 29% said their company will go to a node-plus-zero (N+0) architecture.
As the report shows, cable operators plan to use those fiber lines to deliver a plethora of new and more advanced services to subscribers. In a bit of a surprise given the industry's recent de-emphasis of video service, 4K/8K video heads the list, with about two thirds of respondents (66%) choosing it. More predictably, 5G mobile backhaul is a close second, with 64% of respondents clicking that choice. The Internet of Things (IoT) also scored well, with a 51% score.
But cablecos know this all won't come easy. In the survey, respondents ranked fiber availability and cost as easily the top challenges facing cable operators seeking to boost the fiber capacity of their HFC networks. Network design and the coordination of multiple fiber providers also ranked high on the scale of hurdles.
Nevertheless, the cable industry's long-awaited transition from HFC to FTTx has clearly started in earnest. How fast and how far that transition will go are still open to question, especially given all the hurdles that must still be overcome. But cable's fiber outlook is clearly looking bright right now.
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading