We all know that demand for additional bandwidth and faster, more reliable broadband services is rising. Several factors are impacting bandwidth requirements, including an increase in working from home, a boom in video streaming consumption, and other digital lifestyle trends, such as gaming, that rely on an ultra-fast internet connection.
Meeting the latest demands for speed, reliability, resiliency, security, and quality of experience, while sustainably evolving networks, improving the total cost of ownership, and generating economic benefits, is critical for cable operators.
Today’s operators must enhance existing telecommunications and fiber networks as the scale and variety of demands continue to grow during the next decade. By deploying a multi-access, virtualized edge cloud approach to passive optical networks (PON), operators can extend network capabilities, boost the capacity and efficiency of their networks, and future-proof their networks while creating a foundation for next-gen broadband, including 10G. Precision PON, in particular, provides operators with optionality and significant capex and opex savings.
Exploring the benefits of PON
Deploying virtualized PON (vPON) as part of a cloud-native software architecture extends the value of existing DOCSIS network infrastructure, enabling operators to co-locate DOCSIS and PON access technologies on the same edge access node. Distributed Access Architecture (DAA) plays a significant role in this transformation by enabling operators to run most network functions in software and by creating a foundation for multiple access technologies. Providing operators with a unified platform for both DOCSIS and PON, DAA reduces time to market for new broadband offerings. A unified DAA approach for PON and DOCSIS also enables operators to use existing network infrastructure, back-office systems, and best-in-class components.
In addition, vPON enhances scalability, lowers total cost of ownership, and increases environmental sustainability. Virtualization and use of cloud-native technologies drastically reduce the amount of hardware required, which lowers equipment, power, cooling, and maintenance costs significantly. With cloud-native technology operators can leverage containerized microservices running in software containers deployed on off-the-shelf servers as opposed to purpose-built hardware, which simplifies testing, deployment, and upgrades.
The flexibility and versatility of a virtualized approach enables operators to find the best configurations to achieve operational goals. Often, this means using best-in-class options that are outside of any one vendor’s product portfolio. Virtualization combined with disaggregation empowers the operator to choose what works best for them, not what works best for the vendor. This best-in-class philosophy extends to the optical network unit/optical network terminal (ONU/ONT) as well because the vOLT module is a separate and distinct entity in the overall system. The addition of customized or proprietary provisioning methods is greatly simplified, which enables operators to maximize value out of existing network investments to reduce operational costs and avoid vendor lock-in.
Legacy centralized PON architectures that increase the risk of latency can be improved by virtualization and cloud-native technologies. Providing an exceptional quality of service and experience for subscribers is critical, and today’s consumers have come to expect low latency. Operators can address this issue through the use of edge cloud architectures that perform data transfers at the provider edge, away from the network core.
The benefits of vPON and edge cloud become stronger in multi-access applications, with a virtual CMTS running on the same platform. A vPON deployed on a virtualized multi-access cloud-native infrastructure offers improved operational capabilities including reduced latency and increased reliability, resilience, security, and flexibility. Being able to support multiple access technologies from a single, virtualized control platform also accelerates time to market, lowers opex, reduces operations and support team training, and simplifies maintenance. What used to be purpose-built platforms such as HFC/DAA fiber nodes now become instant points of presence for PON in addition to DOCSIS.
Furthermore, a virtualized, cloud-native approach provides operators with a future-proof, flexible architecture that makes it easy to perform software upgrades and redesign networks. Virtualization offers a smooth path toward adopting additional emerging technologies at the multi-access provider edge, including 10G.
The next evolution: Precision PON
The typical mindset for deploying PON today is to implement a completely passive network, with PON all the way from a centralized location out to subscribers. However, that outlook doesn’t take into account that most operators already have a well-established infrastructure that can be leveraged.
With a precision PON approach, operators can deploy PON only in areas where it is needed while using existing infrastructure (see the sidebar “Maximizing Precision PON for Fiber Deployments” below). DAA gives operators the flexibility to take on a targeted PON approach so that they can rapidly roll out new broadband offerings and solve opex and capex issues associated with building out complex infrastructure.
PON deployments are accelerating in the cable and telco markets. Dell’Oro Group reported a 32% year-over-year increase in PON equipment sales in 2021 (Figure 1). There are a variety of PON options today that leverage virtualization to support multiple access technologies on a single vertically scalable platform with off-the-shelf general-purpose compute platforms, eliminating significant space, power, and operational expenses.
Richard Rommes is vice president, access networks, solution and strategy at Harmonic.