The Network Technology Strategist

The Latest in SDN, NFV, DOCSIS, FTTH, and Carrier Ethernet

DOCSIS 3.1 Primer for the Technical Marketing Engineer and Business Development Manager

While preparing a technology and strategy briefing for senior management late last week, I needed to check my facts on some of the intricacies of DOCSIS 3.1 as compared to FTTH and previous DOCSIS standards such as DOCSIS 3.0. In cases like this, I find it helpful to have a source to cite in the event additional questions arise. After searching for awhile, I came across an excellent primer on each of the DOCSIS standards and the spectral parameters of each. This should come in handy to anyone working in a technical marketing engineering or business development capacity in the cable industry. Thank you to the SCTE San Diego Chapter for making this available!

DOCSIS 3.1 vs. PON for Cable MSOs – Three Key Takeaways from Last Week’s Panel at Cable Next Gen

Last week’s Cable Next Gen Event hosted by Light Reading in Denver was one of the best I have attended. Key stakeholders from several of the top 5 US Cable MSOs and international operator Liberty Global were on hand, and many provided valuable insights into the Cable Industry’s plans for gigabit services for the home and business. I served as a panelist on a panel entitled “Playing with PON: What’s Next for DOCSIS”, which featured John Dickinson of BrightHouse Networks, Robert Howald of Comcast, Joe Jensen of Block Communications, Joel Futterman of Iphotonix, and Shane Eleniak of Calix. The purpose of the panel was to discuss the tradeoffs between FTTH and DOCSIS and learn the challenges with implementing fiber-based access networks from the top domestic MSOs. In this post, I offer three key takeaways from our discussion last week and am happy to report that faster speeds are coming to a cable household near you.

Takeaway 1: Fiber is the Winner for the Greenfield

While much of the buzz around net-gen cable access initiatives is around upcoming DOCSIS 3.1 deployments, it was generally accepted on our panel that fiber is the best physical media to install in greenfield deployments. Fiber optics offer terabits of capacity with today’s technology and allow for separate high-speed residential and business networks to coexist on the same physical cable. John Dickinson, Vice President, Network Strategy and Architecture for Bright House Networks pointed out that 10 gigabit PON is available today and PON technology is expected to reach 25 gigabits per wavelength and upwards of 100 gigabits per PON in the near future. Many of the top cable MSOs prefer EPON to GPON technology citing interoperability among OLT and ONU vendors among the major reasons for their preference. With the above in mind, one semi-guaranteed way to enjoy blazing-fast fiber-based Internet access is to move to a new subdivision or MDU.

Arris CMTS platforms offer DOCSIS 3.1 functionality today.

Arris CMTS platforms offer DOCSIS 3.1 functionality today.

Takeaway 2: DOCSIS and HFC Technology are Here to Stay in the Brownfield

The nation’s top MSOs remain invested in their current HFC / Coax infrastructure in existing neighborhoods and MDUs. Upcoming DOCSIS 3.1 technology due out this year promises to increase the spectral efficiency in both directions on existing coax cable and allow for more spectrum to be bonded to create larger shared bandwidth. While existing DOCSIS 3.0 technology bonds channels 6MHz wide in the downstream, DOCSIS 3.1 removes the 6MHz incremental limit and allows for bonding of up to 192MHz wide channels to obtain a bandwidth pool of 1.8Gbps. If a complete 1GHz coax spectrum is available for data services and the upstream / downstream split is set at approximately 100MHz, it is possible to create a connection capable of 10Gbps downstream and 1Gbps upstream.

In addition to rolling out DOCSIS 3.1 en masse, Rob Howald of Comcast shared that his company is steering its plant upgrades to attain the goal of lower counts of subscribers per node and less amplifiers on each node. The net effect of this will mean more bandwidth shared among fewer subscribers and a higher speed available for each home.

Lastly, CableLabs recently shared its early findings on Full-Duplex DOCSIS which promises to eliminate the need for a split between forward and return path in the cable plant and offer symmetric, gigabit services. MSOs are tuned into the leading edge of this research but are careful to commit to timelines, testing, or deployments, as there are significant challenges in changing the plant’s attributes in this way.

3. Fiber Construction Costs are one of the main drawbacks to fiber everywhere

While most industry thought leaders agree that the overall performance of fiber optic cable is much better than coax or twisted pair, it remains costly to remove existing copper infrastructure and replace it with newer, faster fiber. Costs vary widely from $20 to up to $50 per meter of installed fiber in the outside plant. Factors influencing the cost include labor costs, rights of way, permitting and fees charged by local governments, equipment rental, and other costs associated with outdoor construction. In recent years, utility cables were buried in new construction instead of suspended from utility poles, which makes it more difficult to upgrade to fiber due to the need to dig. For this reason, many of the existing neighborhoods that are being upgraded to FTTH services are those with aerial plant.

To summarize, fiber offers terabits of bandwidth instead of gigabits provided by existing coax cable. FTTH technology such as 10-Gigabit EPON will be the next solution for the greenfield and in areas where competition and demand warrant it. While it’s difficult to say when all existing brownfield subdivisions will get fiber, cable MSOs remain committed to getting more life out of the existing coax and HFC plant. DOCSIS 3.1 and the emerging Full-Duplex DOCSIS offer the promise of gigabit services over this existing infrastructure. Lastly, fiber costs can be prohibitively expensive in many areas, especially the brownfield, and this is one key limiting factor to fiber everywhere. All things considered, 2016 holds significant promise for faster speeds and feeds for homes and businesses.

SCTE Expo 2015 Wrap Up: SDN, NFV Gain Momentum with MSOs. DOCSIS 3.1, EPON, and XGS-PON on the Horizon

The SCTE’s CableTec Expo wrapped up late last week in New Orleans, LA, and although cliche, it is safe to say that it proved to be one of the best cable technology shows in history. The cable industry is seeing remarkable growth in network demand, as a result of Moore’s Law bringing about better, faster, and cheaper devices and the advent of higher quality over the top content and apps available online. This increased demand is rallying the cable industry’s best and brightest to find ways to future-proof their networks and make services easier to provision, troubleshoot, and maintain. SDN, NFV, DOCSIS3.1, and FTTH technologies including EPON and XGS-PON all made the highlight reel last week as important tools to tackle the increasing demand in light of the slower increase in overall revenue.

SDN and NFV are Gaining Momentum in Cable

SDN and NFV have been a significant topic of discussion at several service providers over the last 18 months, and cable MSOs are now looking seriously at utilizing this new technology as a way to automate, improve OpEx, and reduce network complexity. Jeff Finkelstein, Executive Director of Network Strategy at Cox, said on a panel during the show that Cox is seeing a 53% growth in network demand each year, and that SDN and NFV is one of the only ways to effectively manage that demand (more here). He sighted bringing functionality into the core of the network from the access and subscriber edge as two areas of interest. The panel also discussed virtualization of residential gateways and cloud DVR as important objectives that will allow for reduced operational expenditures, easier troubleshooting, and additional service offerings. Craig Cowden of Bright House Networks indicated that his MSO has SDN technology in the lab this year, and is planning on rolling it out sometime in 2016.

DOCSIS 3.1 is on the Horizon

It’s no surprise that improved speeds and feeds facilitated by the next revision of DOCSIS technology was one of the

DOCSIS 3.1 technology enables gigabit service delivery to homes and businesses

highlights of the Expo. With gigabit services cropping up throughout telecommunications footprints worldwide, cable operators and vendors alike have been hard at work on the implementation of new technologies to offer competitive connectivity. Vendors displayed the latest DOCSIS 3.1 capable modems and CMTSs, which are scheduled to be available en masse sometime next year. DOCSIS 3.1 is the latest specification in an evolving suite of technologies that facilitate high speed Internet and data connectivity to homes and businesses and boasts up to 10 gigabits per second downstream and 1 gigabit per second upstream capacity. To fully realize these speeds, operators must make changes to the passive devices in their networks, including the optical nodes, filters, and splitters in their networks; a task that involves the significant use of human capital and will likely cause service interruption during the upgrade process.

EPON, XGS-PON Emerging as viable alternative to DOCSIS 3.1 upgrades

In addition to the DOCSIS 3.1 fanfare, several access vendors showcased the latest in FTTH technology at the CableTec Expo last week. Speeds from 1 to 10 Gbps downstream and 1 to 10 Gbps upstream were demonstrated on the floor by technologies including EPON and FSAN’s latest, XGS-PON . Deployment of Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) technology offers MSOs the flexibility to upgrade their network to a more future-proof medium without impacting existing subscribers. The downside of deploying FTTH comes in the construction costs associated with bringing fiber to each home in a neighborhood or the entire footprint. However, many cable operators are exploring plans to deploy fiber in new developments and in areas where demand justifies its use. Because many MSOs already have fiber to nodes in each neighborhood, commonly known as a hybrid fiber-coax network (HFC), the use of wavelength multiplexing technologies such as CWDM or DWDM, and other fiber management tools allow them to deploy fiber access without completely overbuilding their footprint.

To conclude, increased network demand is driving a transformation in cable, and the industry came together last week in New Orleans to share ideas, strategies, and tools for rising to the challenge. SDN and NFV will simplify the edge, reduce OpEx, and automate delivery of new service offerings. DOCSIS 3.1 and FTTH technologies such as EPON, GPON, and XGS-PON will compete for network upgrade dollars in 2016, and each offer their own benefits and drawbacks. With the above in mind, it is always great to see our industry’s best minds come together and collaborate on ways to offer better services for the consumer.

New Post on ADTRAN Blog – 3 Solutions Service Providers are Using in Next-Gen Networks

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on my personal blog, as I’ve been spending considerable time blogging at Here’s my latest post:

How To Make Stronger Technical Sales Presentations

Let’s face it – technologies such as FTTx, SDN and NFV, Carrier Ethernet, the Internet of Things, and others are making our newest products more complex. Whether you’re a director of systems engineering, business development, sales, or product management,  if your role involves doing technical product presentations, product demonstrations, webinars, or other new product positioning activities, it’s always good to hone your presentation skills once in awhile. While attending a sales meeting a few years ago, a colleague presented a seminar on presentation skills and referenced The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo, and I referred to it today while reviewing one of my presentations. Amazon has it here in all formats – even audio for those who learn by listening more than reading. Whether you’re a PC enthusiast or an Apple fan, Steve Jobs knew how to capture an audience and position Apple’s products. I’ve used the advice in this book for years, and highly recommend it for anyone making technical presentations.

The Intersection of SDN and NFV from a Service Provider’s Perspective

This post on summarizes the intersection of SDN and NFV with topology diagrams and examples from presentations by AT&T at the NFV World Congress Event this month. Automation in service delivery and integration with existing billing and back office systems remain key selling points for SDN and NFV with service providers. It’s becoming apparent that a hierarchy of controller and orchestration functions will be necessary to implement an SDN and / or NFV enabled network across a carrier’s footprint. Examples of these include local and global SDN controllers that manage connectivity and cloud orchestrators that manage compute resource allocation.

3 Important NG-PON2 Facts

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Residential and business broadband demand is increasing. Cisco Visual Networking Index estimates that global Internet traffic increased by 30% in graph of global Internet traffic increasing to 140 exabytes by 20162014 to 77 exabytes and is expected to exceed 100 exabytes in 2016. The largest contributor to this increasing figure is video content, which makes up more than half of the traffic being consumed on the Internet. As video consumption and total Internet traffic rises, even current fiber technologies such as GPON will not be able to keep up with the increased demand. Luckily, the Full Service Access Network (FSAN) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) are rising to the challenge by firming up their standards on NG-PON2, which promises speeds over 10x that of current PON technologies. This post reveals three exciting characteristics of this emerging access technology.

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The Best WiFi Solution for Your Business

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With bring your own device (BYOD) becoming the norm in many businesses and more WiFi-only devices being introduced by the day, your WiFi network is likely in need of an upgrade. Check out my post on ADTRAN’s blog for 5 must-have features for your next enterprise WiFi solution.

NFV Report from SDxCentral

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I ran across an excellent report on NFV from my friends at SDxCentral today. It contains a great overview of NFV and discusses solutions from some of the current vendors in the NFV space. You can download your copy here: 

What is Software Defined Networking (SDN)?

SDXCentral has a great article on the definition of SDN. Check it out here.

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