The cable industry has a curious relationship with coaxial cable. For years, it represented the key advantage operators held over telcos. More recently Verizon, AT&T and other small telcos have moved beyond their low-capacity copper and begun leapfrogging coax with fiber-based projects such as FiOS and U-verse and other fiber-deep architectures.
Cable’s great coax advantage is threatening to become a liability. One answer is to match the telcos’ fiber. (DOCSIS 3.0, of course, is another.) While there is nothing new about the idea of pushing fiber deeper, the economics of planting opto-electrical devices deep enough to have the desired impact has proven elusive.
CA-based Alloptic is one of several vendors playing in cable’s optical access space. The company’s micro-node approach brings the basic premise of passive optical networking to cable by replacing the node with a splitter. Optical signals are sent to micro-nodes attached to homes or buildings. There that the signals are converted from light to electricity (or vice versa on the upstream).
Communications Technology recently spoke with Tom Anderson, Alloptic’s director of product marketing, and Shane Eleniakvice, president of marketing and business development. The following is an edited transcript. CT: A big part of the pitch is cost savings. Can you describe where these are?
Shane Eleniak: There is saving in [several] different areas. There is saving in installation costs, materials and labor, operational cost and there is the revenue enhancement piece.
Tom Anderson: We are seeing installation cost decreases of 25 of 40 percent. It’s cheaper because of the cost of aluminum and coax are going up. [And there is the elimination of] amps. Fiber costs are going down. The material and labor costs are fuzzier because there are a lot of different network elements involved. The only active electronics are the micro-node, the low cost optical-to-electrical devices on the side of the house.
There are operational cost savings in a couple of places. [This approach] removes the active electronics from field, so there is no CLI testing. There is no powering so you don’t have to maintain batteries, which must be replaced every three years and tested every year. It is 80 percent less expensive to maintain fiber than coax because fiber is more reliable.
CT: So, at the end of the day, how much are operators saving?
Anderson: In most deployments we project a 25 to 30 percent overall cost savings.
CT: What makes the system viable?
Eleniak: It’s the burst-mode nature of the micro-node device. We have 32 devices on the same fiber. When one of them sees RF from the set top box or the modem, it has to turn on and off very quickly, with a nice signal-to-noise ratio. It has to do so in a small footprint and very economically.
CT: This sounds like a passive optical network (PON) used by the phone industry. Is it?
Eleniak: This is not a PON. It is a PON-type of architecture, but it does not use any of those protocols. We use the DOCSIS protocols, so it’s transparent. PON has come to mean something else, which includes network electronics that get the signal on the fiber, then the corresponding PON box at the end. The micro-node is an optical to RF converter. [True PON] is much more complex. A micro-node changes optical energy to RF energy, and RF energy to optical energy. It’s [just] sitting there doing media conversions.
CT: What impact does this have on network management?
Eleniak: It leverages DOCSIS between the headend and the STB. That’s where most of the management is done. The device is smart enough to interrogate and respond to a loss of power.
CT: Have you made any rollout announcements?
Eleniak: We announced two in tier two, Armstrong and Bend. There are a dozen we haven’t announced. We will announce a tier 1 MSO late this year, early next year.
CT: What types of lasers are you using?
Eleniak: A couple. We use 1550 nanometer down and 1310 up. We also use 1550 nanometers down and 1590 upstream, which allows you to free up 1490 and 1310 for more business services. That’s the more popular approach. It enables you to use Gigabit Ethernet PON equipment for business services or for cellular backhaul.
CT: Is this approached optimized for a particular density of premises?
Eleniak: It does not lean one way or another. This is leveraging the fact that the cost of fiber is very flat and linear. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a long thin or [dense and] short route.