The Road to Gigabit Networks Accelerates

Moving to Gigabit Gigabit per second networking is moving from the land of press releases to real world deployments.

A good example is Atlantic Broadband, which publicly announced a small ongoing project in the upscale Miami community of Indian Creek Village. CTO Almis Kuolas said the MSO is offering symmetrical 1 Gbps services to a small number of homes.

Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Rich Shea said the basic concept - RF over glass (RFOG) for video and voice services with a Gigabit Ethernet overlay for data - is not the least expensive approach. It is ready, however, while DOCSIS 3.1 still is in the development phase. More announcements using the Indian Creek Village approach may be made within months, Shea said.

The project involves only 34 homes, each of which belongs to very rich people. It is, however, a sign of the pressure that cable operators are under as Google Fiber and telephone companies - smaller carriers as well as Verizon, AT&T and other big players - seek to encroach on their territory and gain first-mover advantages in advanced telecommunications services. It is clear that the industry clearly is pushing DOCSIS 3.1 development faster than any major new standard in its history. At least in the case of Atlantic Broadband, that seems not to have been quite fast enough.

Vendors see that the industry is thinking ahead. “I think what’s happening is that 1 Gbps will become the benchmark in 2015,” said Todd McCrum, the director of business development for Cisco’s (NASDAQ:CSCO) cable access business unit. “Now we see 100 meg, 300 meg and even 500 meg [and are] now seeing some companies migrating to Gigabit.”

At the SCTE's Cable-Tec Expo in Denver last week, Cisco announced its response to the Federal Communications Commission's “Gigabit City Challenge,” which aims to have at least one gigabit-per-second city in every state by next year. The company introduced a 6 Gigabit Share Port Adapter (SPA), which is a software upgrade of its 3G SPA line card. This is the flagship for Cisco’s uBR10012 Universal Port Router. The upgrade, according to the company, will enable operators to offer Gigabit services without infrastructure upgrades.

Els Baert, a product marketing manager for Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU), painted a picture of cable operators being pushed by competitors to see the future - even if that includes the end of HFC as the industry’s main infrastructural approach. The company has an announced ongoing 1 Gbps project with Bright House Networks and three others that have not been announced.

The displacement of HFC in favor of passive optical networking (PON) and other deep fiber approaches had already has taken root in commercial services and greenfield environments.

Baert said RFoG and, if operators settle on Ethernet PON, DOCSIS Provisioning over EPON (DPoE) will enable cable operators to maintain existing signaling and management tools for their operational support systems, business support systems (OSS/BSS) and other increasingly interconnected back office functions that are customized to HFC platforms.

It increasingly is evident - in the products offered and probably in long-term roadmaps - that the distinctions between HFC and fiber approaches will fade away and the platform of the future will feature ever-deeper glass for all users. This transition will be accelerated by the competition and the fact that commercial services divisions are going after bigger businesses more likely to demand fiber.

The bottom line is that the trip down the road to fiber is moving quickly. “We see a lot of MSOs already deploying EPON for quote some years,” Baert said. “Now with DPoE becoming standardized a year or a year-and-a-half ago, it is picking up more quickly.”

Last week, Time Warner Cable (NYSE:TWC) Business Class announced a number of upgrades and enhancements to its services, including nationwide backbone service, a customer management portal, more speed tiers and the availability of managed Ethernet services.

The announcements didn’t directly focus on the upper end speeds available from TWC Business Class, though it made higher speeds available in more places. However, Satyanarayana Parimi, the company's group vice president for commercial services, said 100 Mbps is “the new 10 megs on Ethernet right now.” The company is seeing increased interest in 1 Gbps services.

“It is strong in a few verticals, such as government, healthcare and education,” Parimi said. “In healthcare, we are seeing 1 gigabit jump in requests in the last couple of years because of the digitization of medical records.”

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