The Chief Architect of Slovenian telecoms technology provider Iskratel, Simon Cimzar, has warned that DOCSIS based Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) networks (e.g. Virgin Media) need to “look past the latest cable upgrades” (DOCSIS 3.1) and go directly to Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH/P).
At present most of Virgin Media’s network in the United Kingdom, which is being expanded to cover around 65% of premises by 2019, is based off EuroDOCSIS style HFC technology that mixes fibre optic cables and copper coax. The technology has done a good job of delivering ultrafast class broadband speeds and the forthcoming upgrade to DOCSIS 3.1 will continue to deliver plenty of future speed boosts.
By the end of 2019 Virgin Media expects its network to cover 17 million homes and businesses in the country, although around half of their current Project Lightning expansion (i.e. 2 million premises passed) will actually be delivered using Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTH/P) technology.
However Simon Cimzar argues that such operators should be doing more and thinking even longer term because they’re “only delaying the inevitable migration from DOCSIS 3.x to fibre.”
Simon Cimzar, Chief Architect for Iskratel, said:
“In the current market, cable operators are faced with an increasing number of competitors offering fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband services through gigabit-capable Passive Optical Networks (GPON). By using the DOSCIS 3.0 standard today, operators can theoretically offer gigabit services in the downstream, but find themselves limited by the upstream throughput it provides.
This leaves operators with the quandary of whether to remain with the standard coax network and upgrade to the newer DOCSIS 3.1 standard, or make the leap and become FTTH operators themselves.
The main question operators must ask themselves is whether the service disruptions of the move make changing from the coax network to a fiber-based solution unfeasible. There are many facets to this decision, but the business motivation is clear. Fiber deployments come at a lower Total Cost of Ownership [TCO] and provide a better return on the initial investment than DOCSIS 3.1, which can be migrated to at the same cost but requires further, continued investment.
Another important factor to bear in mind is the potential for symmetrical upload and download speeds that GPON offers – something which isn’t possible with cable. Once you take into account the higher ongoing maintenance costs, smaller range of services offered and disruptive migration to DOSCIS 3.1, it becomes clear that GPON provides an option that makes sense for businesses and end-users alike.
Customers’ perception is simple: fiber is the future. Cable operators are at a crucial juncture when it comes to network evolution and those who try to move forward without fiber may find themselves being left behind.”
Certainly there is some merit to Simon’s argument, particularly over the longer term, although Iskratel also has a vested interest in seeing more FTTH/P as that’s one of their main markets.
Meanwhile operators like Virgin Media are able to adopt DOCSIS 3.1 for comparatively little cost and over a fairly short period of time, which makes it an attractive upgrade for their network (expect to see some movement towards the end of 2017); they could even squeeze more out of EuroDOCSIS 3.0 if they really wanted.
Much may also depend on the different market dynamics of each country. Cable operators that exist in countries where other primary operators are adopting FTTH/P may feel more pressure to make the shift. By comparison Openreach (BT) seems to be firmly focused upon hybrid-fibre G.fast in the UK, which is something that Virgin Media can already beat with today’s network.
As usual there are also the familiar questions of consumer NEED vs DEMAND to consider and whether ultrafast upload speeds are really all that attractive to end-users. Marketing may well play a bigger role than practical need when it comes to service speed (i.e. mines faster than yours), at least for now.