Strategies to transform the network in the Gigabit era

This moment in network transformation is a tale of two cities in one rapidly-changing market: legacy copper — sometimes over 100 years old and built at a time when telephony was its singular purpose — facing focused, necessary leaps to all-fiber; and the younger, robust HFC plant built for video broadcast and revolutionized by DOCSIS, facing rapidly decrementing length to make use of higher frequencies and deliver faster speeds.

Cate McNaught

Cate McNaught

Regardless of architecture, all operators in the industry are at an inflection point.

Decision-makers with vision and an eye on operating expenditures are pursuing sustainable network transformation that grows their leadership position in a rapidly evolving market. Given the wide range of options and the scale of investment at stake in this upgrade cycle, the network architects at Corning believe that now is the opportunity for leaders in the industry to challenge their teams, stakeholders and advisers to expand their comfort zones.

As industry leaders explore network transformation in the context of their individual business models, here are three considerations to bear in mind:

• Evolving Connected Experiences Create Converged Opportunities: Today, most operators structure their businesses around functional service silos: content, residential, business and wireless. Given wireless densification, upcoming opportunities in CBRS spectrum, continued proliferation of WiFi access points, mobile virtual network operator structures and the revenue opportunities in business and residential services, a combined approach to building target service areas is too worthwhile to ignore.

Cable operators are considering the competitive power of a converged investment in the outside plant, understanding that capital (including labor) invested in scalable infrastructure can more advantageously serve the MSO when applied to a single, multi-use network rather than to multiple, purpose-built networks within a common service area.

• More and More Homes Passed Is a Long-Term, Worthwhile Transformation: Many architectures supporting node+0, remote PHY, and full-duplex DOCSIS place the node within a few thousand feet of residences, shrinking service areas from 500 or 1000-plus homes to 100 homes or fewer per child node. With child node proximity to homes, and costs between a few to several hundred dollars per home, a cost comparison to fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) buildouts is both relevant and timely. National average, past actual costs to pass homes with fiber are at a $700 homes passed benchmark and continue to decrease due to economies of scale and the labor-reducing efficiencies of integrated optical solutions. With comparable first-installed costs, the advantaged opex for fiber networks, and with the maturation of linear internet protocol TV offerings, MSOs now have line of sight to a compelling FTTH business case even in overbuild environments.

Moreover, an installed base of traditional, robust node+x plant can enable MSOs to strategically invest in scalable infrastructure rather than largescale overbuilds. Two such examples are converged optical plant investment in select markets, and residential FTTH designed around small-node service areas that ease the operational lift and offer greater total cost efficiencies as compared to historical mass-overbuild architectures.

• Today’s Choices Impact Tomorrow’s Potential — and Costs: When Hurricane Sandy tore through the Northeast, service areas around entire central offices had to be rebuilt. Rather than spend regrettably and brace themselves to repeat the cycle with the next big storm, operators replaced legacy copper with a fully passive, optical plant. The results have been a proof point for the industry, with the new networks being 70% to 90% more reliable, consuming 40% to 60% percent less energy, and ultimately delivering annual operational savings of nearly 60% since that transformation.

Opex considerations are significant contributors to the long-term value of optical transformation. Perhaps the FTTH ROI — better still, a converged optical access ROI — is shorter than once believed and within this upgrade cycle for specific service area demographics. Collaboration that both challenges conventional perspective and delivers scale may be of far greater value than in years past, and can offer alternatives that may just bring a far greater return.

Cate McNaught is emerging applications market development manager at Corning Optical Communications. For the full version of this article, go to