The proliferation of bandwidth-intensive services brings challenges and opportunities to the PON market. At the FSAN/ITU-T joint meeting hosted by ZTE in Shanghai, Mr. Peter Dawes, Co-chair of the NG-PON Task Group at FSAN and Standards Strategist at the Vodafone Group, chatted with us about the evolution of the PON industry, saying that it should be the aim of this group and the PON industry in general to provide as much bandwidth at the lowest cost as possible.
What's your perception of the current PON market?
If you listen to the FSAN operators at this meeting, I would say that the PON market is very healthy. Everybody seems to be seeing good growth in customer base and data usage. I think especially over the last two years, there’s been a realization that copper is not the right solution for many kinds of deployments going forward. Fiber is usually the best answer for access. I think there is a bright future for PON technology. We’ve even seen some companies like Google get interested in PON and some companies that might have paused their deployments and are now looking to the future with new deployments.
What are the goals of the NG-PON Task Group?
The NG-PON Task Group is a collection of worldwide PON experts. We are lucky to have a concentration of experts from all over the world, including operators, system vendors like ZTE, and component vendors. The goal of the group is to try to produce standards and technologies that will grow the PON market and fit a lot of worldwide applications. We have operator sessions and vendor sessions, which means we do have a good focus on the requirements and a good understanding of how the market is growing and what subscribers are doing.
What topics are being discussed in the Task Group?
The main topics we have been discussing in 2017 and will continue into 2018 include enhancing currently defined technologies and building on what we’ve done before (enhancing the capacity and peak rate). That’s the first thing.
There are some specific areas that we are focused on. For the recently standardized NG-PON2, we are looking at ways to help it become a real product in the market, ways to focus on some of the options and standards so the initial products don’t have to support a wide variety of things that aren’t going to be used straight away, and also ways to enhance single wavelength capability.
Then some other new application areas have come into focus last year (2016), such as 5G radio. Everybody is thinking that 5G standards will be finished soon. Virtualization is also another topic of interest to operators. The question is how access technology might support operators’ programs to virtualize their networks.
Behind all of this, I guess everybody is aware that there are two big PON standard bodies: ITU and IEEE. In the background, the groups are looking for opportunities to converge the two to do things the same way and solve the same problems.
What does FSAN's roadmap mean to you as NG-PON co-chair?
We've probably spent a year discussing the roadmap. Although it is just one page for standards, it is an important symbol of where we’re heading and a signal to the industry.
If you look at the main path of the roadmap, it is to enhance the standardized technology. It doesn’t mean defining something that’s very similar. What it means is working on the same outside deployed networks and the same fiber in the ground, making sure that when you have ways to migrate you still support your old technologies so you don’t need to throw them away and completely change what you are doing.
If you look at the end of the main path, there is a kind of realization that perhaps we should look at radically new ways of doing things in 2021. Maybe just incrementally improving what we’ve done before doesn’t get the step change in performance that we need. So there is a realization that we can look into research on those kinds of things for the far future.
Another part of the roadmap is alternative ODNs. We acknowledge that PON technologies, which were originally thought of as fiber at home and fiber at businesses, can have other applications like radio backhaul for mobile. In those cases, you might not want the same fiber, layout and deployment as you would for homes for example.
Then we have a bar of industry trends that mention virtualization, Internet of Things, and 5G, which you should have in the back of your mind when you plan the enhancements for PON just to give it the widest application as possible.
Is the industry moving fast enough to meet the ever-increasing demands for bandwidth?
Every operator is seeing a big increase in data usage and I think it should be the aim of this group and the PON industry in general to provide as much bandwidth at the lowest cost as possible, because if you provide it, it will get used. We cannot lose focus on continuous improvements. I think once you provide that bandwidth, you will see some big changes in the market and in the ways people behave. I mean I don’t know if video streaming like Netflix would have become possible until you provide the broadband capacity. I think it’s really up to groups like this to keep the growth going on these broadband products.
What do you think the industry can do to ensure its success?
I think the important thing for FSAN and the industry as a whole is to keep the dialogue going between what the customers are using, what the subscribers need, and what the technologies can provide, and to try to give them the best solution for the future. That really should be the aim of the group.
In terms of meeting future demands, I think everybody realizes that mobile and mobile data is a big source of future growth. We need to make sure that we look at the mobile data part of the market. I think another emerging issue is making the best use of feeder fibers. We have lots of fiber deployed already. As data grows it’ll become heavily used, and rather than putting more fiber in the ground, we can focus on ways to maximize the use of what we have and put as much data as we can on each fiber. I think that will help with that problem.
When do you think we will see the tipping point for transition to another generation of PON?
There are two ways of looking at that. One is the tipping point between current technologies we are deploying and one is which has been standardized but hasn't been deployed in volume. So we're looking forward to making NG-PON2 a success in the market. I think probably the tipping point for NG-PON2 will be new high-speed applications. I think it has a place in the residential market, and other opportunities for deployment of that technology include mobile radio and more symmetrical business services. For the next-generation PON technology, you know that’s kind of crystal ball gazing into the future. It’s difficult to predict what new services might drive that one. That's hard to say.
As the fastest growing broadband operator in Europe, what is Vodafone's view on optical access technologies?
Vodafone is known as a mobile network operator. We have mobile networks in 23 countries. In 16 of those, we have fixed broadband products. So we're a big fixed broadband provider and in fact it’s nearly a quarter of our revenues.
We're doing a lot of new fiber rollouts, and we’re focusing on providing what is known as the next-generation access in our broadband markets. We already have an offering of 1 Gbps in several countries (New Zealand, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland). So the next-generation high-speed access service is important to Vodafone.
We also need the access technologies to support the general quality of services from end to end. They are just one link in the chain so we need to look from the customer end through the core network. The fiber access in some cases is running ahead in performance in some of the other parts of the network. So we need to build the whole end-to end experience for the customers.
What are we going to see in terms of optical access in the EMEA region?
Those are the kinds of areas of the world where we operate; in Europe, in Africa, and we have a network in Qatar. Our default plan is to provide fiber where we can. That’s our aim—as far as possible and sensible to put fiber to the user and that’s what we do in all of those regions. And we have a variety of ways of doing that and a variety of investment styles. We try to be creative to give that kind of capability to as many people as possible. We may do joint ventures like we did in Ireland, Spain and Portugal, do a complete new-build ourselves or do wholesale for the people. But in all cases we are trying to focus on fiber solutions.
How would you describe ZTE as a partner?
As the co-chair of the NG-PON group, it's very good to see that ZTE has a very active participation in FSAN. It's nice to see the same people and the same team turning up to the meeting so you can get to know them and carry the topics over from meeting to meeting. ZTE is one of those companies that does that. ZTE is a very active contributor. The contribution of your company and the focus on answering the call for contribution questions means we always get very focused feedback.
That's also very helpful because it's easy to interpret the answers into what the operators want to know. I would mention that the delegates must have been very good in school exams because they always answer the topics exactly. It’s also useful that ZTE is active in the 3GPP world. Your delegates are there as well.
How could ZTE best support FSAN operators' requirements?
Keep doing what you are doing. But stay approachable, keep in touch and keep communicating. I think that's really important. The better understanding that both sides (operators and vendors) have, the better results you get. The operators have good visibility of the customer trends. We know what we are deploying. But the system vendors have much better ideas for what’s practical and the new technology ideas coming into the market and they can inform the operators in those directions. So I would say, keep two-way communication going. Let both sides stick to their expertise.
What are some of your most notable experiences at this event?
Since I first came to China in 2006, I've been to Shanghai a few times. Every time I come here I've seen new buildings and new areas. It's been another successful trip. It's great to have these facilities and the meeting organization hosts providing everything. Excellent!
FSAN, PON, NG-PON, ODN