Video services such as IPTV/OTT, livestreaming and online education have become basic services in recent years. Some new services like virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR), cloud gaming, and cloud service have also witnessed considerable development, posing higher bandwidth requirements for networks. Since a VR channel consumes around 150–300 Mbps of bandwidth, the network needs to provide at least 500 Mbps of bandwidth. Moreover, the COVID pandemic has brought drastic changes to people's lives and spurred a surge in bandwidth demand. As people seek to enjoy services like online education, teleworking and home entertainment, high bandwidth in the home will stay on their list of needs. Both the rapid growth of video services and the pandemic-induced change in user behavior have prompted telecom operators to upgrade their networks to gigabit speeds. Under this situation, multi-service operators (MSOs) are facing increasingly serious challenges.
First, the bandwidth offered by cable networks is insufficient, and the roadmap of data over cable service interface specification (DOCSIS) is unclear. Due to the limitations of transmission media and the inadequacy of shared spectrum resources, cable networks have limited room for bandwidth improvement, and the broadband services they deliver are asymmetric. In the future, the insufficiency of upstream bandwidth resources will become ever more prominent. Moreover, the evolution path of DOCSIS is less clear than that of passive optical network (PON), and DOCSIS obviously lags behind PON in commercial deployment under the same bandwidth conditions. For example, the 10-gigabit-capable symmetric passive optical network (XGS-PON) technology has been commercially deployed on a large scale, while the similar DOCSIS 4.0 standard was officially released in March 2020 and has recorded just a few deployments.
Second, MSOs are confronted with the aging of coaxial cables. As the transmission medium of cable networks, coaxial cables usually have a service life of only 30 years, and their aging will affect bandwidth provision and service quality.
Third, MSOs have to deal with the pressure from telecom operators and OTT providers. Because of their network architecture and technical foundation, cable networks cannot meet diverse and flexible user requirements for ultra high definition (UHD) video services such as 4K, 8K and VR. The cable TV (CATV) service, which has poor interactivity, is facing pressure from IP-based streaming services. As IPTV is breaking the monopoly of cable service and OTT is leading the trend of service development, the traditional video service of MSOs is under intense competitive pressure.
Fourth, cable networks incur high operation and maintenance (O&M) costs and have a closed ecosystem. A cable network contains a large number of active devices. Because the devices have to be powered and maintained, they push up the operational expenditure (OPEX) for the MSO as time goes by. Furthermore, the cable modem termination system (CMTS) industry chain is controlled by a handful of manufacturers, resulting in high equipment costs.
Fiber Transformation: A Clear Trend for MSOs
In contrast to the sluggish growth of coaxial networks, optical networks are developing explosively. Fiber-to-the-anything (FTTx) networks represented by PON have been massively deployed worldwide over the past decade. By the end of 2020, there were already more than 700 million fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) users across the world, accounting for nearly 60% of the fixed broadband (FBB) customer base.
Many countries have made optical network construction a priority of their ultra-broadband initiatives. The British government plans to achieve national FTTH coverage in 2033. The ultra-broadband initiative of Italy explicitly states that optical networks are the strategic solution for realizing 100 Mbps connections. The recently unveiled Digital Europe programme designates fiber infrastructure as a funding priority of the European Union (EU) post-pandemic in a bid to advance the digital transformation of the continent. These national and regional policies are expected to create tremendous opportunities for MSOs to carry out fiber transformation.
Some leading MSOs have started FTTx deployments and operations, with more MSOs projected to get in on the act over time.
Accelerating Fiber Transformation to Save TCO
Whether used in a brownfield or greenfield deployment, PON substantially cuts the five-year total cost of ownership (TCO) of the network compared to DOCSIS.
—Brownfield deployment: MSOs can fully reuse existing resources including pipes and fibers to reduce the engineering workload. They can replace the coaxial cables with fibers in the user section, the CMTS with an optical line terminal (OLT) at the central office (CO), and the cable modems (CMs) with optical network units (ONUs) at the customer premises network (CPN) side (Fig. 1). After the upgrade, active components such as amplifiers are no longer needed, which effectively simplifies the network architecture and alleviates the O&M pressure.
The FTTH network features a simple architecture and uses a point to multipoint (P2MP) topology, thereby significantly saving feeder fibers and slashing network construction costs. Additionally, the FTTH network supports smooth evolution and can protect operators' initial investments.
Helping MSOs with End-to-End Fiber Transformation
ZTE has been working in the optical access field for over 20 years. Committed to bandwidth acceleration and application innovation, ZTE continues to lead the development and commercialization of optical access technologies. Its leading end-to-end optical access products and solutions help operators deploy premium FTTx networks efficiently and cost-effectively. In the optical access space, ZTE has served in excess of 270 operators in over 100 countries, ranking second globally for shipments.
To enable brownfield deployments, ZTE provides industry-leading optical access products and solutions to help MSOs conduct fiber transformation end-to-end from the CO to the optical distribution network (ODN) and to the home (Fig. 2).
At the CO
ZTE offers TITAN, a future-proof flagship optical access platform that adopts a fully distributed high-end router architecture and has the industry's highest slot bandwidth and largest switching capacity. By supporting the three generations of PON technologies (GPON/10G PON/50G PON) on one platform and the two technical standards (GPON/10G PON) on one card, TITAN enables smooth evolution and protects operator investments.
ZTE's innovative wavelength-division dual-channel Combo PON solution integrates three PON technologies into one card. Compared with the traditional way of using an external optical multiplexer (also called a WDM1r) to upgrade the network, the Combo PON solution saves equipment room space
by 60% and does not require extra equipment or change the existing ODN and optical power budget. One Combo PON module can simultaneously connect to three types of ONUs. As the network evolves, the OLT does not have to be changed and only ONUs are upgraded as needed. Thanks to these advantages, the Combo PON solution is recognized by the industry as the best choice for smooth evolution to 10G PON.
In the Home
ZTE's mesh Wi-Fi networking solution enables seamless coverage for home networks. The solution provides 1+N multi-access point (AP) networking and supports self-healing to enhance network robustness. Users can enjoy wireless connectivity at speeds from 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps anytime and anywhere in the home. Ten-millisecond level smart roaming meets the latency requirements of video and online gaming, ensuring uninterrupted services while the user is moving and hence markedly improving user experience. The solution supports flexible O&M through the TR-069 protocol, a smartphone app, or a local Web GUI.
ZTE offers a series of EasyMesh-certified customer premises equipment (CPE) that can network with CPEs of other vendors on a plug-and-play basis.
In the Outside Plant
ZTE provides a pre-connectorized ODN solution that includes a family of pre-connectorized boxes for indoor and outdoor optical nodes as well as prefabricated optical cables. In replacement of traditional complicated fiber fusion splicing, the innovative connection of pre-fabricated optical cables makes fiber splicing easier and improves construction efficiency. This solution also boasts the industry's first pre-connectorized connectors that support blind insertion and self-lock. Thanks to its modular design, the solution offers all-weather deployment and ensures easier operations and more flexible networking.
ZTE has more than 15 years of expertise in the ODN sector and rich experience in turnkey project implementation. It has deployed ODNs in 50-plus countries and regions, with the total home pass (HP) exceeding 20 million.
ZTE's fiber transformation solutions have been commercially deployed by multiple MSOs to assist them in getting a head start amid a wave of fiber-based network modernizations. In the optical access area, ZTE will continue to bolster foundational capabilities, focus on customer requirements and help operators build a competitive edge to achieve business success.