Make no mistake, if you offer a 1 Gigabit-per-second symmetric broadband service you had better be able to deliver the goods. Even with the average usage per broadband* user today sitting at only around 2Mbps levels, a Gigabit Broadband ‘Killer app” still exists – the broadband speed test! Most new Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) networks can handle this widely used application, having the available access capacity to support the burst to Gigabit while supporting average user bandwidth.
While progressive service providers across the U.S. have begun deploying Gigabit broadband service, many of these advanced FTTH networks do not have the dedicated Gigabit links to each home. In fact, many industry analysts were surprised to hear that most larger Gigabit Broadband players are using the fiber sharing GPON technology and not point to point (P2P) Ethernet FTTH technology. The surprise is warranted as P2P, sometimes referred to as Active Ethernet, supports a dedicated fiber and full Gigabit to each user (or at least in the last mile) while GPON supports 2.5Gbps per ‘PON’ port shared by 16 or 32 users to download content (and only half that capacity for uploading files). 64 customer ‘splits’, as they call it, is used as well, but generally only if you are selling lower speed broadband.
The PON connection is currently more than enough to support the typical U.S. home which consumes over 100 times less than a single connection allows. This may even support the steep broadband usage growth curve currently being driven by over-the-top (OTT) services, like Netflix and Hulu. If broadband utilization growth does continue at the yearly rate we have seen for the last 10 years (~40%) it will take 10 years (~47Mbps average peak load) until a 2.5Gbps GPON port can no longer support a Gigabit speed test. The FTTH network could tap out in less than 5 years if an older, less developed GPON platform/network was deployed.
So why is this important? When the next wave of broadband applications—including medical devices, 3D printing, cloud-based gaming, virtual reality, etc.— reach critical mass, the network capacity will surely be tapped out. If service providers don’t prepare their network via upgrades, the life of their fiber assets may be limited.
This lack of development is akin to a highway having extra traffic lanes only part way between major interchanges. This accelerated obsolescence results from the inability to funnel any more than half of the 2.5Gbps per PON traffic into the cloud. Many Gigabit service providers reduce the customer split from 32 to 16 to accommodate higher service rates, but that generally buys you only another couple of years at 40% growth rate before around 100Mbps per user redlines the FTTH GPON platform. Next generation 10G PON technologies will be rolled out in the coming years that will extend the PON exhaustion date twice as far as today’s most robust GPON platforms. That is what 10G versus 2.5G per PON will get you – 1.5-2x the life expectancy. 5 to 10 more years of growth–up until 500Mbps per user on average is consumed during peak times – will exhaust a NGPON2 10G PON port somewhere near 2030. Indeed this likely won’t happen everywhere but is will happen in many places.
Now please realize that we have only been discussing the FTTH service delivery platform sitting in the access or last mile network being impacted. A 1000 or more of these Gigabit services will be supported on a single Next Generation FTTH service delivery platform, pushing each platform to require high performance cloud-facing interfaces supporting near Terabit speeds (Tbps or 1 million Mbps) to effectively transport all the cloud-based applications from a 1000 aggregated Gigabit Broadband users. Just like the FTTH access network, the middle-mile or metro optical networks will need to be highly scalable to support this massive onramp of broadband traffic. Imagine if we only widened a city’s side streets, but never expanded highway interchanges, overpasses, turnpikes and lane count.
Today’s FTTH platforms generally support only a 10Gbps Ethernet connection between the access network and metro network connecting to the cloud. This is just 1% of the Tbps requirement modeled. Most of today’s second mile or metro networks will need a ‘packet optical’ upgrade as Gigabit Broadband continues to ramp. Packet optical allows exponentially more traffic to be added onto a fiber link by using multiple wavelengths of light – as in dozens and dozens – as opposed to just a few and blinks those lights on and off at 10 or even a 100 times faster than the fiber connected to a home or business, as in FTTH.
Note: I am calling a ‘broadband’ user someone with at least the average broadband speed in the U.S. which is about a 10Mbps connection. These people typically use more traffic during peak time gaming, watching YouTube, running their Roku and Apple TV and (perhaps) illegally streaming sports than the average user with a smaller connection to the Internet.
Joyce Wady is the Vice President Client Services of Connect2 Communications, Inc.