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Why Fibre Deep is the answer to our streaming problems

(Image credit: Image Credit: Chaitawat / Shutterstock)

When hearing the term ‘big data’ it’s easy to forget just how big the scale of data generation is. On average across the globe, every single minute of 2018 to date, has seen the generation and delivery of 12,986,111 text messages, the posting of 49,380 Instagram pictures, and the hosting of 176,220 Skype calls. This is only a small proportion of the traffic currently crossing fixed and mobile networks across the globe. Consumers are now accessing news, HD video and audio streams, photos, email, social media and gaming networks from smartphones, televisions, consoles and personal computers and their expectations for how the online experience is delivered are increasing.

Low-quality videos, long webpage and application loading times, lags in video calls or buffering during the latest podcast creates lasting disappointment and frustration and in the process of trying to meet the needs of the consumer, operators have had to enhance the online experience by adopting advanced communication standards and upgrading network infrastructure to feature more fibre optic channels.

For the most part, fibre optics in cable networks have traditionally been limited by the use of analogue optics. Even with high order modulation (4K and 16K QAM) schemes, analogue fibres have distance limitations, are demanding to setup, and expensive to maintain. Replacing existing analogue fibre with digital fibre optics is a game changer for cable operators. With demand continuing to increase for higher bandwidth, driven largely by video and audio streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify and Apple Music (particularly for video-centric content) it’s clear that today’s network infrastructure and architecture models need to be revised to enable the full benefits of digital fibre.

Modernising the hybrid fibre-coaxial network

With businesses and consumers expecting quicker, smoother experiences online and in critical applications, operators are urgently looking at how to increase the bandwidth and availability of their networks. Fibre is the key to achieving both of these improvements and as a result, operators are looking to leverage their existing fibre assets even further to offer higher quality services.

However, for the infrastructure owner, upgrades are expensive, and the laying of new fibre cables can be prohibitively so. As a result, operators are looking to increase the bandwidth and reduce the latency of their core fibre networks with innovative packet-based technologies which increase the capacity in existing fibre channels.

But this doesn’t address the access network challenge. Traditionally operators have employed an approach, whereby centralised, Converged Cable Access Platforms (CCAP) were built to increase capacity and throughput by combining headend functions into a single architecture all resided within a headend or hub location through an analogue hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) network. While CAA only supports analogue fibre, Distributed Access Architecture (DAA) supports both analogue and digital optics. DAA enables functional components of a legacy CAA network to migrate to various locations of the network, like a digital fibre node, cabinet, or MDU location – saving space while improving performance and future proofing the network for Gigabit services.

Future proofing the access with Fibre Deep

HFC was built with the understanding that bringing fibre closer to the customer, enables significant benefits in terms of capacity, speed and latency. In addition, pressure is increasing on operators to provide gigabit services which can support the changing habits of consumers at home, at work and on the go. With the rising popularity of over-the-top (OTT) services and data heavy applications such as Facebook live and YouTube HD streaming, fibre connections are even more important in ensuring that operators can deliver the desired scale and performance whilst managing dynamic demand on their networks.

To improve services therefore, there’s a need to bring digital fibre deeper, and more of it, into the access and closer to the customer and this involves transforming networks and adopting innovative, modern management strategies. Traditional access coaxial networks are extensive, requiring power hungry and inefficient radio (RF) frequency amplifiers to deliver services to all of the customers on each cable route. By reducing the length of these coaxial cable runs and therefore the size of the service area, it’s possible to remove the RF amplifiers whilst continuing to use an important last mile coaxial asset, creating significant savings for the operator and simplifying infrastructure and network management. In addition, by utilising packet-based optical technology, operators are able to better scale to increasing customer demand and can offer both Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) and fibre to the home (FTTH) – meaning they can meet the needs of both residential and enterprise customers.

On the other hand, for the customer fibre deep means more capacity on their connection coupled with greater network performance and availability, meaning that the incentives for development are aligned from both a provider and user perspective.

Why now?

The current technologies available to consumers and businesses in terms of their internal networking infrastructure offer high-performance data transfer and internet access. Demand for this level of performance and availability can be clearly seen from the ongoing expansion of HD streaming services, social media applications, VoIP technologies and online gaming. Whilst this is great news for consumers, many of these benefits are only available if the fibre connection is closer to the endpoint.

The key issue is that much of the existing cable infrastructure connecting the wider network to the customer has relied upon legacy analogue technologies, which are not suitable for scaling and performance optimisation.

By implementing digital optics, it’s possible to construct agile and flexible networks that enable high-bandwidth applications allowing operators to offer their customers reliable, high-performance Gigabit services that can support current and future demand. They also allow for data to travel faster for longer distances, at a lower cost for optics and at higher-throughput via the latest and future DOCSIS technologies.

How can we make it accessible to all?

The fibre deep prospect is significant for operators, allowing them to offer the best quality services to customers, whilst making space and energy savings which drive greater efficiency and profitability across their network infrastructure.

With consumer and business demands for bandwidth at an all-time high and expectations rising around further growth as new data-heavy technologies emerge, there’s never been a more critical time to drive digital fibre closer to the customer and enable greater network capacity, availability and reliability, whilst ensuring that infrastructure is flexible and scalable in preparation for the future.

Wayne Hickey, Packet Portfolio Advisor, Ciena (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Chaitawat / Shutterstock

Wayne Hickey is part of Ciena’s Packet Portfolio team, and has historically held several senior level hi-tech telecommunications roles in product management for optical Ethernet software and hardware solutions.