Fiber/Coax Flexibility Key as Ops Approach the Future

BTR_Feature_Art_mix_3_26_13The statement that rapid — even radical — changes on both the commercial services and consumer sides of the business are impacting operators to the very fiber of their beings should be taken literally as well as figuratively. The changes are impacting their use of coax just as drastically. 

The industry is in an enviable position: There are a lot of potential next big things on the horizon. These include whole-home services such as home security, home automation and cellular backhaul. The great opportunities in the commercial services sector are expanding.

During the past couple of years, commercial services has evolved. The new targets are bigger companies, including the higher end of the broad small- and medium-business (SMB) sector and large enterprises. If one thing characterizes this group, it is the desire to have as much of their services running on fiber as possible.

It is a bit ironic that the lion’s share of attention paid to the transition to fiber focuses on the electronics that attach to that fiber. Relatively little note is given to the fiber itself. However, the proportion of fiber to coax in HFC networks is important. Moreover, the ability to do such things as run home-run fiber, move the transition point between the fiber and coax deeper into HFC network, split nodes and perform other vital tasks without restringing or digging up installed fiber and coax makes the new business even more attractive.

The bottom line is that things are changing quickly for cable operators, and the underlying infrastructure needs to be available when the new opportunities become available. “Increasingly…we’ve seen the market trend toward all-optical solutions for new project deployments,” wrote Bill Burnham, Corning’s (NYSE:GLW) Vice President for Carrier Marketing in response to emailed questions. “An all-optical network allows for transmission of both RF and optical signals at higher data rates, allowing MSOs the luxury of determining their own network evolution timetable. As customers’ needs require, we are capable of mixing various optical and copper transmission media.

However, the reality is that coax still is a potent and important element in operators’ arsenals. Last month, CommScope introduced E2O its product aimed at easing these important but impossible-to-predict transitions. John Chamberlain, the director of broadband technology for the office of the CTO at CommScope, said  E2O puts coaxial and either microfiber or fiber microduct – capable of having fiber blown into it – within the same sheath. This is a different approach, he said, than running discrete coax and fiber cables side-by-side.

The approach has become possible because of what Chamberlain says is a technical advancement by CommScope. Previously, he said, it was impossible to fabricate the all-in-one cabling because fiber was made in much longer lengths than coax. The new ability to manufacture of the two in equal increments makes E2O possible.

There are both commercial services and residential uses for E2O. On the commercial services side, for instance, an operator serving a business park today may provide DOCSIS over bonded channels on coax. That may not satisfy the big customers. The migration to an all-fiber delivery infrastructure could, in such instances, be eased via use of E2O, Chamberlain said. In other instances, a business that wants both high-speed data and video services could use both the coaxial and microfiber elements within the sheath.

On the residential side, use of E2O could make the node splits far less manpower- and time-intensive, Chamberlain said. The use of the product, which was introduced late last month, would set up the operator to move the transition point deeper into the network by blowing microfiber into the microduct instead, which would eliminate the need to lay new fiber.

Dennis Parks, the national market manager for broadband for AFL Fiber, applauds the approach taken by CommScope to enable HFC networks to evolve as flexibly as possible. “That’s what MSOs are doing today,” he said. “They are trying to [drive fiber] as far down as they can and get it moving in as many different directions as they can.”

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report. Contact him at carl@btreport.net.

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