May 30, 2019 by Doug Blue

A Better Way Forward – Evolving a Cable Network with PON


Over 62% of all residential broadband customers in the US are served by cable operators. This coupled with healthy quarter over quarter increases in new subscribers is a clear indication of cable’s market dominance. Interestingly, only a small fraction of cable executives’ view FTTH as a top strategic priority and many are opting for a less costly fiber deep network upgrade. While gigabit speeds and better network performance can be achieved with this approach, their infrastructure will need to be iterated on several more times to achieve “near” fiber performance.

So why is cable winning the war on broadband? Is it because of the ubiquitous geographic coverage or perhaps the superior download speeds compared to the more traditional copper-based technologies? Perhaps… 

I’m concerned that the cable industry is holding on to their precious DOCSIS® baby a little too long. Ms. Telco has been getting serious about offering multi-gigabit Fiber-to-the-Premise services and making significant preparations to offer 5G gigabit services. What’s impressive is that initial 5G real-world trials are providing comparable performance to that of current DOCSIS technologies.  

So, is Mr. Cable going to lose his edge over Ms. Telco?  Does cable need a better way?   While Fiber Deep, Remote PHY, Expanded Spectrum DOCSIS®, and Full Duplex can get operators close, to fiber like performance, at what cost? Surprisingly, contrary to general industry thinking, a fiber deep strategy is often more costly to build than FTTH in lower density serving areas. See my article, “Rethinking Cable Network Evolution." In higher density serving areas, the answer is less clear. The problem, is we all try to address problems with single solutions… But the answer is not usually a binary one. 

Typically, a small percentage of customers – the Elite 10-20% as I like to call them – consume the majority of a cable operators network capacity. Historically, operators segment nodes to address the capacity constraints – and then they wash, rinse, repeat. While this methodology relieves the immediate network issues, it is simply not sustainable. If operators begin to think differently and leverage a PON overlay for the elite few, Fiber-to-the-Home becomes a network “relief” valve. Depending on the neighborhood’s density, approaching cable network evolution with a hybrid solution can save operators anywhere from 48% to 66% in contrast to either a Node +0 or complete FTTH overhaul.

The time is now to consider a better way to evolve the cable network. Download the results of our Hybrid Study and provide us your thoughts.