Thursday, July 26, 2012

Future of wire-line access networks

Communication Service Provider (CSP) networks can be divided into many categories. If divided based on the media used for the transport, wired and wireless are the widely known. Both types can be again sub divided based on the functional hierarchy; core, aggregation and access. If wired networks are concerned, optical fiber is used in almost all the core and aggregation networks because of its ability to carry/transport large amounts of data.
Wire line CSP access networks can be built using cable, copper or optical fiber. The cable based access networks are common in North America. Countries like Sri Lanka are more used to copper and fiber based access networks.
Access networks can again be classified based on the customer segment. While it is simple to have a single access network for both residential and business customers, some CSPs build different access networks for these 2 segments. The requirements and expectations of the 2 segments are different.

Design Criteria
A best practice in any access network design is to start with some forecasted marketing data. The networks that we build today should be future proof as far as possible in terms of service demand and technology used. For an example, for a residential triple play access network, it is better to have some figure on the number of customers per area, type of services required by those customers, the bandwidths consumed for each service and the bandwidth per house hold. Based on this information, we can find out the immediate bandwidth requirement per customer and the future demand. While there are many differences between fiber and copper based access networks, the fundamental difference is the ability of fiber to carry large amounts of data. Optical fiber networks in that sense are very much future proof.
It is always a good idea to design the networks for your real requirement rather than going behind various technologies. A technology used in United States (US) or Europe may not be able to directly deployed in countries like Sri Lanka.
The main decision factors when deciding on an access network technology/media are cost per user, bandwidth demand and demographic criteria. The current trend is to deliver more bandwidth per user in a secure way at lower cost.

Copper or fiber
If copper is already laid and available to the households, then it will be a good idea to use them if the required bandwidths can be delivered using them. The fundamental problem of copper based access is the decaying of speed with the distance. Most of today’s copper based access networks start from the Central Office (CO) of the CSP and goes to the customer. The access network is fully passive, consisting of, but not limited to, Main Distribution Frame (MDF), primary cable, Cabinet, secondary cable, Distribution Point (DP) and overhead cable. The popular Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technologies are struggling to deliver high bandwidths when the distance between the CO and the customer increases.
One solution is to use optical fiber, instead of copper. But the main problem of copper, as identified earlier, is the decaying of speed with distance. While it is accepted that the ideal solution is to have fiber, we can also try to shorten the copper length and deliver high bandwidths. This will save lot of cost as fiber is not freshly drawn.  This introduces a new term called FTTX, Fiber To The “place you want”. X could be building, home, curb/cabinet, node or even desk. So now the issue is between FTTH and FTTC/B.

Optical access networks
Optical access networks could be active or passive. An example of an Active Optical Network (AON) is Metro Ethernet or Carrier Ethernet. Here, active Ethernet switches are deployed in the network to deliver services, mainly to business customers. The networks mostly take the form of rings assuring high availability required by business critical applications.
The other category is Passive Optical Networks (PON).  PON works by delivering an end to end fiber access to the building or home. Though PON can be used for FTTC/N applications, most PON applications are based on FTTH/B architecture. Unlike AON, PONs have limited network protection in the last mile, because of its passive nature. PON works by dividing an optical signal into multiple fibers using a passive optical splitter. After the splitter, the network is liner and does not provide any direct protection. This type of a solution is mainly suitable for a residential rather than business.
The Table 1 below gives a snapshot of various PON technologies.


Hybrid TDM / WDM PON

Ethernet PON (EPON)
= Gigabit Ethernet PON (GEPON )
Gigabit PON (GPON)

ITU-T G.983 standard
IEEE 802.3ah standard
ITU-T G.984 standard

Still at research stage

Developed from Telco side
Developed from Internet side

Evolved from A/B PON

Evolution from TDM PON

Layer 2 encapsulations are Ethernet and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM)
Layer 2 encapsulation is Ethernet
L2 encapsulations are GEM(GPON Encapsulation Method) for Ethernet and ATM

Maximum up stream is 155Mbps, Maximum downstream is 622Mbps
Maximum up stream and downstream is 1.25Gbps
Maximum up stream and downstream is 2.5Gbps
Maximum up stream and downstream is 10 Gbps
Deployments: US (ex: Verizon FiOS)
Deployments: Japan (ex: NTT, KDDI), Korea (ex: KT), China, India

Deployments: US (ex: AT&T), Europe

Deployments: Korea (ex: KT), China

Table 1. PON technology comparison.
TDM PON is the current choice because of its low cost. Out of the available TDM PON technologies, GPON has much better multi-service capabilities and carrier grade management capabilities and therefore the winning technology. It is also future proof, because of its high bandwidth support.

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