It's no secret that cable operators can't get enough fiber in their diets these days.
Despite the fact that most leading cable technologists maintain that the industry's hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) lines still have long, productive lives ahead of them, cablecos are still scrambling to push fiber deeper in their access networks and even go FTTH in many cases for a bunch of good reasons.
Whether they're planning to go all-fiber like Altice USA , Fiber Deep like Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. and Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) or just split more fiber-optical nodes like many others, cable operators are embracing fiber so they can deliver more bandwidth and faster data speeds, cut down or eliminate amplifiers and other active electronic devices from their networks, take advantage of various PON technologies, support new wireless services like 5G and small cells, offer such advanced video services as 4K/UHD TV and streaming video and/or slash operational costs, among other things.
Yet what's less evident is what cable operators might already be doing with fiber, how they plan to deploy more of it in their plant and what they may actually use all that extra fiber for. Even though such major MSOs as Comcast, Cox and Altice have discussed their broad strategies, the industry's overall fiber deployment plans have not been spelled out in much depth.
What's more, there hasn't been much discussion about how cablecos aim to carry out their fiber buildouts in tandem with the industry's other key technological and architectural initiatives, which include DOCSIS 3.1, Full Duplex DOCSIS, coherent optics, EPON, Distributed Access Architecture (DAA), network virtualization, mobile services and small cells. There also hasn't been much talk about the challenges that cable operators face in installing, testing, monitoring and managing all their new fiber links.
Now, in a new report produced in tandem with SCTE|ISBE, Light Reading has come up with the answers to these and many other critical questions. Based on the results of a comprehensive online survey of 310 industry executives worldwide, the report, Cable's Fiber Outlook Survey Report, looks at what's fueling cable's fiber-feeding frenzy and examines what it all means. The report -- sponsored by Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN), Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) -- also focuses on the challenges that cablecos face as they strive to add more fiber to their diets.
What the findings make clear is that cable operators do not intend to cede the fiber stage to the telcos and other rivals. In fact, nearly 87% of respondents said their company has already started extending fiber deeper into its access network or will start doing so by the end of this year. Plus, over one third of respondents (nearly 36%) said their company intends to go all the way to a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) architecture, while another 29% said their company will go to a node-plus-zero (N+0) architecture, otherwise known as Fiber Deep.
Boost your understanding of cable's pioneering virtualization efforts, examine early trials and pilots and look at what comes next. You're invited to attend Light Reading's Virtualizing the Cable Architecture event, a free breakfast panel at SCTE/ISBE's Cable-Tec Expo on October 23 in Atlanta.
As the report shows, cable operators are looking to use these fiber lines to deliver a host of new and more advanced services to subscribers. In a surprising twist given the industry's recent de-emphasis of video service, 4K/8K video heads the list, with about two thirds of respondents (66%) choosing it. 5G mobile backhaul is a close second, with 64% of respondents clicking that choice. The Internet of Things (IoT) was also a popular choice, with 51% of respondents choosing it.
Of course, cablecos know all this won't come easy. In the survey, respondents ranked fiber availability and cost as the top challenges they face. Network design and the coordination of multiple fiber providers also ranked high on the scale of hurdles.
Yet, even with such obstacles, cable's long-awaited transition from HFC to FTTx has clearly begun in earnest. How fast and how far that transition will go are very much open to question, especially given all the hurdles that must still be cleared. But cable's fiber outlook is clearly looking bright right now.
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading