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Mining Gold: Unlocking the Potential of PON Investments

Jon Baldry

January 18, 2024
By Jon Baldry
Director, Metro Networking

As we enter 2024, one thing you can be sure of for the next 12 months is that hyperconnectivity and artificial intelligence/machine learning will be major topics in the telecommunications industry media. This is understandable as the world is at the cusp of the fifth industrial revolution, aka Industry 5.0, where both are anticipated to play a major role.

The five stages of industrial revolutionFigure 1: The five stages of industrial revolution

Exactly what defines each of these industry evolution stages varies a little by author and industry focus, but one thing that is clear is that the telecom industry has played a major role in the connectivity advancements brought by Industry 4.0, which will continue into Industry 5.0. Just think about how connectivity into your own home has changed since 2000. Personally, I’ve gone from a 56 Kb/s dial-up service via a modem, to early low-speed 1 Mb/s asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), to later higher-speed 10 Mb/s ADSL, and finally to fiber-to-the-home (FTTH)-based passive optical network (PON), which today provides me with an 800 Mb/s service. Beyond the obvious benefits for leisure and entertainment, this boom in residential access has enabled the concept of working from home, which has changed the way many industries operate, especially since the pandemic. I’ve worked from my home office, when I’m not traveling, since 2000. So I have firsthand experience of this journey, from painfully slow dial-up to fantastically fast fiber!

I’m not alone. FTTH-based residential PON networks are rapidly becoming the access technology of choice across the globe due to their simplicity and economics.

Capitalizing on PON Investments

The growth in PON infrastructure is fueled by the billions of dollars that are being invested globally in FTTH PON infrastructure, from both government-led strategic national investment programs, such as the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program in the U.S., and substantial private investment.

Published analysis by network operators shows that up to 90% of the investment in a PON access network goes into single-fiber working (SFW) infrastructure via civil works, ducts, cables, and passive splitters. Only 10% goes into the active PON hardware. Essentially, SFW infrastructure at the edge of the optical network driven by this surge in PON deployments is here to stay, and network operators need to be able to capitalize on this access infrastructure for all services, not just residential ones.

So, What’s the Problem?

The SFW PON access domain is economical and appropriate for lower-speed (10G and below) services like residential internet. But this SFW infrastructure creates a major challenge for the delivery of higher-speed (25G to 200G) business services.  Today, if higher-capacity services are required for large enterprises, business parks, 5G cell towers, etc. in this access domain, then network operators need to deploy a dedicated fiber pair for each service, which is typically both expensive and time consuming. This is driven by the fact that the coherent optics used to deliver high-speed services typically need a dual-fiber infrastructure.

And the Solution?

So, how can we leverage the economic and time-to-market benefits of existing SFW PON infrastructure while also delivering the high-capacity business services that enterprises need?

The subcarrier-based XR optics architecture, including Infinera’s implementation of this, ICE-X intelligent coherent pluggables, solves this challenge. This new approach enables network operators to mine for gold with additional high-capacity services to address a broad range of applications and customers over their existing PON access networks.

With the commercial availability of ICE-X pluggables in 2023, the application is now moving quickly, with customer engagements and lab/field trails already underway. ICE-X optics are fully tuneable across the DWDM C-band, meaning the application is fully interoperable with existing and future 25G/50G residential PON solutions. Operators can therefore seamlessly upgrade to higher-capacity services without impacting existing PON-based residential or small/medium enterprise services.

ICE-X PON overlay interoperabilityFigure 2: ICE-X PON overlay interoperability

ICE-X pluggables also support additional application-specific capabilities, such as a PON-optimized window, shown in Figure 2, which provides even higher performance and optical reach. To learn more about this and the application in general, check out our detailed application note for a lot more details.

Global Growth

As we closed out 2023, many network operators updated their customers and investors on their fiber rollout programs to highlight their investments in this area. For example, Deutsche Telekom announced in late December that in 2023, it fulfilled its fiber deployment targets for the year and made more than 2.5 million new fiber optic connections possible. A total of 8 million households in Germany now have access to a fiber optic connection. The DT announcement added that the company’s fiber optic network now spans around 730,000 kilometers and also now connects almost 3,500 towns and municipalities. That’s a lot of fiber and 45% growth in homes passed in just one year!

DT isn’t alone – operators across the globe have a similar focus, and industry analysts from Omdia forecast that FTTH-based PON will hit 57% and 66% market penetration in access networks in Western and Eastern Europe respectively by 2027, and market penetration in North America will grow to 35%, where hybrid fiber coax (HFC)-based cable access remains strong and is forecast to maintain 49% share in that timeframe.

Bringing It All Back to Industry 5.0

We started this blog looking at hyperconnectivity, AL/ML, and Industry 5.0, mainly as a vehicle to discuss how the telecom industry has played a pivotal role in advancing society over the last few decades. A key factor in this is the substantial rollout of SFW infrastructure at the edge of the network that has changed connectivity into our homes and businesses significantly over this time. As we move into Industry 5.0, operators need to capitalize on this substantial investment to bring ever higher-capacity services to the edge of optical networks, and ICE-X offers a solution to the challenges this creates.

2024 promises to be a very exiting year for XR optics and ICE-X intelligent coherent pluggables in particular. The new PON overlay solution expands the range of applications that can addressed by ICE-X, such as IPoDWDM for data center interconnect and metro/regional network applications and using ICE-X within DWDM solutions. We’ll keep you updated here on the Infinera blog as the year progresses!