The Future of Subscriber Access – Part 2

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In my previous post I concluded that the technologies that will win for mobile access are those that are transparent to the user experience. With that the cell providers will have the advantage because they can, through Hotspot 2.0, control the experience.   With that being said, lets move on to discussing what the future of fixed broadband access for residential and business subscribers. 

When it comes to broadband connectivity consumers want a seamless experience as they connect a multitude of mobile devices to in-home wifi networks, stream video and audio, connect sensors devices for weather underground, control in-home functions through Nest devices, and expect all of this occur without a hiccup. Nielsen's Law has predicted that the demanded Internet speed is doubling every two years.  2014-2016 was the period of getting to 100Mbps as an offering.  2018-2020 will be where demand will push to 1000 Mbps / 1 Gbps.  (Make note that Nielsen's Law as been pretty darn accurate since the dial-up days.)

This increase in consumer demand will drive the adoption of only the most efficient broadband delivery methods.  I rank the delivery methods as follows:  Satellite < DSL < DOCSIS/Cable < PON/FTTH < Active Ethernet/FTTH.  Right now Satellite is only used as a last resort for those that can't be served by traditional broadband.  DSL has serious limitations at distance, although vectoring and bonding have extended the life a little, eventually it will give way to upgrades to PON or Active Ethernet.  I see operators taking two routes with DSL right now, either acquire the local cable operator and utilize DOCSIS or build new fiber networks.  For Cable operators that are utilizing DOCSIS for delivery, DOCSIS still has runway to provide 1Gbps speeds but also will suffer the same fate and be migrated to PON and Active Ethernet networks, just not as quickly as DSL.  PON, or passive optical network, provides a shared bandwidth model amongst, typically, 32 subscribers.  It can achieve multi-gigabit speeds if designed correctly and 10G PON is quickly arriving on the scene.  Active Ethernet is the end game in my mind, its direct home-run fiber, from a CO to a subscriber.  This allows 10 Mbps – 10Gbps directly to the home but also technologies for 40G and 100G exist today but are cost prohibitive to have as a general offering.

To wrap this up for the mobile space I see 5G and WiFi being mixed to provide a seamless user experience to the mobile user while for fixed broadband anything new being built will be FTTH technology while existing DSL deployments need a short-term plan to get to FTTH and DOCSIS networks need long-term plans to get to FTTH.  Whether Active Ethernet or PON make sense really depends on the speeds needed to be delivered.  Based on Nielsen's Law PON will be the technology of today while long term Active Ethernet will be needed to deliver 10G+ to the subscriber.

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