Sunday, January 7, 2024

The PON Wars: Debunking the 25G vs. 50G Debate

by Maurizio Severi, Head of Fiber Business Line at Nokia Fixed Networks

When listening to the arguments in the telecom industry about 25G and 50G PON, you could get the impression that there’s some kind of PON war going on. Even though 25G PON is being deployed, fierce debate still surrounds it. 

However, the debate concerning 25G versus 50G PON is fruitless, and it detracts from what is important. It’s not about the technology; it is never about the technology. It is about business.

In the broadband business, the point is that different operators have different needs. Different variations of passive optical network (PON), therefore, are just tools in the fiber toolbox that enable broadband operators to address their business needs.

In short, both 25G and 50G PON technologies will have a place in the industry, serving the different business needs and use cases of different operators. So, let’s put to rest the arguments against 25G PON, once and for all.

Short Term vs Long Term Thinking

One of the most frequent claims from 25G PON opponents is: “25G PON is a temporary solution. Why invest in it when you can invest a bit more and have 50G PON?”

There are quite a few problems with such a short statement. The first pertains to labeling 25G PON as a temporary solution. All technologies are temporary. Innovation never stops, and there will always be another technological evolution on the horizon (luckily). 

Pioneers of GPON deployments would have never started if they waited for hardware solutions with higher speeds, higher density and lower power solutions. Waiting might be fine in a closed monopoly but rarely is it an option when competition is involved. If one always waits for the next thing, opportunities will pass by or be stolen by a competitor. 

Every operator must evaluate when it is the right moment for them to jump into the next technology. This decision will be based on the business case: the cost, market demand, what the additional services will enable compared to available technologies, potential revenues, competitor actions and, hence, what is the overall opportunity for your business.

Another glaring flaw in the argument above is the part about investment. For many operators, the whole point of 25G PON is that they don’t need to make a huge investment because they already have 25G PON capabilities in their networks. It is on the same chassis and the line card that they are using today for XGS-PON and can run alongside and complement GPON and XGS-PON services.

In contrast, 50G PON will require at least new line cards and quite possibly new optical line terminals (OLT). Essentially, the difference is about building on something you already have or ripping it out and buying something new. 

Perhaps the biggest piece of misdirection in the anti-25G PON statement is that even if one was ready to invest more and get 50G PON, they can’t – yet. 

The earliest we’ll see a commercial 50G PON solution at a reasonable price point will be the second half of the decade. 50G PON is a complex technology, and the solutions needed to solve the challenges are still costly and need to mature. The industry will overcome these challenges but not for a few more years. In contrast, 25G PON is based on known mature technologies. It has already been successfully deployed and, hence, it is a low risk. 

Backwards Compatibility 

Lastly, the naysayers are often insisting that you need to choose between 25G and 50G. This is simply not true. 

Just as XGS-PON was designed to run alongside GPON, and 25G PON to run alongside both XGS and GPON, one will be able to run 50G and 25G PON together on the same infrastructure. 

Depending on priorities, service strategy, competition, and so on, there is a good chance that unleashing 25G now will pay dividends and bring a greater return than waiting for 50G. If that isn’t the case, one can wait for 50G PON, and once it becomes available, they will be able to move from XGS-PON to 50G PON. There is no lock-in to a single option. 

PON evolution is about business, not about technology, and the need for these increased capacities is already here. Mobile backhaul, high-density Gigabit residential and wholesale, as well as business services all require capacity beyond 10G. and 25GPON is addressing these use cases today. For services requiring bandwidth above 25 Gb/s, 50G PON will be the best fit. 

Both 25G and 50G serve as tools within a PON toolbox. They are options for unlocking more value from fiber broadband networks, and the availability of options empowers operators to make the choice that best suits their needs. 

DZS refocuses as it divests Asian business and adds capital

DZS secured $25 million in debt and equity funding and signed a definitive agreement to sell its Asia operations to Korea-based DASAN Networks Inc. (DNI), a significant stockholder of DZS, for $48 million, consisting of $5 million of cash and the elimination of approximately $43 million of debt.

The restructuring will transform DZS into a broadband networking and AI-driven software pure play focused on the Americas, Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), and Australia/New Zealand (ANZ) regions.

The company said it will focus on its Velocity access edge optical line terminal (OLT) portfolio; Saber optical edge reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexer (ROADM) dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) platform resulting from its Optelian acquisition in 2021; and its advanced AI-driven orchestration, automation, slicing, network assurance and WiFi management software portfolio resulting from the company’s acquisitions of RIFT and ASSIA software and R&D assets in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

“The $30 million of incremental working capital and the divestiture of our Asia business is expected to enable us to focus on our momentum with fiber-forward service providers across the Americas, EMEA and ANZ,” said Charlie Vogt, President and CEO, DZS. “The sale of our Asia business additionally enables us to transition to a more software-centric, AI-driven business model. Service providers in our new focused regions are embracing our open, standards-based, software-defined solutions and are increasingly transitioning away from Chinese vendors due to security concerns. During the second half of 2023, we secured several new multi-year, FTTX and 5G projects spanning our new Velocity V6 Access Edge, Saber 4400 Optical Edge, and AI-driven 5G slicing, automation and network orchestration software platforms. Our refined geographic focus allows us to scale common platforms across these regions and aligns with the numerous government stimulus initiatives designed to bring high speed digital communications services to unserved and underserved communities that are underway across these markets and expected to ramp during the next 12-18 months. We expect that our focus now on the Americas, EMEA and ANZ regions, with disruptive and differentiated access and optical networking solutions and a higher percentage of cloud-controlled software, will enable us to achieve improved gross margins by the end of 2024.”

Vogt concluded, “Although 2023 was a reset across our industry as service providers worked through post-pandemic supply and inventory challenges, DZS will enter 2024 right-sized, recapitalized and better positioned for long-term sustainable growth focusing on higher margin software-defined solutions and markets. While the past six months have been challenging due to our previously announced restatement process, as well as a global supply chain reset, our leadership team and financial advisors have worked very well together securing $25 million of working capital and through the proposed sale of our Asia business, an additional $5 million in cash together with the elimination of approximately $43 million of debt. Our employees are committed to the vision and strategy unveiled in 2020 and remain focused on our customers and partners as we enter 2024.”

CableLabs highlights 10G progress

CableLabs highlighted the significant strides in 2023 toward the imminent widespread launch of the 10G network. These include:

  • DOCSIS 4.0 Technology: Enabling the next generation of broadband over HFC networks, DOCSIS 4.0 technology delivers symmetrical multigigabit speeds while supporting high reliability, high security and low latency. In 2023, CableLabs hosted two interoperability events, convening suppliers and operators to share knowledge and bring DOCSIS 4.0 technology to the field. The first interoperability event focused on speed, with the second delving into security. Earlier in 2023, CableLabs also publicly made the certification for DOCSIS 4.0 cable modems available.
  • FTTP adoption: Beyond advancing DOCSIS 4.0, CableLabs doubled down on fiber network collaboration by spearheading two new working groups focused on fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) adoption. Since accelerating FTTP adoption is critical to harnessing the passive optical network (PON) potential, one working group prioritizes optical operations and maintenance, while the other aims to define and specify a consistent way to deliver PON-based services using current and future management and provisioning systems. 
  • Low Latency DOCSIS (LLD): In 2023, CableLabs member, Comcast, kicked off the first Low Latency DOCSIS field trials. CableLabs also certified the first cable modem with Low Latency DOCSIS support. 
  • Coherent Passive Optical Networks (CPON) specification: With DOCSIS 4.0 technology well positioned following 2023 interoperability testing and certification and FTTP adoption accelerating, CableLabs also focused on defining the PON physical layer via the newly released CPON specification. CPON’s increased capacity per wavelength, extended reach and higher port density help prepare networks for future demands.

In addition, cable broadband providers serving communities around the world made significant announcements for 10G adoption, with some beginning physical deployment: 

  • Charter continued to expand its network across the United States, naming several vendor partners to support its roadmap toward network-wide symmetrical multi-gigabit service.
  • Comcast began the largest and fastest multi-gig rollouts with its Xfinity 10G network, upgrading service to 10 million homes and businesses. The company also introduced next-generation internet powered by DOCSIS 4.0 technology to the world’s first residential customers. 
  • Cox has continued to reaffirm its commitment to the 10G initiative through its recent lab tests of DOCSIS 4.0 technology. The company has committed to a multibillion-dollar annual infrastructure investment to build a 10G network over the next several years.
  • GCI and Midco are also among CableLabs’ members who are on target to achieve 10G speeds by 2025.
  • Mediacom began transitioning Iowa’s leading gigabit network to the new 10G platform.
  • VodafoneZiggo, Liberty Global’s Dutch subsidiary, became the first company in the world to conduct a DOCSIS 4.0 test on a live network. 

“CableLabs, along with our members and the vendor community, made remarkable progress on the path to 10G in 2023. The near future is here,” said Phil McKinney, CableLabs president and CEO. “When we announced the promise of 10G in 2019, we set ambitious goals on our 10G roadmap. We are pleased that our efforts have delivered transformative, next-generation technology that will support future generations for years to come.”

Maxlinear’s Puma 8 cable modem delivers 10G for MSOs

MaxLinear confirmed that its Puma 8 ESD/FDD DOCSIS 4.0 cable modem and gateway platform is capable of greater than 10Gbps data throughput as an Ultra DOCSIS 3.1 solution. 

For Multi Service Operators (MSOs), this provides a DOCSIS upgrade solution that requires minimal capital expenditure to achieve 10Gbps service over cable versus the cost of a full-scale DOCSIS 4.0 infrastructure overhaul. F

For MSOs who want to upgrade to DOCSIS 4.0 immediately, Puma 8 can be coupled with MaxLinear’s single-chip, low-power DOCSIS 4.0 Ultra High Split (UHS) Upstream Programmable Gain Amplifier (PGA) that together can achieve upstream speeds of up to 7Gbps based on 6 x OFDMA channels in the 108MHz to 684MHz band and 1 x OFDMA channel on the legacy 5MHz to 85MHz band.

MaxLinear notes that is single-chip low-power DOCSIS 4.0 Ultra High Split (UHS) Upstream Programmable Gain Amplifier (PGA) was developed specifically to work and interface seamlessly with Puma 8, providing an unmatched end-to-end solution. Its low-power design, with minimal external discrete passive components, contributes to energy efficiency, small board footprint and reduced operational costs for OEMs and operators.

The DOCSIS 4.0 UHS PGA’s ultra-high split upstream capability is pivotal for optimizing network performance as it enables a more efficient allocation of upstream frequency spectrum, facilitating increased upstream data capacity. This results in improved network responsiveness, reduced latency, and enhanced overall user experience, critical factors in meeting the growing demand for high-speed, low-latency connectivity.

MaxLinear’s new Puma 8 platform marks a significant leap forward in DOCSIS 4.0 technology,” said Will Torgerson, VP/GM Broadband Group. “Our platform is designed for exceptional performance and energy efficiency, achieving over 10Gbps data speeds that rival fiber. This positions our MSO partners to deliver ultra-fast broadband with smart capital expenditure, elevating the home connectivity experience for consumers today and into the future.”

Puma 8 presents significant cost advantage to MSOs, who are aiming to immediately provide customers with 10Gbps service via an Ultra DOCSIS 3.1 solution, with a cost-effective upgrade pathway to DOCSIS 4.0 in the future. By leveraging Puma 8 as an incremental upgrade to Ultra DOCSIS 3.1 within their existing traditional Hybrid Fiber-Coaxial (HFC) network, operators can significantly enhance their network data-speed performance without incurring the substantial costs associated with full-scale infrastructure overhauls required for full-duplex DOCSIS 4.0. This cost-efficient approach allows MSOs to tap into the benefits of advanced DOCSIS 4.0 technology, achieving enhanced data speeds and network capabilities, while strategically managing capital expenditure. This CAPEX control provides yet another layer of flexibility, minimizing and/or deferring the need for costly extensive network infrastructure modifications while navigating the evolving, multi-faceted landscape of providing high-speed broadband data services.

  • At CES 2024 in Las Vegas, MaxLinear will demonstrate: a speed test of its new DOCSIS 4.0 platform, Puma 8; a performance test of its new ultra-high split upstream programmable gain amplifier (PGA); and a demonstration of the power efficiency of its Wi-Fi 7 platform. 

Sparkle’s GreenMed Submarine Cable Project Underway

Sparkle has kicked off the development of GreenMed, a new submarine cable system that will cross the Adriatic Sea connecting Italy to Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, to Greece and Turkey, before extending further into the Mediterranean.

The GreenMed project will create a fiber optic infrastructure corridor to connect, through a diversified and low-latency route, Central Europe, the Balkans, and the Central-Eastern Mediterranean countries. 

From Italy’s Adriatic coast, the system will connect by land to Milan and, from there, to the other major European internet and cloud nodes.

The project also aims to support the strong development of the Balkan digital market – with a growth forecast of 25% (CAGR 22-29) – by offering a secure and diversified route in addition to the already existing terrestrial backbones.

Enrico Bagnasco, CEO of Sparkle, comments: “With GreenMed, Sparkle continues the expansion of its network by creating a route with highly innovative features that crosses the Mediterranean basin to support the demand for intercontinental connectivity and the growing digitalization of the Balkan area.”

TDK invests in Singapore’s Silicon Box for chiplet fabrication

TDK Ventures, Inc. has invested in Silicon Box, a start-up based in Singapore that is focused on semiconductor chiplet packaging design and fabrication.

Silicon Box was co-founded Dr. Sehat Sutardja and Weili Dai, who previously founded Marvell, along with Dr. Byung Joon (BJ) Han, who was formerly CEO of STATS ChipPAC (acquired by JCET in 2015). 

Silicon Box says its innovative, large format semiconductor package design and fabrication method enables up to 8x more chiplet devices per production unit, with 90+% yield – compared to industry alternatives, which top out around 60%.

TDK Ventures’ President Nicolas Sauvage commented, “TDK Ventures is excited to partner with the world-class team at Silicon Box. Their standout chiplet design is making waves in the industry, and they dalready have a proven concept in a 750,000 square foot facility to support production. We are ommitted to supporting their success for a positive impact on the world.”

Silicon Box CEO Dr. BJ Han also discussed the partnership saying, “Teaming with TDK Ventures is ideal for us, and we are looking forward to continuing what has already been an incredible collaboration. We have significant synergies with many of their business units, and in addition to their investment, we are excited to engage with their extensive network, subject matter experts, and industrial base. Bring on the TDK Goodness!”

Singapore’s Silicon Box targets chiplet fab and packaging

Silicon Box, a start-up based in Singapore, unveiled plans for a $2 billion advanced semiconductor foundry and packaging facility.

The venture, which as founded by Sehat Sutardja, his wife Weili Dai, and BJ Han, says it has developed a chiplet interconnect technology in sub 5 micron for design flexibility, power efficiency, and low manufacturing cost.

The 73,000 sqm facility in the district of Tampines will employ up to 1,200 people when fully developed.

“Silicon Box is well poised to solve the unique challenge for chiplets, which are essential to power emergent technologies. Our team of experts with over 30 years of multi-sectoral experience, critical ecosystem of partners and proprietary interconnection technology will shorten the design cycle of chiplets, lower new device costs, reduce power consumption and enable faster-time-to-market for industry partners involved in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), data centres, electronic vehicles (EVs), mobile, and wearables, while protecting their intellectual property (IP),” states Dr. Han Byung Joon, CEO of Silicon Box.

EchoStar merges with DISH, combining 5G terrestrial + satellite coverage

EchoStar Corporation completed its acquisition of DISH Network Corporation, creating a global leader in terrestrial and non-terrestrial wireless connectivity.  

The deal combines DISH Network’s satellite technology, streaming services and nationwide 5G network with EchoStar’s satellite communications solutions.

  • DISH Network’s 5G wireless network that now covers more than 70 percent of the U.S. population.
  • EchoStar’s successful launch of its JUPITER 3 satellite provides significant available capacity for converged terrestrial and non-terrestrial services. 

The company, with its headquarters located in Englewood, Colorado, operates globally under an array of consumer and business brands including Boost Mobile, Boost Infinite, Sling TV, DISH TV, as well as EchoStar, Hughes, and JUPITER satellite services, HughesON managed services, and HughesNet satellite internet. The integration of these brands has enabled the company to offer a comprehensive range of services across multiple sectors, providing customers with a diverse and technologically-advanced set of options.

“The completion of this merger marks an important milestone for our company and our customers, launching a new era of connectivity,” said Charles Ergen, Executive Chairman of the Board of EchoStar. “We have brought together two trailblazing companies with complementary portfolios to create a global connectivity leader with premier wireless, satellite, and video distribution capabilities. Together, EchoStar and DISH offer an enhanced consumer connectivity business and an unmatched enterprise managed services business. In a world that is increasingly wireless, we are well-positioned to drive revenue and profitable growth.”

“This merger brings us one step closer to our goal of offering ubiquitous connectivity to people, enterprises and things, everywhere,” said Hamid Akhavan, President and Chief Executive Officer of EchoStar. “Together we’re better positioned to realize the connected future by leveraging every type of transport, combined with smart, enabling technologies and fully integrated services. Our superior portfolio of technology, spectrum, engineering, manufacturing and network management expertise will deliver the unparalleled connectivity solutions that customers demand.”