At least through the eyes of analysts, there is mixed news on the status of the all-important broadband aggregation equipment market. That sector, which can loosely be called the last-mile segment, includes technologies such as gigabit passive optical networks (GPON), very high bit rate digital subscriber line (VDSL) and fiber-to-the-home (FTTH). It is responsible for bringing traffic to the edge and into homes and businesses.
The firm found that the global market logged in at $2.1 billion during the first quarter. That is a 5 percent drop from the fourth quarter of 2014, but a 14 percent increase over the year-ago quarter, IHS said. The press release offers three insights: Growth in the North American market is due to FTTH and Gigabit services, activity is increasing in Latin America, and PON equipment revenues rose 18 percent during the first quarter compared to the year-ago quarter.
One of the big technologies in this sector is DSL, which is a bit surprising as it was thought to be on the verge of fading away because of the limitations of copper. It turns out, however, that the limitations were more on the technology used to send the data than on the copper itself. The latest in a series of technologies meant to boost copper is G.fast.
[BT CTO Colin] Bannon told the Chicago Big Telecom event that there’s a number of ways in which the standard can be improved, including increasing the bits per tone, a better noise floor, higher transmit power, bigger vectoring groups, and better frequency usage alongside VDSL.
Ars Technica’s story on delays in the launching of Comcast’s 2 Gigabit per second (Gbps) Gigabit Pro service inadvertently proves the point of how quickly things are moving in that sector. Already launches schedule for last month have been bumped to June. That’s really not too long, after all, and the number of target markets listed by Ars Technica more or less proves that Comcast is serious about bringing the service to its entire footprint.
While the shipment and revenue numbers are always important, a vital issue is starting to change the big picture. The transition from legacy networks to software-defined networks and network functions virtualization (SDN and NFV) means that the pendulum will swing from the type of purpose-built equipment that analysts count today over to commodity servers onto which software is loaded. Indeed, moving to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment is one of the most attractive elements of SDN and NFV to carriers.
Having already deployed NFV in almost 70 of its central offices, AT&T is now testing an approach to virtualizing its optical access, with the intent of reducing costs and adding flexibility. Tom Anschutz, Distinguished Member-Technical Staff for AT&T, told the audience at Light Reading’s Carrier SDN Networks event this week the company’s approach will also work for copper-based G.fast networks and probably support cable DOCSIS networks as well.
The most important aspect of SDN and NFV is, of course, what it will do for network operators and end users. The dislocation it will cause in the vendor community and among those who track it is secondary. It is significant, however, and should be watched.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.