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The Next Big Thing: Getting to Know ‘DPoE'

This week’s Translation dips into the terminology of cable-provided services to businesses - a wonky pedigree of tech talk, but important as the Next Big Thing to attract revenue.

We’ll start with “DPoE,” a doublenested acronym that stands for “DOCSIS Provisioning of EPON.” Some pronounce it as a word, like “depot,” others as its constituent letters.

DOCSIS means through the cablemodem side of the plant. EPON stands for Ethernet Passive Optical Networks, techspeak for running Ethernet over a length of fiber attached directly to a business.

Right now, cable isn’t as active in providing EPON connectivity as it could be. (Bright House Networks is the exception.)

Yet, EPON is big business. It’s what more and more commercial accounts want to use for their fast broadband connections. That’s “fast” as in 1 Gbps, which is the same as 1,000 Mbps. (For context, even the fastest residential broadband connections top out at around 50 Mbps.)

Know going in that DPoE is less about the pipe and more about the process. That means it’s not concerned with the bandwidth of delivering 1 Gbps so much as automating the back-office components to serve it. It’s a provisioning thing, intended to quickly and affordably set up new business customers with high-speed links, over fiber.

DPoE didn’t start out with an automation concentration, though. As the story goes, a bunch of engineers were working with the EPON vendor community, which had agreed to make their stuff interoperable with each other - that vendor A’s “OLT” (optical line terminal) would work with vendor B, C, D or E’s “ONU” (optical network unit, the thing that sits at the customer site).

Despite good intentions, the gear wasn’t interoperable. Further investigation revealed problems in what cable people call “the back office,” and telco people call “OAM” - for “operations, administration and maintenance.”

That’s what lit up the “why-reinvent-the-wheel?” lightbulb. DOCSIS already contains ways to automatically provision for such “OAM”-ish checklist items, they reckoned. (Advanced class: things like DNS, DHCP, TFTP and SNMP.)

In essence, and in a huge oversimplification, DPoE spoofs the DOCSIS back-office components into thinking that an EPON OLT is a CMTS, and that an EPON ONU is a cable modem.

It translates between the EPON system and the DOCSIS provisioning.

In the near future (2011, by most estimates), cable providers will be able to add EPON technologies to support their suite of products for businesses. That’s a good thing for ka-ching.

One catch: DPoE assumes there’s fiber connected to EPON-interested businesses. That’s often not the case. Still, it shows every sign of big-revenue potential for the growth of cable-delivered commercial services.