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PON Unlimited Called 'Successor to RFoG Long-Range Architecture'

Two ARRIS executives will introduce hybrid architecture they call “Passive Optical Network Unlimited” (PONU) at this month’s Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers Cable Tec-Expo.

They will describe “Next Gen DOCSIS Together With Next Gen RFoG,” calling it “a compelling solution for the Fiber-to-the-Home transition.” Bill Dawson, vice president business development and product strategy, and Mike Emmendorfer, senior director, Solution Architecture & Strategy at ARRIS, will characterize PONU as a successor to the slowly evolving Radio Frequency over Glass (RFoG) technology instead of the also-lethargic Ethernet Passive Optical Network (EPON) systems.

“By the time you get to the point that you feel you need to switch to EPON, you actually won’t need it anymore because  you’ll be so delighted with what RFoG can deliver,” Dawson told me.

The ARRIS vision seems to challenge – or at least partially compete with – the home wiring infrastructure plans envisioned by some home builders, who are pre-wiring new housing with high tech communications facilities.  It also offers a migration path that leads to “a long term all-fiber future” for cable operators “that is cost-effective, fully backward compatible, and potentially offers 10G EPON performance with symmetrical capacity,” the ARRIS team says in its paper. The solution “can be deployed gradually over an extended period of time with minimal disruption along the way.”

Daniel Howard, SCTE’s chief technical officer and senior vice president engineering, characterizes the approach as “future-proof architecture” and points out that it is already germinating in small and medium-market cable systems, where RFoG has already established a beachhead.  RFoG, which has been in limited deployment for more than five years, is especially adept for low-density rural areas now. Howard notes that systems including Bresnan, Armstrong, Massillon Cable TV and Cox are using RFoG Passive Optical Networks in many locations.

In particular, Howard expects continuing growth for DOCSIS provisioning over EPON, which he likens to Metro Ethernet.  It’s a precursor to more extensive fiber-to-the-premises without replacing coaxial cable, “which has plenty of life left in it,” Howard adds.

As for the Dawson-Emmendorfer proposal, it builds on the SCTE RFoG standard that lets MSOs lay fiber to the premises and still use the existing headend and DOCSIS systems.  They emphasizes that their plan “challenges the assumption that RFoG is an ‘interim’ solution by showing how a PON plant using RFoG today can gracefully evolve to a high capacity, cost effective network.”

It’s “a network that could last operators for the next 100 years!” Dawson and Emmendorfer enthuse.

They contend that RFoG technology in “greenfield applications” will increasingly become “a sensible choice for the new plant that an MSO builds to provide service in new housing developments.” Implementing RFoG ensures that initial investment for new wiring will be future proof and have “enough capacity to deliver service needs, not just through the next 20-30 years, but into the next century,” the Arris team says.

In their paper, Dawson and Emmendorfer contend that, among other things, “DOCSIS over RFoG is the natural evolution from HFC to Fiber-to-the-Home” and that “When used together, the combination of Next Gen DOCSIS with an enhanced RFoG FTTH Outside Plant will ultimately provide data speeds and capacities that exceed what is available from EPON or GPON technologies.”

They also point to the current 1% new home Compound Annual Growth Rate. That means by 2023 (a decade away), about 10% of U.S. homes will be wired for FTTH.  Their vision for RFoG includes “significant potential as a triple play solution for Business Services.”  The combined capabilities of RFoG and EPON technology will ultimately lead to “a higher capacity network than either EPON or GPON.”

In addition to the political reasons for preparing for a tech skirmish with home builders or “smart house” electronics manufacturers, Dawson and Emmendorfer underscore the financial value that MSOs will reap by moving toward the PONU concept.

“Decisions will be made soon on allocating capital to set the stage” for such advanced communications technology, they say. They emphasize that today’s benchmarks for capital investment, such as Hybrid Fiber Coax costs, should “not drive a decision between RFoG PON and HFC.”

 “Given that fiber will have a much longer technologically useful life, it should be understood that FTTH is the architecture of choice, provided the cost of electronics required to implement services supports an acceptable ROI. These costs will decline as volume grows.”

In addition to their compelling argument for what’s perceived as a rural technology, Dawson and Emmendorfer deserve credit for one more thing: the awesome “Abbreviations and Acronyms” addendum to their paper. It defines more than three dozen esoteric terms that would please my translating compatriot Leslie Ellis with material for a year.

Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications LLC in Bethesda, Md., and a long-time interactive TV enthusiast. Reach him at

Gary Arlen
Gary Arlen

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.