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CableLabs Wonders: Can ‘OnePON’ Rule Them All?

As the cable industry continues to use fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) technologies to serve businesses and pockets of residential customers, CableLabs has initiated an effort that seeks to bring unity to the standards that govern passive optical network (PON) technology.

It’s a lofty ambition, and one that is not is free of controversy and skepticism. After all, PON standards, which today are headed up by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), present a mixture of engineering knowhow, techno-religion, and turf protection.

Through an effort called “OnePON,” CableLabs hopes to bridge some of the technical differences separating EPON (the IEEE standard) and GPON (ITU’s turf) as the standards bodies move ahead on new generations of those platforms.

The idea for OnePON was spawned after it became increasingly clear that EPON and GPON are naturally coming together through the common use of Ethernet transport, Curtis Knittle, director of optical technologies at CableLabs, said.

“At some point, we can come together and have a single solution; there’s tremendous benefit for service providers and vendors,” Knittle said, noting that it will make technology decisions easier for operators, drive down prices, and also open up the market for the suppliers.

History isn’t on his side. Knittle said the IEEE and ITU tried to come together on standards in 2005 and 2008, but neither organization accepted the other’s solution and instead opted to blaze parallel paths.

So, what’s the CableLabs role here? To serve as a neutral “facilitator,” Knittle said, and to help with the creation of a unified PON platform that could benefit all service providers, not just cable operators.

“We are doing some evangelizing and outreach,” he said. “Everyone agrees that there’s tremendous benefit, but nobody has a solution on how to get there. It’s an interesting debate between the two sides; there’s a lot of passion. Everybody wants to protect what they’ve developed. Each side believes that their solution is better.”

He said he thinks the timing is right for the sides to try to find common ground again as they eye a new generation of standards. He added that he’s hopeful that the PON standards groups will take a lesson from the mobile standards world, which eventually coalesced around Long Term Evolution (LTE), setting the stage for global deployments and a steep pricing decline in LTE consumer-premises equipment dongles.

While the idea behind OnePON isn’t a cabletailored notion, the industry has some skin in the game as MSOs use FTTP to serve businesses and, in some cases, in new residential buildouts. MSOs have used a mixture of EPON and GPON technologies, but several have recently gravitated toward EPON, due in part to the development of a CableLabs spec (DOCSIS Provisioning of EPON, or DPoE) that enables operators to apply DOCSIS-style provisioning and management systems to EPON networks.

CableLabs has also started work on a DOCSIS provisioning model for GPON networks, Knittle said.

These are early days. Knittle said the OnePON project, presently in the form of a working group, kicked off only about 10 weeks ago.

He said the CableLabs idea has been met with an initial dose of skepticism, but getting both sides to agree in some incremental or partial ways would be deemed a success.

“The Holy Grail, though, is a single solution, a single standard,” Knittle said.

What’s Going On With PON?

CableLabs’ initiative is coming into view as the ITU and IEEE move forward on next-gen PON standards:

NG-PON2: The designation for the ITU’s effort to define a family of post-10 Gigabit-per-second GPON solutions, using Time and Wavelength Division Multiplexing.

NGEPON: The label for the IEEE’s effort to define an EPON standard that reaches beyond 10 Gbps.

SOURCE:Multichannel News research