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Asia gears up for fiber-based broadband tech

Posted: 22 May 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Christine Telesforo? triple play? broadband? passive optical networking? PON?

Bekis: FTTH adoption will accelerate once services demanding high-speed productivity, particularly high-definition video content, enter the market.

To meet the rapidly growing demand for triple play access, the broadband industry is looking at passive optical networking (PON) as the next logical step, and major industry player PMC-Sierra is taking the ballgame to Asia.

PON is a second-generation fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) technology. Unlike copper-based broadband systems such as DSL, FTTH delivers service access via fiber optic cables. ADSL has a typical speed of 1-20Mbps, while an FTTH-based system like PON is capable of up to 1Gbps.

PON architecture uses unpowered optical splitters to enable one fiber cable to reach individual users. Requiring no electrical power in the field while delivering efficient last-mile broadband access, PON is considered the ideal technology for enabling voice, data and video over a single service carrier, at a cost not far from those of earlier broadband systems.

Fiber vs. copper
FTTH is changing the way people live, said Dror Sal'ee, PMC-Sierra director for FTTH Marketing. Aside from giving higher local bandwidth and enabling more applications, FTTH virtually replaces the old copper-based infrastructure on which traditional Internet connectivity operates. This system was designed almost a century ago to enable voice conversation, the "killer app" of yesteryears that made many carriers rich. "But that cow has been milked enoughnot much money can be made from voice conversations anymore," Sal'ee added.

For carriers to realize target revenues, they must add optimized content to their service offerings. The trend is toward providing high-speed data and video streaming. However, these applications consume significant bandwidth, and current broadband technologies founded on copper-based infrastructure are reaching their capacity limit.

Copper-based networks are also costly to maintain, requiring local axis components and amplifiers underground. Telephone poles need regular maintenance. According to Sal'ee, billions of dollars are spent in North America to maintain existing copper-based networks. With voice-only services, carriers will not be able to sustain the operational expenses incurred by these old networks.

Sal'ee: Not much money can be made from voice conversations anymore.

On the other hand, the shift to FTTH requires major capital expenditures as it entails a complete overhaul of the system infrastructure. Still, huge savings in operational expenses and greater revenues from a wide subscriber base are expected to offset these costs.

As seen in FTTH deployments last year, which were mostly in Japan, there are no major technological hurdles in the shift from copper to fiber architecture, but appropriate management systems have to be in place to efficiently serve millions of subscribers.

Dino Bekis, PMC-Sierra marketing VP for Communication Products Division, predicts that FTTH adoption will accelerate once services demanding high-speed productivity, particularly high-definition video content, enter the market. The lag between the launching of a high-speed technology and the introduction of high-speed services requiring the technology is usually around 18 to 24 months, Bekis said. Thus, the adoption of FTTH is not likely to take decades as in the case of dial-up or DSL, but will accelerate within the next four to five years as more FTTH-optimized services emerge.

FTTH/PON in Asia
Asia is at the forefront of the FTTH revolution, according to Sal'ee. Carriers worldwide have committed to invest a total of $81B to change copper infrastructures to fiber by 2010. Japan's NTT alone has earmarked $47B for this purpose.

NTT projects 30 million households switching to fiber by 2010. As of last year, new FTTH subscriptions in Japan were twice as much as DSL subscriptions. This trend is expected to continue even as more bandwidth-intensive applications come into the market. To date, PMC-Sierra has shipped 2.5 million devices for the FTTH deployments in Japan.

Bekis said initial FTTH deployment has started in Korea, where 20 million subscribers are targeted by 2010. Trials are underway in China, with the rest of the region expected to follow suit.

FTTH/PON is an area of significant investment and investigation in Asia, Bekis pointed out, and PMC-Sierra sees the China market as a key that could drive widespread adoption of this technology. PMC-Sierra has a major facility in Shanghai and is currently expanding its China operations.

According to Bekis, PMC-Sierra is investing heavily in the Asia-Pacific, which it regards as an important business locus. Over half of the company's business is in the region, with around 40 percent coming from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The company recently set up an R&D arm in Bangalore, India. PMC-Sierra's revenue report for Q1 2006 shows that 50 percent of its net revenues during the period came from Asia.

- Christine Telesforo
Electronic Engineering Times-Asia




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