Skip to main content

Cable MSOs—Full speed ahead with PON

To preserve their broadband leadership and expand their business, cable multiple-system operators (MSOs) around the world are increasingly looking to passive optical network (PON) technologies. PON allows them to address skyrocketing bandwidth demands to deliver triple-play services and IP-based streaming video to both business and residential subscribers.

By using a combination of Ethernet PON (EPON) and DOCSIS Provisioning of EPON, cable operators can best meet this growing demand for bandwidth while preserving their legacy services and optimizing costs.

The lay of the land

For some time, cable MSOs have been leading the residential entertainment and communication services segment. By expanding their service offering from broadcast video to include triple-play services, such as video-on-demand, high-speed Internet, and voice, they have successfully expanded market share. However, the status quo won’t take them where they want to go in the long run.

Several powerful forces are motivating MSOs to re-architect their access networks with higher performance technologies. These forces include:

  1. The proliferation of connected devices, including TVs, smart phones, and tablets.
  2. Competitors building out Gigabit networks over fiber.
  3. The dramatic expansion of over the top applications.

Adding to the urgency for cable MSOs is the evolution to higher quality video, such as 4K resolution[1]. This is driving the need for more and more residential IP access bandwidth.

Fortunately, cable MSOs are well positioned to address these forces. They can leverage their significant customer base, as well as their incumbency in IP and broadband, by building out their network and IP infrastructure with new access technologies. This will prepare their networks for growing bandwidth demands.

Ripe for change

According to the European Commission, only 40 percent of Europe is covered by cable services (see Figure 1). This presents a significant opportunity for cable MSOs to expand their residential customer base and address more users. With Gigabit networks for residential customers now a reality, cable MSOs need to respond to competition in residential markets.

Another area of growth is business services. Cable operators haven’t been a traditional service provider for businesses. Now it’s time to make the move.

Boosted by increasing demand from mid-market and enterprise customers, business services have the potential to become the next billion-dollar cable MSO segment. To grow this segment, cable MSOs must re-architect their access networks. They need to support business demands for greater bandwidth—both upstream and downstream—as well as enable superior quality of service.

Access evolution technologies

When building out a network, cable MSOs can choose among several different options. These range from expanding their hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) network to extending fiber-to-the-home (FTTH). Many start by building out the fiber network for business and greenfield residential areas, and gradually expand fiber deployments, as required.

Access technology choices depend on the area where the network is built. For greenfield territories, PON FTTH is the most cost-effective solution. In brownfield areas, choices vary depending on the business case. Table 1 outlines the most common access technologies options:

As Table 1 suggests, the recommended access technology option for cable MSOs is PON. So when re-architecting the network, they need to think towards an all fiber network. But which flavor of PON is best in the long-term for cable MSOs? Let’s look more closely at the leading PON options:

  • Ethernet PON (EPON): provides 1 Gbps symmetrical bandwidth, which is ideal for speeds of multiple 100 Mbps. Because the bandwidth is symmetrical, this technology is best suited for commercial services.
  • 10G EPON: provides 10 Gbps symmetrical bandwidth to cover the needs of multiple 1 Gbps. The main advantage for cable MSOs of EPON and 10G EPON is the CableLabs’ DOCSIS Provisioning of EPON (DPoE) standard. DPoE makes the EPON network fully transparent for the existing OSS/BSS system. This simplifies integration and management of the EPON network.
  • GPON: delivers bandwidth of 2.5 Gbps downstream and 1.25 Gbps upstream. It is the most widely deployed PON technology in fiber networks worldwide.
  • TWDM PON: is the newest evolution of PON technologies. It stacks up multiple wavelengths on the same fiber. Each wavelength provides a variety of upstream and downstream bandwidths: 2.5G/1.25G, 10G/1G, and 10G/10G. First-generation products stack 4 different wavelengths—with up to 8 in the future.

10G EPON and DPoE—The winning combination

Considering these options, our recommendation is a combination of 10G EPON and DPoE. Together they allow cable MSOs to extend their reach into the mid-market and large enterprise segments while preparing for the Gigabit needs of residential customers.

Operationally, 10G EPON cost-effectively delivers a wide range of bandwidth options. It integrates easily into existing networks, simplifying service provisioning. Furthermore, with 10G EPON, services of up to a Gigabit and more can be offered to an individual customer.

More about DPoE
DPoE is the bridge between regular EPON and DOCSIS systems. DPoE 1.0 defines a virtual cable modem structure so that DOCSIS OSSs “think” they are communicating with a cable modem on a CMTS system. DPoE 1.0 also defines the provisioning of basic Ethernet private line services and IP high-speed data service.

With DPoE, an MSO can easily integrate EPON into its existing service provisioning and activation systems. Following installation, EPON data services can be transparently provisioned in the same way as DOCSIS cable modems. Reuse of provisioning and operational support systems allows cable MSOs to deploy services faster at lower cost.

DPoE 2.0 brings additional capabilities to Ethernet LAN (ELAN) services. When combined with network protocols, such as MPLS and BGP AD[2], DPoE 2.0 substantially automates provisioning of end-to-end Ethernet private line and ELAN services. Together, these sophisticated capabilities greatly simplify the provisioning of complex network-wide services, reducing configuration time through an EPON system from hours to minutes.

In the traditional PON provisioning and registration model, optical network units (ONUs) are statically pre-provisioned. DPoE uses a dynamic registration paradigm that emulates the cable modem environment. The location of the ONU is not pre-determined and the ONU and associated service configurations reside outside the access node. The configuration process involves downloading a configuration file that describes the applicable service flows and QoS.

In summary… PON provides cable MSOs with a network to deliver competitive business services today—in addition to providing a foundation from which to serve the increasing need for Gigabit residential services.

Related Material

7360 Intelligent Services Access Manager (ISAM) FX product page

7368 ISAM ONT product page


  1. [1] 4K is a common term for ultra-high definition television. Source: Wikipedia
  2. [2] Border gateway protocol auto discovery (BGP AD)

To contact the author or request additional information, please send an email to

Els Baert

About Els Baert

Els has been part of the Fixed Networks journey for more than 7 years, driving marketing and product innovation. She recently decided to trade chocolate for meat pies and moved from Belgium to Australia to take up the role of customer solution manager, helping nbn to provide broadband services to every Australian.

Article tags