As consumer demand for higher bandwidth and more personalized services continues to grow, there’s no doubt that today’s communication service providers are faced with tough decisions about their technology and infrastructure investments.
What’s the practical difference between FTTH and Docsis 4.0, and what are savvy CSPs doing to future-proof their business models?
Comparing Fiber-to-the-house with Docsis 4.0
Let’s start by understanding the technology itself. Also called Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP), Fiber-to-the-House (FTTH) is defined by the use of optical fiber connected directly to the consumer’s home. Through the use of light signals, last mile telecommunications can be significantly faster, with lower latency and improved performance. Many believe that cable technology such as Docsis (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications) can’t compete.
However, Docsis refuses to be counted out. After all, it’s the technology that is most widely deployed, evolving in speeds from the early days of Docsis 2.0 supporting symmetric services such as IP Telephony, and Docsis 3.0, with increased downstream data rates of up to 1Gbps and IPv6 support and infrastructure that has efficiently delivered broadband internet since the early 90’s over HFC (Hybrid Fiber Coax), utilizing existing last mile coax infrastructure.
Today, with the 10G vision in mind, with each release of enhanced Docsis technology its capabilities improve. The specifications for Docsis 4.0 suggest that it will be more than capable of offering symmetric services, with 10 Gbps downstream capacity, and up to 6 Gbps upstream.
In addition, CSPs need to consider the availability and cost of fiber technology. There are heavy installation and labor costs associated with laying fiber vs copper cable technology, and a whole new infrastructure to plan, deploy and maintain. While the traditional line of thought is that fiber is much cheaper to maintain per mile than coax, supply chain issues means that “average prices have soared from record lows of $3.70 per fiber kilometer in March 2021 to $6.30” in mid-2022.
As a less mature technology than Docsis, it’s also important to recognize that it’s simply not available everywhere yet, which means that even if you want to implement a copper shutdown, you’re going to need to work in a hybrid reality for some time.
While Fiber Matures, CSPs Have Bigger Worries on their Minds
Let’s take a step back and consider what else CSPs have to contend with. CSPs are facing growing consumer expectations when it comes to service delivery, with subscribers demanding greater bandwidth, higher speeds, fewer errors, and more personalized services than ever before. According to McKinsey Research, 71% of consumers expect personalized services, and 76% experience frustration when these don’t materialize.
At the same time, since the earliest days of the web, Nielsen’s Law of Internet Bandwidth shows that demands have grown around 50% every year, suggesting that by 2030, even a light internet user may require 300Mbps.
With these demands hanging over their heads, many ISPs and CSPs simply can’t afford to rake up high costs or limit their scale with the use of FTTH, and yet they recognize that fiber may well be the future, and part of the solution. In that case, the holy grail of technologies are those which allow them to remain competitive on existing infrastructure while they make 5 or 10 year plans.
One answer is the use of shared resources. Today, communication providers are increasingly reliant on shared services, and are benefiting from innovation such as open access infrastructure, where multiple ISPs share a single fiber optic network. This can allow ISPs to be more competitive, channeling their budget away from building, operating and fixing their own networks, and into improving service delivery to the end users, a more pressing demand.
By sharing infrastructure, providers can offer fiber services to users where the location and the price point works, and then use copper-based networks with xDSL for low-cost and high-speed data transmission where fiber is not a competitive or viable option.
With the right visibility, CSPs can get granular about their offering, and streamline their own costs and processes by offering ADSL or VDSL respectively depending on subscriber requirements. They can even create specific packages for certain types of consumers, such as a focus on security for employees of a business with tight regulatory requirements, or high bandwidth for a private residence that houses heavy gamers.
To Get Value from Diversity, Sharing Data is the Next Step
To make this vision a reality, CSPs and ISPs need to be able to access granular and real-time data to see what their subscribers are using services for, and attain this visibility via any access technology, from fiber or cable to xDSL, and through any connection, whether that’s point to point, point to multipoint (P2MP), mesh networks, or otherwise.
This approach allows organizations to hold onto their existing infrastructure, leverage innovative shared resources behind the scenes, and focus their attention on using the data to provide a better service to their subscribers.
By using AI to continuously measure the QoE of every internet session, ISPs and CSPs can gain access to the relevant data they need to proactively support end-users, often autonomously fixing an issue by detecting the root cause of a problem ahead of time. Where this isn’t possible, customer service representatives are delivered all the information they need to make troubleshooting painless, and to quickly deliver a positive outcome to the subscriber.
By better understanding your users in segments, network planning becomes data-driven, upselling and cross-selling is focused on real-time needs, and performance is optimized to ensure 5-star experiences every time a subscriber heads online.