PON HGs gaining some traction
Integrated FTTx PON (passive optical network) home gateways (HGs) are not a new concept. They have been discussed for years but very few integrated PON HG devices have been deployed in customer premises. This is changing rapidly with tenders and initial deployments in China and Eastern and Western Europe.
The drivers for integrated PON HGs include declining costs for both PON ONTs and HGs, which thereby lower the costs of integrated solutions; the movement to all IP-based triple-play services, such as VoIP and IPTV; and service providers’ desire for simplified management and maintenance of multiple boxes at the customer’s premises. But the major drivers are advanced applications, such as home security and home automation.
Service providers have diverse requirements depending on local regulations, their respective views of applications for the broadband pipe, and existing CPE (customer premises equipment). We nonetheless forecast strong growth and future integrated solutions with extensive software platforms to support advanced services.
One could argue that integrated PON HGs should have arrived sooner given the expertise garnered from the DSL and cable markets. But there have been hurdles to clear, such as government regulation, which prohibited some service providers from offering triple-play services. This type of regulation led to the installation of simple PON CPE devices to support broadband data.
Sometimes internal service provider organizational politics were an issue, with one division focused on PON equipment while another was focused on the HG. In addition, the costs of initial PON CPE were high, well over $100. When combined with an HG, the cost was prohibitive and the risks were high in early PON deployments where the service provider was experimenting with various features.
These factors are changing. Some governments have eased up on their regulations, permitting service providers to offer triple-play services. PON MAC chip vendors are offering integrated PON HG SoCs (system on chips). The prices of PON CPE devices have dropped by more than 50% and are continuing to decline due to integrated SoCs, declining optics costs, and volume manufacturing. Finally, service providers are gaining expertise in PON.
Component and box vendors face evolving requirements
Each country has a different set of requirements for integrated PON HG devices. Large and diverse markets within a single country, such as China, have multiple sets of requirements, including different types of integrated PON HGs, such as a high-end device that includes multiple voice channels; support for multiple computing devices, such as two laptops; and in-home networking, such as Wi-Fi. Some homes in China already have DSL-based home gateways so a “bridged” solution uses the existing home gateway and attaches it to a simple PON ONT on the front-end. China Telecom has shown that it understands the situation faced by component and box vendors by streamlining its PON HG requirements in spec 3.0.
Other service providers have requested bids for integrated PON HGs but are not committing to purchasing. This creates a difficult situation for participating vendors as they prepare hardware and software solutions, but are hesitant to pull the trigger on costly manufacturing. For example, an integrated PON MAC plus HG plus Wi-Fi ASIC is certainly doable. But if most service providers choose non-integrated Wi-Fi, a chip vendor has wasted design and testing resources along with costly chip tape-out charges. In addition, the integrated devices require significant software design and testing.
While some service providers remain focused on the integrated PON HG as a pipe, others view it as an advanced services platform. In essence, the integrated PON HG becomes a services gateway by combining TR-069 (DSL Forum remote management CPE protocol) with OSGi (Open Gateway Service initiative).
With the bandwidth enabled by PON, the service provider can easily support remote home automation services such as turning on the home air conditioner and keeping an eye on the family dog while away from home. Future applications may include complete home automation and security, remote medical monitoring, home entertainment services for every room in the house, and direct links to government and education institutions. But these are further along the integrated PON HG roadmap.