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The Importance of Planning for 10G PON with Future Proofed Networks

Work- and learn-from-home mandates, countless video conferences, the ongoing swing towards video streaming services–2020 will be a long chapter in our history books.

Our changes in behavior, many due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have directly impacted our broadband network needs. While at times frustrating, the lessons learned in 2020 will have a long-lasting impact on how our broadband networks are built with the future in mind.

As the world shut down in early 2020 and businesses began their shift to remote working, we saw increased need for not only reliable at-home internet connections, but areas previously unserved were no longer able to function “off the grid” as workers and students alike were forced to “clock in” from home. Providers not prepared for the increased demand were left scrambling.

Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative (FTC) in rural northeast Alabama was ahead of the network demand game in 2018 when it began to shift its customers off Active Ethernet and onto GPON. A catalyst of that change came in the form of a new development that brought tons of families into a very rural area.

A developer unexpectedly came along to transform this rural plot into a very large neighborhood, shifting the economics from Active Ethernet to GPON.

“It was an area that we would have previously expected to serve maybe two homes in,” Charles Austin, Manager of Network Engineering and Operations at FTC, said.

Considering its high cost and infrastructure needs, Active Ethernet was not a plausible solution. GPON allowed FTC to connect a neighborhood of families over a single fiber link.

And for a while, GPON served FTC’s customers well. Until 2020.

According to the Pew Research Center, one in five employees worked from home prior to 2020. In a matter of days, that number jumped to 71%. Eighty-one percent of those employed adults working from home say they use video conferencing services to stay connected with their teams. The number for students learning from home is likely even higher. Higher bandwidth was no longer a luxury but a necessity.

Suddenly, GPON was not sufficient to carry customers’ bandwidth needs. FTC needed a new solution, and it came as a result of a local school district’s needs. Austin said FTC needed a plan to cover a network of schools in its region, and XGS-PON was the answer. Utilizing a single fiber already existing as part of the former GPON network, FTC was able to deploy service to this network of schools with no new construction or slicing needed.

“It’s much more efficient from the fiber standpoint,” Austin said. “And from the operational standpoint, a single fiber running to the ONT is managed by the same group who manage the carrier network–the same people who manage that ONT. So, it flattened the organization quite a bit and reduced the need for specialized–and expensive–knowledge.”

After that school district, FTC bit the bullet and began its shift over to XGS-PON.

Kevin Kuo, Director of Product and Solution Marketing at Calix, said FTC made the right choice in its XGS-PON solution. “XGS-PON is an up-and-coming 10G PON solution, and it conveniently coexists with GPON,” making the transition easy for providers.

While the improvements may look and sound expensive to carriers looking to make the switch, Austin said the upgrade has well paid off over time. He reported that FTC has also seen significant decreases in truck roll numbers thanks to the change.

Austin stressed the importance of making that shift now, rather than waiting and having to scramble when customers start demanding 5G connections.

“As we look into that crystal ball, whether it’s a lump of coal or not,” Austin joked. “5G is going to require a network able to handle multiple 10G connections.”