This has been a truly amazing industry to watch over the past twenty years. The pace at which it evolves and recreates itself is amazing. Five years ago, the general thought was that FTTH was the only way to go and if you weren’t going FTTH, you were basically going to be extinct. The telcos spearheaded the charge to bring life to their aging assets and “leapfrog” cable. Once they started slowing down, a well known search engine decided to jump into the fray. Through it all, CATV plants continued to upgrade and push fiber deeper understanding that the key to the whole equation was data. Not necessarily the speed of the data but keeping ahead of the consumer demand for data. It didn’t take long for DOCSIS™ to catch up and enter the world of 1Gig by 1Gig but at the end of the day, typical consumer demand is not driving the need for a 1 Gig symmetrical service.
There will always be a need to upgrade the network. Consumer demand will continue to evolve and in general people will continue to drive to faster service. The question is fairly simple – What else can drive revenue and growth in the industry? In the past twelve months, a new growth engine has materialized –wireless. This engine is not new to the industry as there has been a few forays into the cellular space over the past twenty years; however, up until now the value sale hasn’t been there. As the cellular networks evolve, the number of small cells will drastically increase per mile to support 5G. The cellular leaders have been discussing the challenges of deploying small cells for the past few years. Where are they going to get the power, real estate, and backhaul to deploy 10X the number of small cells? The answer is fairly simple, the HFC network. FTTH was once a major threat to the industry and now it is turning into an advantage. What is missing with a FTTH network? Power! Power is a key factor in building a small cell network and what doesn’t FTTH have? Power! In the past year, Sprint has signed two deals with MSOs to utilize the HFC network to deploy 4G radios. Expectation is that there will be over 20,000 small cells deployed this year to support Sprint’s 4G LTE network. In rough numbers, if the LTE radios are consuming ~75W per radio, this is roughly 1.5MW of load being added to the HFC network. This type of load profile hasn’t been contemplated and added to the network since circuit switch telephony was rolled out in the early 2000s.
Small cell is just one of the many wireless technologies which will create many revenue driven opportunities as well as a few operational challenges. 4G LTE is predominantly being utilized by the mobile network operator (MNO) and is on licensed spectrum. Citizen Band Radio Service (CBRS) technology is being investigated by the MSOs to provide small cell coverage in the unlicensed spectrum.
WiFi will continue to rollout and either compliment or compete with small cell technology as the technology advances. Last but definitely not least, is Industrial Internet of Things (I-IoT) technology, there are a number of Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technologies which will drive the adoption of machine-to-machine technologies.
It is an exciting time for the industry and with that excitement there is going to be significant opportunities and challenges to deploy.