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What is PON and 7 Ways it can Improve Your Customer Experience

31 May 2022
Mike Dorland

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Passive Optical Networks deliver a variety of advantages to both network operators and their customers. These range from reduced costs for the operator to improved experience for the customer. Effectively deployed and managed, PON’s benefits can be game changers in the pursuit of market share. But there’s a lot to learn in order to maximize the benefits of the technology.

With passive optical networks, operators and customers can both emerge winners over the last mile

Passive Optical Networks (there is, as we’ll see, more than one variety) represent a win-win investment for network operators. They benefit, and so do their customers.

For operators, PON technology, inherently cost-effective, uses a single fiber strand over the “last mile” to deliver services to multiple end-users, thereby reducing both the infrastructure and material costs of traditional active, point-to-point systems. The operator’s customers benefit too in a variety of ways we’ll look at in this blog, mainly related to improving their end-user experience. And, in the battle to win and retain customers, experience has become a critical weapon to wield.

About Passive Optical Networks 

What, in more detail, are the distinguishing features of a PON? The “Passive” refers to the fact that no power is required to drive delivery of the connectivity to the end-user site. Mainly used in Fiber to the Home (FTTH) deployments, PON means build-out of connections is simplified and network costs are reduced. Once a signal has passed the Optical Network Unit (ONU), the last powered component in the network, PON signals can reach as far as 20km acting passively. The typical split of a single fiber is 1:32 or 1:64 which means each fiber can serve up to 32 or 64 subscribers, (although higher split ratios of up to 1:128 are possible in some systems), all with no additional power requirement.

One technology, myriad flavors

While the term “PON” is generalized, as noted above Passive Optical Networks come in a variety of incarnations. Foremost among them are GPON, APON, EPON and 10G-PON (XG-PON). It’s worth taking a moment to distinguish between them.

  • GPON (Gigabit PON) is currently the most common version of PON. It uses one wavelength for downstream traffic (and another for upstream traffic.
  • APON (ATM Passive Optical Network) is based on ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) and again provides 622 different speeds using different bandwidths for upstream and downstream transmission.
  • EPON is Ethernet Passive Network, also known as GEPON (Gigabit Ethernet Passive Network). This uses a single Layer 2 IP network to carry data, voice and video. Generally, it’s more cost effective than GPON.
  • 10G-PON, which comes in several forms – XG-PON, supporting next generation ultra-fast 10-Gigabit rates, with asymmetric performance (Max downstream line rate – 9.953 Gbit/s, max upstream 2.488 Gbit/s; and XGS-PON, a symmetric 10G-capable interface, with a maximum downstream / upstream rate of 9.953 Gbit/s

PON-how the customer benefits 

While the brief explanation of PON above makes it immediately clear how the network operator can accrue benefits from deploying the technology, what about the customer? How does the end-user experience improve with Passive Optical Networks? Among many, seven clear advantages that can be accrued are:

1. PON supports the highest Internet speeds available

PON provides a foundation that enables the highest levels of internet speeds to be delivered to customers – while also supporting upgrade paths, so you can keep them connected and ensure you compete effectively with rivals. It gives you what your customers need to make the most of online services and connectivity, while providing you with a product you can easily monetize.

2. PON provides an Internet connection that’s both reliable and adaptable

Fiber is more reliable than other technologies in part because fiber cabling is smaller, lighter, and more easily routed through buildings compared to alternative types of wiring. It also avoids the risk of electro-magnetic interference (because passive fiber doesn’t use electricity to transmit data.)

3. PON delivers more than just the Internet (for instance, TV)

A shared fiber in a PON network deployment can support a variety of services including voice (phone service) and video as well as Internet. One result of this is that customers can not only access multiple services but do so at a higher quality – so, unlocking streaming video, real-time gaming and more, all of which are eagerly consumed.

4. PON is flexible and scalable

Although an indirect benefit to the customer the fact that PONs are highly flexible and scalable enables evolving future requirements to be met quickly and seamlessly. Particularly for enterprise customers, this means, as the business and network grow, the customer will have the support needed to meet changing bandwidth needs – and, migration to the newer XG(S)-PON, for example, from an earlier GPON version can be smoothly achieved.

5. PON networks enable management, optimization, and support for the “connected home”

Given the increasing proliferation of connected environments and the likely continuation of that trend, operators need to have the tools to provision, manage, optimize, and maintain home networks with particular attention to Wi-Fi. PON networks both enable and simplify meeting this demand.

6. PON provides a simple mechanism on which in-demand value added services can be delivered

In fact, in an even more general sense PON provides broad-scale future proofing in a world of constant IT change. Optical networks are simply better able to cope with service (and device) innovation than traditional copper wires. And fiber networks have a long lifespan – around 30 years – meaning that most innovations can be accommodated with only minimal changes to edge devices rather than core network elements. 

7. PON supports dramatically upgraded wi-fi performance

Wi-Fi 6 is not only 40% faster than its predecessors, but also adds 6GHz of spectrum. That’s uncongested spectrum and unfettered by legacy devices which can cause lower latency. Given the ubiquity of customer reliance on wi-fi, the benefit here is particularly significant.

Next Steps

Even this brief review makes the advantages of Passive Optical Networking – to both network operators and their customers- clear. The next challenge therefore becomes how to deploy and manage to keep performance optimal and the customer experience maximal?

Read more and find out all you need to know about PON, GPON and how you can manage your GPON investments to maximize efficiency and returns.

For those who’d like to learn more about answering that question as well as discovering more detail about PON itself, expanding on some of the themes we’ve touched on in this blog, we’d recommend downloading VC4’s comprehensive Guide to managing PON investments to maximize efficiency and returns.

To download the Guide, please click here. VC4’s solutions help operators to plan and manage their network investments efficiently and effectively via solutions that span their entire infrastructure and grow with the business.

Built and deployed for over 20 years, VC4 has developed and delivers a complete OSS suite with all functionalities available in a single application. All the GPON registration functionality noted in this blog is available in its VC4-IMS Network Planning and Network Inventory system.