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Active Ethernet grows in PON's shadow
By Ed Gubbins

May 13, 2008 3:39 PM

Point-to-point Ethernet fiber to the home, while often overlooked, is becoming more popular

When it comes to fiber-to-the-home technology in North America, passive optical networks get all the attention. But FTTH based on active Ethernet technology is quietly growing more prevalent.

PON certainly dominates the domestic FTTH market, but point-to-point Ethernet should not be ignored. According to RVA Market Research & Consulting, 25% of FTTH subscribers in North America not served by a Bell company are served by active Ethernet. (That's more than 200,000 subscribers.) It's an increase from 24% a year ago.

Part of the reason for the growth is the simple fact that some of the larger FTTH deployments in the U.S. — including those of SureWest Communications, Utah's multicity Utopia network and utilities such as Jackson, Tenn.'s — are based on active Ethernet. And active Ethernet deployments among telcos are increasing in number as well, said Michael Render, president of RVA. “For telcos, it's still a GPON-dominated world, but active wins are increasing there as well,” he said.

According to Infonetics Research, the global market for active Ethernet FTTH gear, though less than a fourth the size of PON's, is growing just as fast: 32% per year and set to reach $1.2 billion in 2011. Demand is strongest among competitive carriers and municipalities in Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

The technology also has gotten more attention because Cisco Systems and Zhone Technologies have debuted new active Ethernet equipment — Cisco's, notably, as a first foray into fiber to the building. And one vendor in the space, World Wide Packets, recently was acquired for a whopping 10 times its annual revenue (perhaps in part because it had gained favor at AT&T).

Active Ethernet generally carries more bandwidth than PON, but many telcos dislike the fact that it requires active electronics in outside plant that could be susceptible to weather damage. Still, some vendors say that's becoming less of an issue because more carriers — even those with PON networks — are opting to pull outside plant gear into their central offices (COs), leaving point-to-point links that could one day be upgraded to active Ethernet with no electronics in the field. For example, SRT Communications, a telco in North Dakota, recently picked Zhone's new point-to-point Ethernet gear to reach some customers that were as far as 20 miles from a remote terminal. Those distant homes will be served by active Ethernet but with no active electronics in the field.

Part of the reason some carriers are pulling passive splitters back into their COs, Render said, is because the original impetus for field splitters has changed. Years ago, telcos hoped to minimize fiber costs by putting splitters out in the field, shortening per-home fiber links. But as widespread deployment has lowered the cost of fiber, more carriers are running fiber directly between the home and splitters in the CO. When those carriers need more bandwidth, vendors will be ready to push active Ethernet upgrades for those point-to-point links.


(Bell companies excluded)

BPON 32%
GPON 30%
Source: RVA Market Research & Consulting

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