P802.3bk ™ is pushing the physical limits to provide higher density optical access

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Market-driven standard for extended EPON developed under open process is key to helping operators cost-effectively provide higher density optical access, addressing their current and future needs

By Marek Hajduczenia, chair of the IEEE P802.3bk Extended EPON Task Force and Network Architect at Bright House Networks

The IEEE P802.3bk Extended EPON Task Force of the IEEE 802.3™ Working Group is an excellent example of how IEEE fosters a market-driven, open process to solve real-life problems challenging the evolution of networks around the world.

In broad terms, the P802.3bk Extended EPON Task Force addresses the need the operators have to build optical access networks that can support more customers, at a longer distance from the local hub. But more specifically, operators are primarily looking for cost-effective solutions to address the mobile backhaul in dense urban areas, as well as delivering services to geographically scattered customers. (Further discussion in this video)

The mobile backhaul is a very hot topic right now. With the advent of 3G and 4G networks, the problem is only further aggravated, because mobile carriers need a higher density of base towers in the given area to provide good coverage to their customers. As the evolution to faster mobile networks continues, the mobile backhaul network has to also be ready for increasing data rates and base station densities. Operators need to migrate from the current point-to-point fiber backhaul solution to more cost-effective point-to-multipoint architectures. This migration substantially improves the density of connected base stations per hub, lowering the cost of a single connection and making the resulting infrastructure much more scalable and future-proof.

The other challenge in front of operators is serving geographically scattered customers, who cannot be reached in a cost-effective manner today using point-to-point solutions. Right now an operator either has to run a really long point-to-point fiber or use just as costly microwave transport. With the new standard developed by the IEEE P802.3bk Extended EPON Task Force, it is possible to connect such customers using lower reach Ethernet Passive Optical Network solutions, maintaining the advantages of passive outside plant, while still providing gigabit speeds to end subscribers.

Open process means that anyone can participate in the development of the standard, and people who choose to participate in such efforts are very passionate about pushing the networking technology forward, making Internet access faster, better, more cost-effective, and in general – more accessible. But just as important, as a community of technical experts, we create standards to address the actual need for specific networking solutions, making them much more successful in the competitive market of today.

The first step for the P802.3bk Task Force was to gather requirements from those who are most affected by the problem at hand, i.e., individual network operators and carriers. This step took six months and allowed the Task Force to better understand the technical challenges at hand. Bringing together both operators and suppliers is a critical part of the process, guaranteeing that the end product of the standardization effort addresses the actual technical problem, and does not become a technical solution without a problem.

It is pretty amazing that over just a few years Ethernet has evolved to the point where we’re discussing the development of solutions operating at 400 Gbit/s. The evolution of optical access based on Ethernet does not stop either. Just 4 years after the completion of the P802.3av™ project which delivered EPON operating at the symmetric rates of 10 Gbit/s, we are going to start looking at the next generation of EPON systems. Such next generation EPON is likely going to support data rates in excess of 40 Gbit/s, providing the necessary scalability into the foreseeable future, but also provide backward compatibility to guarantee that operators deploying EPON today have a clear evolution path into the future, future-proofing their current investments into optical access networks.

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