Harmonic positions to be 'easy button for BEAD'

If there is one point that Harmonic SVP Dan Gledhill wants to emphasize at this week’s U.S. Broadband Summit, it’s “that there's a lot of work to be done” for operators to capitalize on $42.5 billion in Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) funding.

Gledhill, who heads Harmonic’s broadband business and is a speaker at the Summit, sat with Fierce Telecom this week to talk about the current technology landscape — including Harmonic's "precision PON" and "precision DOCSIS" strategy — and how operators can make the most of BEAD.

“I definitely see operators struggling to ramp up,” Gledhill said. “They are about to undergo massive builds on an order of magnitude that they haven't necessarily experienced before."

Making sure that the operational side is “streamlined and addressable” has become one of Harmonic’s biggest areas of investment, he added. “We are basically positioning ourselves to be the easy button for BEAD.”

This includes facilitating operators being able to switch between fiber and cable connectivity as needed.

With BEAD funding about to hit the market, Gledhill said he is frequently asked whether he would recommend using cable technology for new network builds, or if its best to build everything with fiber. “My response is always there is no single answer. Decide on a case-by-case basis in many scenarios, and something we see very, very frequently is that it's actually house-by-house,” he said.

For example, someone who games a lot might use an operator’s fiber, and their neighbor next door may not need it, opting instead for a cable connection. “Operators can really tune their investment down to that level of granularity,” Gledhill continued.

“There's no one size fits all solution,” he said. “Operators need to be able to efficiently deploy all of those technologies utilizing a single sort of management control operation plane.”

That type of granularity is already being done today, a concept Harmonic calls “precision PON” and “precision DOCSIS,” where devices are built with a hybrid support for PON and cable connectivity. Essentially, Harmonic’s virtual network core has a single management plane, a single piece of hardware, and can enable both cable technologies and fiber technologies, a capability Gledhill touted as crucial in the modern broadband landscape.

For operators, that means the mode of connectivity for each subscriber becomes “a service package-driven decision,” Gledhill said, which could be used to reduce churn. In the context of fiber to the home (FTTH), it could also make adding different technologies to each location less cumbersome.

According to Gledhill, operators might benefit from making a full selection available – including GPON, 10-Gig PON, 25-Gig PON, 50-Gig PON, 100 Gig PON, and so forth – in the same market, or even the same building. And they should be able to “deploy all of those technologies in both Brownfield and Greenfield markets,” Gledhill added.

Leading up to BEAD deployment, Harmonic has also invested in research and development to bolster long range optics.

Gledhill claimed that coherent optics and long range PON developments will ultimately lower costs for operators, as well as streamline construction by avoiding having “dozens of locations, extra buildings, etc.”

“Leveraging that long range technology is really critical. It's just coming out sort of now, you hear a lot of talk about coherent optics and long range PON,” he said. “It's here, they should use it. It's very beneficial from a total cost of ownership perspective.”