Word from the cable show floor – fiber is hot

DG Editor's Corner

SCTE CABLE-TEC EXPO – DOCSIS was the undisputed champion at the 2022 Cable-Tec Expo, the first in-person staging of the event in more than two years. But another technology also made its presence felt across the show floor: fiber. And to hear vendors tell it, there’s a reason for that.

I honestly haven’t been to Cable-Tec since the mid-2010s, given my coverage until 2021 largely focused on the wireless industry. So, I can’t take credit for noticing fiber’s more prominent profile on my own. It was actually Curtis Knittle, VP of wired technologies at CableLabs, who pointed it out in one of my first conversations at the show.

“It feels like there are more booths and people associated with fiber-to-the-prem or otherwise,” he told me. That comment sent me on a quest to find all the fiber vendors I could on the show floor so I could pepper them with questions about what kind of interest they were seeing from show attendees.

Around a half a dozen companies spoke to me on background and according to all of them, interest in fiber technologies has noticeably increased. It seems cable is primarily looking at fiber for greenfield builds, although two vendors noted they’ve seen interest in fiber for brownfield deployments as well.

Knittle noted “There’s still a really strong desire to leverage the coax that’s already in the ground, but no doubt the greenfield opportunity is fiber-to-the-home PON technologies. There are some operators that are making a strategic decision to cap DOCSIS 3.1 and start thinking about planning for overbuilding and putting fiber in place.”

Vendors are certainly starting to notice the shift. For instance, Vecima has made a name for itself supplying Remote PHY and Remote MAC PHY gear for cable’s distributed access architecture deployments. But COO Clay McCreery told me in an on-the-record chat “the fiber side is the fastest growing part of our business today,” so much so that Vecima soon plans to break out cable and fiber revenue in its earnings reports. And this week, Vecima added a new shelf-based XGS-PON product to its nascent fiber access portfolio.

The companies I spoke with pointed to an influx of government funding for greenfield builds as a key driver of cable’s interest in fiber. Indeed, McCreery said the focus on rural broadband is a big reason for fiber’s popularity.

“Today, if you’re building brand new plant, you’re mostly – 90% of the time, at least – doing that with fiber. We’re seeing that in our own results,” McCreery said. He added that operators are also laying fiber as they expand their existing networks to new neighborhoods.

Companies like Vecima are working to allow cable operators to serve both cable and fiber customers from the same node. But in terms of the fiber itself, vendors are seeing more interest in ribbon fiber cables, which group fiber strands in a flat strip. These cables are not only more flexible than traditional tube fiber but also offer a higher density of fiber and allow for multiple strands to be spliced at a time.

Despite the increased interest in fiber, DOCSIS certainly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Many of the sessions I attended at Cable-Tec were geared toward providing enough HFC capacity to get operators through the next 10 years or more. But it will certainly be interesting to keep an eye on this space to see how networks evolve going forward.