Multi-gig PON 101: Q&A with AT&T

optical network
This week's interview features Eddy Barker, AVP Member Tech Staff at AT&T. (sbelov/Getty Images)

Fierce’s Multi-gig PON 101 Q&A series digs deep into the high-speed future, aiming to help readers build in-depth knowledge about key technologies and the overall market landscape through progressive interviews with industry experts. This collection will delve into the forces driving operators toward multi-gig PON technology; how XGS-PON and other 10G technologies are helping deliver a new breed of ultra-fast broadband; and what’s coming down the pipe with 25G and beyond.

This week's interview features Eddy Barker, AVP Member Tech Staff at AT&T. The interview transcript has been lightly edited.

Fierce Telecom (FT): You revealed deployments of XGS-PON in March 2020. What is driving you to upgrade to XGS-PON? How are you choosing which parts of the network to upgrade?

Eddy Barker (EB): AT&T announced a pivot from GPON to XGS-PON in our network build program in March 2020. AT&T has been working toward this pivot for many years after helping to drive the completion of the XGS-PON standard. Drivers for XGS-PON over GPON are the increased shared, symmetrical capacity and potential to offer more competitive speed tiers for businesses and consumers which allow for a longer investment lifespan. 

Eddy Barker, AT&T

AT&T has announced a significant ongoing integrated fiber build that will utilize XGS-PON as well as other transmission services supporting our consumer, enterprise and mobility products across a common fiber infrastructure. Our investment decisions are based on the capacity needs of our network, demand for our services and budget.

FT: How did you go about selecting a PON technology for your fiber upgrades? Why did you choose XGS-PON over other technologies such as NG-PON2?

EB: AT&T considered the use cases and economics of available PON technologies before landing on XGS as our second-gen PON technology. As you know, XGS and NG-PON2 are sibling standards at the ITU using the same MAC layer and most vendor’s OLTs support both standards. The use of tunable optics with NG-PON2 was not of considerable interest to AT&T since our FiberWise technology offers a superior set of converged services, capacity and fiber savings than could be provided by NG-PON2 for enterprise, consumer and mobile xHaul capabilities.

FT: Does the upgrade to XGS-PON allow you to do anything new with the network, such as serving both business and consumers with the same infrastructure?

EB: AT&T’s PON access technology is utilized for both consumer and business services supporting voice, video and broadband Internet. As noted, XGS does allow for increased capacity and speeds which will support a longer investment life. Combined with AT&T’s FiberWise technology, our investment in fiber can be efficiently used to support all of our enterprise, consumer and mobility infrastructure very cost effectively. 

FT: What kind of timeline are you looking at for multi-gig services to be introduced into the market? Is there currently demand among businesses or consumers?

EB: Over the past year, the home has become the center for family, school and work. Based on our data and insights, we see two broadband trends – one is the importance of upload speeds and two is that more devices are connected in the home. While we cannot share anything about multi-gig at this time, we are working hard to continue to satisfy customers’ needs by expanding our fiber network and rolling out Wi-Fi 6 and tri-band-enabled equipment to AT&T Fiber customers.

RELATED: AT&T tees up 1-Gig XGS-PON speeds in more than 40 cities

AT&T currently offers three symmetrical speed options to customers: 300 Mbps, 500 Mbps and the highest speed at 1 Gbps. Wi-Fi 6 and tri-band technology provides increased capacity for more devices to connect to the network and better coverage, and are prepared to support multi-gig speeds in the future.

FT: Do you expect to have a competitive advantage in markets where you deploy XGS-PON or is this a technology most operators are rolling out?

EB: XGS does allow for the potential for a more competitive set of services for businesses and consumers. AT&T took a lead on this new technology from the start at the ITU for standardization, development of next-generation CPE and field deployments beginning in March 2020. We have one of the largest deployments of 10 gigabit PON to date in North America which offers best in class reliability, low maintenance costs and low latency due to using a passive optical network architecture.

FT: There has been some buzz lately about 25G PON. What’s AT&T’s take on this? Do you believe this is the next step or is 50G PON more likely? Are you conducting any sort of testing?

EB: AT&T is a member of the 25GS-PON Multi-Source Agreement (MSA) which currently has 34 participating companies, and the second version of the MSA specification was recently ratified. AT&T has been testing this technology in our labs for several years and believes it could be a viable and economical next step in supporting 10 Gbps+ services. However, AT&T is also supportive of 50G+ standardization efforts and is closely monitoring silicon and optical component vendor developments and timelines as we align on future network investment decisions.