Fiber broadband is booming in North America as equipment spending over the past year outshined Asia and Europe, increasing to $4.5 billion with PON being the biggest growth driver. Both public and private investments are fueling growth as well.
“We think fiber homes passed could easily exceed 75 million homes by 2030 [from the top 5 incumbent providers],” said Jeff Heynen, Vice President, Broadband Access and Home Networking Group, Dell’Oro Group. “There’s no question about the public statements from the major operators in the U.S. They have committed to passing more homes and some, like AT&T, have begun to increase their commitments. We continue to see more and more operators, not just the larger Tier 1 and Tier 2, but all Tier 3 operators as well. We’re even starting to see more cable operators get into the mix as well, moving away from their DOCSIS infrastructure and adding more fiber, not only in greenfield areas, but also in overbuilds.”
North American broadband equipment spending is expected to reach $4.9 billion in 2022, with PON expected to climb to $1.8 billion, up from $1.5 billion in 2021. Operators will put the majority of the PON spending into XGS-PON. Last year was the tipping point for XGS-PON taking over the market, with the technology passing sales for GPON for the first time.
“Looking forward, XGS-PON can accommodate a symmetric one to five gig service per subscriber,” said Heynen. “What that means to me is these operators that are putting in new networks now are looking well into the future and they're looking right now to clearly leapfrog what their cable operator competitors are planning to provide.”
Cable operators aren’t standing still with the fiber threat and are making their own fiber moves. “They are pushing fiber deeper and a lot of them are moving away from a DOCSIS infrastructure and moving to fiber,” said Heynen. “Many of the larger operators have plans to improve their upstream bandwidth by moving to a mid-split or a high-split architecture, which won't give them symmetric speeds, but will give them obviously more speed up on the upstream side that allows them to compete and shore up one of the weaknesses of DOCSIS, which is the upstream asymmetry.”
Pushing fiber deeper means cable operators can remove more of the legacy RF infrastructure, including the analog parts, and put in more intelligence for network monitoring. But this might not be enough as they wrestle with deploying DOCSIS 4.0, their latest technology. Availability issues with semiconductors and amplifiers are pushing the rollout of DOCSIS 4.0 to later in the decade, a delay that will lead more cable operators to bypass the technology and move more widely to RF-free, all fiber-to-the-home networks.
“The trend cable operators are saying is that DOCSIS 3.1 is the end game for us,” Heynen said. “Our next step after that is fiber to the home. There is an opportunity for them to consider building this out and not having to worry about when the 1.8 GHz amplifiers and all the rest of the DOCSIS 4.0 will be ready. They can move to fiber and compete and not have to worry about upstream asymmetry any longer.”
Listen to the latest Fiber for Breakfast podcast with Jeff Heynen, Dell’Oro Group, to learn more about the U.S. Fiber Surge.