Estonian cable operator Starman is shunning DOCSIS 3.1 in favor of deploying fiber and 10-Gbit/s EPON throughout the Eastern European nation, implementing one of the earliest 10G EPON networks in Europe.
The company considered upgrading its entire existing DOCSIS 3.0 implementation, but decided a deep fiber, fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) approach delivered more affordable, future-proof options that best matched its business strategy, Starman CTO Jaanus Erlemann told UBB2020. By combining Nokia's 10G EPON solution with existing ducts and in-house cabling rights, Starman expects both DOCSIS 3.0- and FTTH-powered customers will benefit, he said.
"Our cherry picking was about taking those customers generating the most traffic in our DOCSIS network and taking them over to the fiber. Instead of getting more RPU or more customers, we are offloading DOCSIS capacity to fiber, hence reducing the pressure on DOCSIS capacity investment," he said. "We cover our investment from the reduction of capacity pressure on the DOCSIS side. We look for the highest usage buildings, we look for highest usage customers and this is where we build as much as we can from our investment budget."
The FTTH solution will deliver 1Gbps speeds to each customer in the near term and up to 10Gbps when needed, according to Starman. It supports DOCSIS provisioning over EPON, and also includes Nokia's Optical Network Termination (ONT) devices.
Erlemann, who has a business background, worked with Starman's financial and operations teams to discern the most affordable, efficient and future-ready solution for residential and business customers' growing broadband needs, he said. Because it's the backbone of Starman's future, the infrastructure's return on investment required a long-term view, Erlemann added.
"The five-year plan we have had in our general business strategy is to get approximately one third of our buildings with fiber-to-the-home network in five years," he said.
After six months of discussions, Starman decided FTTH was a better fit -- for business, technological and services reasons -- but had no technology bias when it contacted about seven vendors for proposals.
"We didn't have any preference GPON versus EPON, for example, or any preferences on the vendor," said Erlemann. "First of all, EPON is the more natural choice for cable operators and DOCSIS operators because it has provisioning CPOE in-place. Nokia has it in-built and it has helped us a lot to integrate this new technology into our operations. Secondly, we compared GPON with 10-gig EPON and the main difference between GPON and EPON, for us, was the option to upgrade it in the future. The third very important option for us was the commitment from Nokia. We were part of testing and developing the Nokia 10-gig solution."
Although Starman is not upgrading its DOCSIS 3.0 network, the cable operator expects this implementation's lifespan to increase as bandwidth pressures drop, he said.
"What our calculations show is every euro we invest in fiber project, the reduction in DOCSIS capacity investments will pay it back in approximately four years," added Erlemann.
Starman is laying fiber in existing ducts, meaning it avoids the time-consuming and costly digging process, Stefaan Vanhastel, head of Global Marketing for Nokia Fixed Network, said in an interview. But that doesn't mean Starman can immediately implement its fiber network, he said.
"Now in the case of Starman they are actually moving very quickly with their fiber to the home rollout. One of the benefits Jaanus mentioned is that in Estonia there is a strong focus on the digital economy and they are investing a lot, and in Estonia there are cables. To deploy fiber to the home you don't actually have to dig up streets. No, you can install fiber in those existing ducts," said Vanhastel. Even in the case of Starman they are taking a gradual approach. It's not going to be fiber everywhere from Day One because it is going to take some time to deploy that new fiber. "Rather it's a combination of upgrading existing infrastructure and deploying new infrastructure, because while you're building that infrastructure, your subscribers are still getting that higher speed."
In addition to supporting growing customer demand for high-speed, high-quality triple-play services, Starman's new infrastructure also positions it well for the arrival of 5G, he added. "This network Starman is building is not only an enabler for residential customers, but also an enabler for business customers and mobile backbone," said Vanhastel.
— Alison Diana, Editor, UBB2020. Follow us on Twitter @UBB2020 or @alisoncdiana.