Future-Proofing Optical Networks: Streamlining Operations for a Smooth Transition to PON 

Optical Networks

Jason Rupe
Distinguished Technologist

Mar 7, 2024

Key Points

  • Cable operators desire to simplify operations while they embrace passive optical networking (PON), but maintaining and managing PON solutions is proprietary, different from other access networks and requires new tooling.
  • Some unification of fault and failure management is desirable for the industry so that operators can reduce the need to swivel chair between networks and tools, and vendors can simplify what they support in their products.
  • PON, like other optical networks, relies on proprietary management tools based on, at times, telemetry that is proprietary or extended from any of a number of standards or specifications.
  • From our experience with DOCSIS technology, by helping the industry align on operations, CableLabs knows this could all be better for everyone.

Imagine you’re a network engineer trying to manage the capacity of your DOCSIS networks — and suddenly you’re tasked with learning a whole new set of additional tools, techniques and terminologies to manage a new type of access network: a passive optical network (PON).

Now apply that complexity to the entire operations, the many involved technicians and all the necessary tools to accomplish the task. That’s the level of difficulty that many network operators face today as they begin to deploy PON technology for their access networks. Maintaining and managing PON solutions is largely proprietary — and very different from other access networks, requiring new tooling and expertise.

Needless to say, operators are in the midst of a massive transition. Instead of operating a few flavors of DOCSIS® networks, they’re managing an even broader set of technologies in their access networks. But these challenges don’t need to be as significant as they are.

By aligning the industry with certain architectures and identifying the key telemetry, building solutions that support use cases in ways that streamline operations, and reducing the burden of broad and overlapping options for vendors, we can shrink the time to market for improved technologies while streamlining our networks overall.

To help operators rise to the challenge, CableLabs is not only committing resources in this direction but has also established a working group called Optical Operations and Maintenance (OOM) that tackles the aforementioned complexities head-on.

The Optical Operations and Maintenance Working Group

The OOM working group has the scope of aligning fault and failure management of optical networks to streamline operations. The stated objectives of this program and working group are to “reduce troubleshooting and problem resolution time and costs while increasing network capacity and uptime.” These objectives include:

  • maintenance that is proactive, reactive, predictive and more
  • attention to the physical layer and related functions
  • telemetry alignment, solution development and more

If you've been around the industry a bit, these objectives might seem familiar. Indeed, the OOM working group’s objective statement is very similar to that of CableLabs’ Proactive Network Maintenance (PNM) working group. We could have called OOM “Optical PNM,” but we recognize that operators have goals beyond PNM when it comes to optical networks. Our charter for this work matches what operators and vendors say they need.

Although that scope seems large (and it is!), OOM is also focused on quickly turning around valuable results. The current course of the working group is like a peloton of bicycles in a race: In a cooperative effort, OOM will share outcomes with a parallel working group that addresses other fiber to the premises (FTTP) challenges since the working group is indeed addressing one FTTP challenge—common provisioning and management.

By working together, we accelerate the work of both groups. When it comes time for OOM to move to the next optical challenge, we'll have the momentum we need to push forward.

Creating Industry Alignment Through Standards and Specifications

Architecture is the foundation for operations in that network operations must manage the network components and systems. How the network does its job to provide service — and how it fails to do so — drives what needs to be managed and monitored. Fault and failure monitoring use cases drive the information needed, and therefore the network telemetry and other data that network operators need.

The architecture connects through the system failures and service impacts to the telemetry that supports the network operations use cases. Through a traceability approach, OOM identifies the necessary telemetry that addresses operator needs, choosing from existing standards and specifications when possible. The process we follow will create industry alignment on what is important in standards and specifications today. That methodology eases the burden for vendors.

Reducing complexity is a first alignment step, but we also want to drive consistency. That consistency will focus on current cable operations as well as the other networks they manage. By targeting PON options that align best with DOCSIS network advantages that operators enjoy today, we reduce the operations burden. It then becomes possible to agree on common tools, and thereby reduce the cost of network operations. By enabling the alignment of optical network management, we take that one step further.

We’ve already seen the potential of OOM's work in PON, but the next steps will present a whole new challenge. Introducing aligned use cases to connect the architecture to the telemetry can reduce the complexity of vendor developments and operator tools. We have to drive that advantage to other networks, too.

Looking Ahead to New Optical Challenges

Those next optical challenges I mentioned before? We’ll set our sights toward the core next: other forms of optical access, optical trunk systems such as point-to-point (P2P) coherent optics, Metro Optical Ethernet (MOE) and backhaul and ring and mesh systems, regional optical networks, backbone networks, and maybe beyond. One could say there is light at the end of the fiber!

If you see this as an opportunity to streamline your business in the optical world, engage with CableLabs on any of a number of our optical networking efforts and consider being a part of the OOM working group. We invite you to see the light!