Huawei’s Gigaband Proposition: Why Not?

Erik Keith

Erik Keith

Summary Bullets:

• Huawei’s Gigaband concept, introduced in early 2015, simply proposes that with Gigabit broadband speeds now commercially available, Gigaband is a more appropriate, logical descriptor, superceding a more generic “broadband” definition.

• While competitors and some industry pundits have characterized Gigaband as a Huawei-driven marketing initiative, the reality is the Gigaband is an almost ideal mash-up word (or, portmanteau) derived from its longer-form parent words Giga(bit) (broad)band.

Just last week, U.S. cable operator Comcast announced limited commercial trials of DOCSIS 3.1 (cable modem-based) services in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania market. While no specific customer broadband speeds have been revealed, DOCSIS 3.1 is designed to support multi-Gigabit throughput to each cable node (10 Gbps downstream, and 1 Gbps upstream, albeit over the shared cable plant). So, even in a moderately-contended node – for example, one serving 125 to 250 customer premises/households – Comcast can offer downstream Gigabit access services, at least from a “billboard” (advertised) standpoint.

To be clear, Comcast was nowhere near being first-to-market with Gigabit access services. Not in the U.S. market (that honor goes to Chattanooga, Tennessee’s EPB), and most certainly not in terms of the broader, global market (Hong Kong Broadband Network rolled out Gigabit services some five years ago). There are now well over 100 operators worldwide that offer commercial Gigabit services, with most serving Asian markets. While EPB was first-to-market in the U.S., it was the high-profile, dramatically hyped debut of Google Fiber’s $70/month Gigabit service in several large metros (with more planned) that eventually spurred/compelled the larger incumbent operators in the U.S. to respond with Gigabit offerings of their own. These include AT&T’s GigaPower service, and Comcast’s far more expensive Gigabit Pro service, enabled by Ethernet fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) gear for which each customer must pay $1,000 in activation and installation fees plus $300/month.

In terms of networking equipment, Gigabit broadband (or, again, Gigaband) services are being delivered primarily by FTTH, which supports virtually all current commercial Gigabit access services, even those offered by cable operators. Moving forward, cable operators will be able to leverage DOCSIS 3.1-enabled HFC (cable) networks to deliver Gigaband services, especially when deployed in conjunction with smaller nodes (i.e., node splits). While FTTH is undoubtedly the most future-proof networking technology, cable networks, with the broad scale implementation of both DOCSIS 3.1 and related Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) technology and other networking improvements, are also capable of supporting Gigabit connectivity to a vast majority of their subscribers.

However, it is also important to point out that Gigabit access can be delivered over last-mile telco copper, a medium which only a few short years ago was thought to be completely incapable of supporting much more than several hundred Mbps, over very short distances. Once again, some highly intelligent engineers and product development teams invented processing technologies that enable increasingly higher broadband – and even Gigaband – speeds over short-loop copper. What started out as vectoring (essentially, the cancellation of copper bundle crosstalk noise) evolved to G.fast, which has been trialed successfully by more than 50 operators worldwide, and is now in some limited commercial implementations. In fact, it appears that G.fast will be the primary enabling technology for Broadband Britannia, as British Telecom, long-reluctant to invest in nationwide FTTH, will leverage G.fast extensively to deliver 300-500 Mbps minimum speeds by 2020 (utilizing both cabinet and DPU-based gear), with Gigabit offers likely.

Getting back to Huawei, simply stated, the company’s Gigaband proposition makes sense from several angles. The company has publicly stated that it hopes the market will adopt Gigaband as the primary descriptor for Gigabit broadband services – to this end, Huawei has not trademarked or copyrighted Gigaband. In terms of how Gigaband fits into the telecommunications lexicon, again, it is simply a logical next step up from broadband, and more recently, ultra-broadband. Narrowband was traditionally defined as maxing out at 56k/64k (as in kilobits), rendering and defining everything above 64k categorized as broadband. This made sense in the early, pioneering days of broadband, when 1 Mbps, and then 3, 5 and 10 Mbps represented major breakthroughs and benchmarks for broadband access speed. But with the FCC recently updating its own definition of broadband (i.e., 25 Mbps downstream, 3 Mbps upstream), and many operators in the U.S. and multiple overseas markets now offering 100 Mbps and above – not to mention actual Gigabit speeds – it likewise makes sense to differentiate Gigabit access services from Megabit access services. With a straightforward, one-word solution, Huawei has offered up Gigaband; in terms of logic, accuracy, and simplicity, Gigaband is tough to beat as the ideal descriptor for the new age of Gigabit broadband.

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