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Home installations

Residential cabling receives a boost of adrenaline to meet the need for speed.


March 1, 2010  


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Residential cabling is hardly a case of the same old, same old these days. The explosion of interconnected devices in the homes, including next generation 3D/high definition and Ethernet ready televisions, is turning up the heat on cable and service providers to deliver exponentially more bandwidth.

Some are already well on their way to future-proofing their networking infrastructures to meet the needs of the connected home.

Predictions about what it will take to meet the demands of tomorrow’s residential customers may be surprising to some. Dave Evans, chief futurist for Cisco Systems Inc., for example, forecasts that we will see a 20-time increase in home networking speeds over the next 10 years.

“There is a ton of things happening in residential networking,” says Jeff Seifert, chief technology officer for Cisco Canada in Toronto. “Features that were on PCs and Macs, such as embedded Ethernet, are now being integrated with TVs. Clearly the explosion of video is driving things.

“On demand content demand is increasing. It won’t be long before two-way video applications such as telepresence and telehealth services will be delivered over residential networks. Gaming will be a huge driver. And devices like home energy controllers and appliances with connectivity may not drive bandwidth, but will drive the number of devices that need to be connected.”

There are two areas to address when it comes to planning residential cabling, he adds: how to get bandwidth to the home, and how to distribute content within it. “When you look across the spectrum, from multi-dwelling units to new smart communities, from major population centres to remote locations, there isn’t one solution. There is a whole magnitude of them.”

The growing consumer demand has put tremendous pressure on last mile delivery in particular.

In terms of new deployments in Canada, Seifert says providers are looking at options such as DOCSIS 3.0 for broadband over cable, LTE (long term evolution or 4G) as the next evolution of HSPA+ (high speed packet access), VDSL (ADSL2 is currently widely deployed), and gigabit Ethernet for multi-dwelling units (MDUs).

Within the home, options include wireless 802.11n, traditional Ethernet over structured wiring (Cat 5e or 6 cabling), HomePlug AV (local area network over electrical wiring), and more recently MoCA (multimedia over coaxial cable) to deliver Ethernet LAN connections where you don’t have traditional Ethernet cabling.

This in turn is also driving a need for hybridization in devices (e.g. set-top boxes, DVRs and PVRs) in order to accommodate the myriad of choices, whether it’s cable/IP, DTT/IP (digital terrestrial television/IP), IP/DTT, DBS/IP and more, according to an ABI Research study, entitled “Next-Generation Set-Top Boxes.”

The report states, that “a number of technologies are vying for a share of the next phase of home entertainment networking. Among the leading contenders are MoCA, HomePNA, Powerline, and Wi-Fi. But the choice of networking technology is turning out to be largely specific to particular operators, obscuring any broad trends.

In general, though, MoCA seems to be gaining traction in North America (HomePNA has had some success as well on the telco side), while Wi-Fi and Powerline have seen more success in Europe.

In the face of all these changes, providers are not remaining idle. A number of entities across Canada are doing their part to bring residential cabling up to speed to meet next generation demands. However, the cabling of choice depends on geography, population distribution and existing infrastructures.

“Design can be an issue, depending on whether you are working with,” notes Harley Lang, marketing manager for Fluke Networks in Seattle, Wash. “In the case of new versus retrofit for example, the design of a building isn’t necessarily the way a cabling designer would want it to be. Many go with a wireless system for LAN simply because it’s impossible to pull cable in some environments. In an MDU environment, the problem becomes magnified, especially when competing providers need to access networking systems.”

When one considers the triple play factor, broadband service delivery in any given community can entail totally different media, Lang adds. “Every provider has a different recipe. Verizon Wireless Inc., for example, delivers fiber to the house using PON (passive optical network) technology. Comcast Cable Communications Inc. typically takes fiber to the neighbourhood node and then uses traditional cabling over the last distance. Clearwire Corp. is going after the same market with Wi-Max.”

Spreading the broadband wealth: In some rural and/or remote communities, broadband is an easy sell where utilities may have already built an infrastructure. In other cases, it’s simply not cost effective to lay DSL and/or fiber to residential communities, but that hasn’t stopped SaskTel from conquering the ubiquitous broadband challenge.

In 2008, in fact, the government announced its Rural Infrastructure Program with the goal to provide 100% high speed Internet coverage within three years. Achieving its ambitious goal to residential customers is a constantly evolving and many-faceted initiative for SaskTel, says Andy Tate, a spokesman for the firm. “It’s quite a task to reach a million or so people when a lot are spread out from north to south and east to west. As a Crown corporation, our mandate is to reach out to as many areas as it can, including regions beyond where competitors might not go.”

To that end, SaskTel has launched a number of programs to improve coverage and transition to “the next generation of service”, from DSL upgrades, to EVDO service expansion to increase bandwidth on its CDMA network, to satellite. Tate reports that it hopes to achieve its goal by the end of 2010. “We were already at 86% when we announced the infrastructure program.”

Wireline DSL upgrades are taking place in 187 communities using a DSL backbone and fiber transporter provided by Alcatel-Lucent.

Where DSL is not an option, fixed wireless is the infrastructure of choice. Launched in 2005, the fixed wireless solution uses MCS (multipoint communications systems) RF technology over a 2500 Mhz band. As a line-of-sight deployment, each tower covers up to a 30 kilometre radius.

In 2008 SaskTel went the extra mile to reach its remotest communities by launching a satellite Internet service through Barrett Xplore Inc. “As far as I know, we’re the only province to achieve near 100% broadband penetration,” Tate says.

SaskTel also ranks among the first telecommunications services providers in North America to bring IPTV video on demand service to the market (its Max Front Row service was initially launched in 2003 and continues to expand). It once again raised the bar when it became the first telco in North America to launch HDTV over IP in 2006 as part of its Next Generation Access Infra-structure Program.

Tate adds that this year, SaskTel is also testing system upgrades for fiber to the home (FTTH) delivery, with limited deployment expected in 2011. “By bringing fiber closer to the premises, we can allow higher bandwidth speeds for HD and PVR services.”

A fiber first:

On the FTTH front, the province of New Brunswick is achieving its own residential milestones. Bell Aliant, with support from the New Brunswick government, will be the first in Canada to cover an entire city with FTTH technology through its FibreOP network. By the end of 2010, Bell Aliant will have invested $80 million to bring FibreOP technology to 110,000, or 35%, of the homes and businesses in New Brunswick.

To date, 30,000 homes and businesses in Fredericton have been passed by fiber (allowing customers to sign up for FibreOP). According to Todd Price, product manager, FibreOP Services for Bell Aliant in Saint John, N.B. “We started with the Fredericton and Saint John markets. In fact Fredericton is the first full-scale citywide fiber to the home deployment in Cana
da.”

“We’ve seen what Verizon and others have done in the U.S. by extending fiber right to the optical network terminal attached outside of the home to enable a 100% pure fiber network from our central office,” Price explains. “Typically, fiber stops at the neighbourhood, and service providers would run coax or copper from that neighbourhood to customers.”

Like SaskTel, one impetus for higher bandwidth Internet speeds is the ability to deliver competitive TV services to residents. “From the Internet standpoint we have moved away from just thinking all about downloading. Two-way speeds are much more important than they were five years ago, and uploading is as important as downloading. Customers have moved from text pages in the late 1990s to text and photos to mp3 file sharing to high definition video consumption.”

One of the reasons that New Brunswick provides an ideal testing ground is that a vast majority of the telecommunications infrastructure is aerial, he adds. “With everything above ground, it is easier and a lot cheaper to upgrade. With buried infrastructure service providers can sometimes be required to dig. “

Once the fiber reaches the optical network terminal, a gateway is used to deliver Internet and TV services, as well as wireless home networking. “Everything runs from one area,” Price explains. “Our FibreOP service will easily allow customers to watch and record HD television from multiple TVs and we provision more TVs, HD streams and PVRs.”

Future friendly:

At the Concord CityPlace development in Toronto, it’s all about creating its own spin on the network infrastructure of the future. As the single largest residential condominium complex in the province, this 21-building project west of the Rogers Centre is the first to deliver 100 Mbps fiber optic Internet service to each unit.

“It’s one of the fastest, if not the fastest, residential Internet service in Canada,” says Bryan Jones, vice president of sales and marketing for Luminous Inc., a Telus partner who worked on network design and implementation. “What’s unique about this project is that every suite is pre-wired with voice, data and cable in every room.”

Whereas in most installations, installers will pick one room for Internet, put in a cable modem in and run wires from there, in Concord CityPlace, each suite has a central communications panel for the Cat 5e 100 Mbps Ethernet cabling. “The idea behind the design is to ensure that the infrastructure can accommodate future services,” Jones explains.

Half of the buildings use the NetSelect multimedia box (aka centralized telecommunication server panel) from Hubbell Canada LP that enables a modular approach for telephone, audio, internet, CATV (audio tv) and data services.

“From that box, which is located in a closet for easy access, every room in the house can be connected simply by moving patch cables around in the panel,” explains Yves Thibodeau, commercial specification specialist for Hubbell Canada. “It allows for all sorts of flexibility.”

“This design is part of the future friendly home concept,” says Jones. “The goal was to create a way for residents to move the location of the internet within their suites by simply going into the panel and relocating where the service is being fed to. It’s simple, because each communications jack is colour coded (green for telephone, blue for data, etc.).”

If that wasn’t enough flexibility, Wi-Fi routers are also being installed. “Even if you have 10 locations to plug into, people aren’t happy unless they have wireless,” Jones says. “Now a router allows every location to be active including a Wi-Fi signal.”

Each room also has Belden MDVO voice and data inserts, while Brocade Communications Networking 48-port fiber optic switches are installed on every third floor.

Each switch can service 12 units per floor, along with providing additional spare ports for backup. Redundant feeds into the buildings use diverse routes (north and east sides for example). Fluke tools were used for testing continuity, attenuation and links.

During installation, cabling was encased in one-and-a-half-inch conduits laid within the building slabs during the construction stage. To avoid possible interference and for security, all cabling has its own dedicated conduit from the unit to the Telus communications room in each building. “Every building has a Telus point of presence at the P1 level that powers up the building,” explains Jones.

Next generation thinking: While these residential projects may be the exception rather than the norm today, that promises to change as in-home technology and consumer demand for speed grows, Seifert says. “The big shift in content is going to change how we deliver, organize and present it, to the home and inside it,” Seifert says. “We’ve got so many devices coming, the industry is going to have to find ways to allow them to interoperate and share content across different devices.” CNS