What’s the difference between HFC and FTTX broadband?
The latest generation broadband networks offer high-speed service based primarily on two technologies – Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTX) and Hybrid Fiber Coaxial (HFC). These technologies differ in how they deliver data to the final destination, their service capacity, and maintenance and operational requirements.
Fiber optic is the technology of the network backbone and offers a seamless transition to a subscriber’s premises with fiber optic connections. Wired fiber allows electronic signals to travel unimpeded at the speed of light and provides high reliability, low latency, and bandwidth potential measured in petabits.
Current FTTX networks offer symmetrical 1G (Gigabit) service, with identical upload and download speeds. Industry projections anticipate 2G symmetrical service by 2030, with 10G in the not-so-distant future, thresholds only fiber can deliver. The only limitation of fiber’s bandwidth is the electronic equipment at either end of the connection, a variable that is easy and inexpensive to upgrade as technology advances.
In comparison, the foundation of next-generation HFC networks is high-bandwidth fiber, but this technology ends at an optical node typically located within a mile of the subscriber’s premises. At this node, the optical signal is converted to radio frequency and transmitted using electrical signals via legacy coaxial copper cable.
Next-generation HFC networks have the potential to deliver download speeds approaching 1Gbps, but upload speeds max out at 100Mbps with DOCSIS 3.0 cable modems. Higher speeds up to 10G download and 1Gbps upload are possible with DOCSIS 3.1 if it’s available and you’re willing to pay for the high priced service plan. However, the limited bandwidth of either version of DOCSIS is insufficient to support future needs of multiple home users simultaneously.
The Need for Speed
Why are bandwidth needs increasing so quickly? Technologies that were once the subject of science fiction – for example, smart homes, augmented and virtual reality, gaming, VPNs, cloud networks, and online entertainment -- require increasing levels of connectivity and will easily overwhelm the bandwidth of traditional broadband networks.
Communities considering settling for HFC over fiber broadband service should be aware of these limitations and the additional operational advantages fiber offers. Future upgrade expenses and maintenance costs will quickly eclipse the short-term cost savings of expanding existing networks.
Over time the maintenance and operational advantages of FTTX over HFC are significant. An FTTX network requires little to no routine or preventive maintenance, with an expected useful life of 30 to 50 years. To increase bandwidth and capacity, network operators simply – and relatively inexpensively - upgrade the transmitters at each end, which yields massive performance improvements at very low cost.
In comparison, coaxial cabling requires routine preventive maintenance to control signal leakage, water damage, corrosion, electrical access, and other issues. Over its useful life, the cost of ongoing maintenance and equipment upgrades for an HFC network can exceed the costs of building and maintaining a fiber network.
Another consideration is service disruptions. HFC networks require ongoing equipment upgrades to increase bandwidth and improve network performance. Routine network servicing inevitably results in interruptions that inconvenience and annoy subscribers.
Well-designed fiber networks require no cable plant upgrades and minimal equipment maintenance to deliver sufficient bandwidth and excellent performance for decades. This means no service disruptions or frustration on the part of subscribers.
Investing in future-proof FTTX is a smart investment in the future.