A group of IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) researchers is investigating a new standard for the Physical Layer (PHY) for operating the Ethernet Passive Optical Network (EPON) protocol over coaxial distribution networks.

The newly formed EPON Protocol over Coax (EPoC) Study Group is going to explore the use of IEEE 802.3 Ethernet specifications that could significantly boost and broaden Ethernet’s capabilities to access public network serving hundreds of millions of residences and businesses around the world, according to an IEEE press release.

IEEE 802.3 EPON is the leading means by which cable MSOs and ISP network operators bridge fiber optic and copper wire distribution networks and provide telecoms services to homes and businesses. More than 10x more IEEE 802.3 EPON ports have been shipped than any other IEEE 802.3 technology in the last ten years, and worldwide deployments are expected to grow to support an installed user base of more than 100 million by the end of 2013 from a current 60 million, according to the IEEE.

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EPON networks support a diverse range of business and residential network services, including IPTV, VoIP, commercial-grade data services and mobile backhaul. IEEE 802.3 EPON-equipped networks are fast. Specs include symmetric data rates of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) and 10 Gbps, as well as asymmetric data rates of 10 Gbps downstream and 1 Gbps upstream.

The IEEE sees achieving the research group’s objective as a means of significantly boosting end-user network bandwidth and performance. “Operating EPON transparently over coax is a significant step forward. It will help to transform the industry by greatly simplifying operator networks while simultaneously offering subscribers easy and efficient access to dramatically increased bandwidth,” said Howard Frazier, chair, IEEE 802.3 EPoC Study Group and senior technical director, Broadcom Corporation. “The ability to leverage existing Ethernet infrastructures and cable plant investments while offering a ten-fold increase in data speeds is revolutionary.”

Coax provides network connectivity to residences and businesses over that crucial remaining distance in many locations around the world, the IEEE 802.3 EPON group notes. The new PHY layer to the protocol the researchers hope to discover would enable cable network operators to further leverage their Ethernet networks and eliminate the need for them to take on the much more costly process of installing FTTH

Supported by a diverse group of companies including components vendors, network equipment suppliers, cable operators and cable MSOs (multiple service operators), the IEEE 802.3 EPoC group is to meet for the first time in January. Their investigation is expected to be completed by July next year.

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