Comcast today announced what is believed to be the first-ever end-to-end deployment of advanced “hollowcore” fiber optics in the world by an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Hollowcore fibers deliver significantly lower latency than traditional fibers and over time will provide critical performance attributes. These fibers will help power Comcast’s network and support the delivery of multigigabit speeds through 10G b/sec.
Unlike traditional fibers, in which laser light travels over a solid glass core, “hollowcore” fibers are empty inside with air-filled channels. Since light travels nearly 50 percent faster through air than glass, data travels about 150 percent faster with up to 33 percent lower latency through “hollowcore” fiber compared to traditional fiber. The faster speed of light can be used to double the reach for latency critical applications or can speed up the transaction rates by around 47 percent.
For the deployment announced today, Comcast worked with hollowcore fiber cable solutions provider, Lumenisity.
“Hollowcore fiber is a leap forward in how we deliver ultra-fast, ultra-low latency and ultra-reliable services to customers,” said Elad Nafshi, EVP & Chief Network Officer at Comcast Cable. “As we continue to develop and deploy technology to deliver 10G, multigigabit performance to tens of millions of homes, hollowcore fiber will help to ensure that the network powering those experiences is among the most advanced and highest performing in the world.”
“The reality is that light travelling through air is about 50% faster than travelling through glass. The data throughput and the latency is greatly improved when you have a hollowcore fiber … The advantage is you can extend your reach at equal performance,” Nafshi said. Hollowcore fiber, like traditional fiber, can be used in the access, metro or core network, and is compatible with legacy fiber.
Comcast connected two locations in Philadelphia, which enables network engineers to continue to test and observe the performance and physical compatibility of hollowcore fiber in a real-world deployment. This 40-kilometer hybrid deployment of hollowcore and traditional fiber is believed to be the longest in the world by an Internet provider. Comcast successfully tested bidirectional transmission (upstream and downstream traffic traveling on a single fiber), used coherent and direct-detect systems (allowing for forward and backward technology compatibility), and produced traffic rates ranging from 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) to 400 Gbps all simultaneously on a single strand of hollowcore fiber.
“We are proud to be working with Comcast on the next generation hollowcore fiber, which we believe unlocks exciting new potential for connectivity around the world,” said David Parker, Executive Chairman of Lumenisity.
Hollowcore fiber will help to power the next generation of ultra-low latency technologies to support network virtualization, telemedicine, augmented and virtual reality, and other emerging services. Moving forward, Comcast is exploring opportunities to strategically deploy hollowcore fiber in select core- and access-network deployments. From 2017 to 2021, Comcast added more than 50,000 new route miles of fiber to its network and is actively building more fiber into cities and towns across the United States.
Comcast’s ongoing work to expand and evolve its fiber deployments – including this groundbreaking step forward with hollowcore fiber – helps to power Comcast’s ongoing 10G evolution, which will deliver reliable multigigabit upload and download speeds over the connections already installed in tens of millions of homes and businesses.
An illustration of the air-filled channels utilized in hollowcore fiber.
Comcast deployed more than 50,000 new route miles of fiber to its network from 2017 to 2021. The operator isn’t revealing how or when it might commercialize its use of hollowcore fiber, but the operator sees it playing a role for certain apps and use cases, such as telemedicine, AR/VR and network virtualization.
The operator might also use the technology to target new customer segments that are seeking greater throughputs and lower latencies.
From a broader standpoint, hollowfiber could provide a conduit for “10G,” an industry initiative focused on delivering symmetrical 10Gbit/s speeds, low latencies and enhanced security over fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP), hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) and wireless networks.
Citing its 40km connection in Philadelphia, Comcast is billing this as the world’s longest ISP deployment of hollowcore fiber so far.
But Comcast isn’t the only major operator working closely with Lumenisity. Last year, the startup announced BT was trialing its new optical fiber technology at its labs in Adastral Park, Ipswich. That trial involved a 10km-long hollowcore fiber from Lumenisity.
Lumenisity was spun out of the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton in 2017, with an aim to commercialize the development of hollowcore fiber.
In 2020, the startup closed a £7.5 million ($9.77 million) funding round from a group of investors that included BGF and Parkwalk Advisors and existing industrial strategic investors. Lumenisity has raised £12.5 million (US$16.28 million), according to Crunchbase.
Some key application areas Lumenisity has identified for its technology include financial, data center connectivity and connectivity for the separation of remote radio units and baseband units in 5G networks.
About Comcast Corporation:
Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA) is a global media and technology company that connects people to moments that matter. We are principally focused on broadband, aggregation, and streaming with 57 million customer relationships across the United States and Europe. We deliver broadband, wireless, and video through our Xfinity, Comcast Business, and Sky brands; create, distribute, and stream leading entertainment, sports, and news through Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, Universal Studio Group, Sky Studios, the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks, multiple cable networks, Peacock, NBCUniversal News Group, NBC Sports, Sky News, and Sky Sports; and provide memorable experiences at Universal Parks and Resorts in the United States and Asia. Visit www.comcastcorporation.com for more information.
David McGuire 215-422-2732
Lumenisity® Limited was formed in early 2017 as a spin-out from the world-renowned Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton (UK) to commercialize breakthroughs in the development of hollowcore optical fibre. We have built a team of industry leaders and experts to realise our goal to be the world’s premier high-performance Hollowcore fibre optic cable solutions provider, offering customers reliable, deployable, low latency and high bandwidth connections that unlock new capabilities in communication networks.
Lumenisity is well funded by a consortium of industrial and private investors. We recently relocated our headquarters to Romsey, UK after a substantial investment was made in developing a state of the art manufacturing and testing facility. Our vision is to be the world’s premier high-performance hollowcore fibre optic cable solutions provider offering our customers reliable, deployable, low latency and high bandwidth connections that unlock new capabilities in communication networks.
Jet lagged yet energetic and cheerful, Comcast Senior VP of Next Generation Access Networks Elad Nafshi returned from a motor bike trip in the European alps (via a red eye flight from Frankfurt, Germany to SFO) to deliver an important keynote speech at the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) Connect 2019 conference in Santa Clara, CA this Friday. A graduate of Tel Aviv University, Mr. Nafshi has been with Comcast for over 14 years.
Elad announced that Comcast, the leading ISP in the U.S. by subscribers, has deployed the open source ONF Trellis software and reference hardware design “in multiple markets with real customers.” He noted that “This is not a technical trial or PoC. We have not deployed a new appliance. We deployed an entire ecosystem.”
Trellis is an SDN-based, multi-purpose leaf-spine (AKA spine-leaf) switching fabric designed for access-and-edge networks, NFV, and edge cloud applications. It uses the Open Network Operating System (ONOS) open source SDN controller running in an x86 based compute server and the OpenFlow protocol as a “southbound API” (Control plane to/from Data plane) to interface with multiple interconnected white box/bare metal L2/L3 switches. That configuration is shown in the illustration below.
Comcast, AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, and Infosys collectively authored a reference design for Trellis in April 2019. Reference designs are “blueprints” developed by ONF’s Operator members (AT&T, China Unicom, Comcast, Deutsche Telekom, Google, NTT Group, and Turk Telekom), to address specific use cases for the emerging edge cloud/broadband and mobile access networks.
“In collaboration with the ONF and a team of supply chain vendors, Comcast is deploying the open source Trellis platform as the networking fabric in our next generation access network,” Nafshi said in a press release. “This has been a multiple year journey from design, to extensive field trials and finally to production rollout, and we’re impressed with the results and the advantages that using open source and Trellis are delivering for us as we upgrade our access network,” he added.
While Elad said that Trellis rollouts are accelerating and may “soon come to an area near you,” he declined to answer questions about the locations, size or scale of Comcast’s Trellis deployments. I talked to Elad after his speech and found him to be very engaging and congenial.
Comcast claims an open source- and a white box-based Ethernet backhaul is integral to its next generation network access strategy. By using Trellis, Nafshi said Comcast improved network scalability as well as space and power facility efficiencies in its cable head-ends.
Trellis plays a key role in Comcast’s next generation Distributed Access Architecture (DAA)  strategy, which uses an Ethernet-based converged interconnect network (CIN). Comcast is using Trellis within this CIN.
Note 1. Distributed Access Architecture (DAA) enables the evolution of cable networks by decentralizing and virtualizing headend and network functions. DAA extends the digital portion of the head-end or hub domain out to the fiber optic node and places the digital to RF interface at the optical-coax boundary in the node. Replacing the analog optics from the head-end converts the fiber link to a digital fiber Ethernet link, increasing the available bandwidth improving fiber efficiencies (wavelengths and distance), and directional alignment with NFV/SDN/FTTx systems of the future.
“This has been a multiple year journey from design, to extensive field trails and finally to production rollout, and we’re impressed with the results and the advantages that using open source and Trellis are delivering for us as we upgrade our access network,” Elad said.
While Comcast’s conventional network currently relies on embedded routing and switching protocols running on individual vendor specific switches, Trellis software runs in a cloud-native SDN fashion on a cluster of standard compute server nodes each of which implements a centralized control plane via the ONOS SDN controller. This new SDN based architecture makes network design, deployment, debug and upgrades much simpler, while minimizing network complexity and cost.
“This is real, true production at scale,” said ONF VP of Marketing Timon Sloane. “The design has been vetted and tested and hardened over multiple years. It’s in multiple markets, with tens of thousands of subscribers.”
“The open source ecosystem created by ONF has collectively established a new ‘Distributed DevOps’ model through the process of trialing, hardening and deploying Trellis with Comcast. This has established a new formula for open source whereby an operator, ONF and a consortium of commercial entities come together to collectively build and stand behind a deployment,” said Saurav Das, Vice President of Engineering for the ONF.
Earlier at this week’s ONF Connect 2019 event, Arthur D. Little, AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, and Telefónica released a study that found virtualized, cloud-based architectures can save network operators 40% in capex and 25% in opex.
Comcast says its Xfinity Gigabit Internet and Comcast Business Gigabit services are now available to nearly all of the 58 million homes and businesses the company’s infrastructure passes in 39 states and the District of Columbia (it’s not available in Santa Clara, CA where top downstream speed is 400M bits/sec). That makes the cable MSO the largest provider of gigabit Internet service in the U.S. based on the number of potential homes passed.
Gigabit Internet service is a residential XFINITY Internet service that delivers download speeds of up to 1 Gbps and upload speeds of up to 35 Mbps to customer homes via Comcast’s next technology DOCSIS 3.1 Hybrid Fiber-Coax (HFC) network. Gigabit Pro is a newer ultra-fast tier delivered via a fiber-to-the-home solution and offers symmetrical upload/download speeds of up to 2 Gbps.
Comcast notes it has increased speeds 17 times in the last 17 years and that the capacity of its broadband network has doubled every 18-24 months. The company uses Xfinity xFi to give customers control over their internet; xFi is a digital dashboard that allows users to personalize, monitor, and manage WiFi connected devices inside the home or business.
“Comcast continues to offer an unmatched Internet experience that combines gigabit speeds with wall-to-wall WiFi, personalized tools and controls, and enough capacity to stay ahead of tomorrow’s innovations,” said Dana Strong, president of Consumer Services, Comcast. “We’ve built an innovative high-speed data platform that combines speed, coverage and control features and really sets our broadband experience apart from the competition.”
“One of the ways that we compete, of course, is ensuring that we’ve got the fastest and the most reliable network,” Matt Strauss, executive vice president of Xfinity Services at Comcast, told Fortune. “What’s partly behind the announcement is reinforcing that now we have one gig deployed across our entire footprint.”
Comcast started deploying gigabit service in earnest about three years ago. The company, which has 24.4 million total home broadband customers, wouldn’t say how many people have signed up so far, disclosing only that 75% of all its customers now receive speeds of 100 megabits/sec or higher.
However, a Morgan Stanley survey released on Thursday said that only a tiny fraction of U.S. households—3% of cable Internet customers nationwide—have 1 gigabit/sec speeds or higher.
But 1 GB speeds may gain in popularity in the future. While a typical high-definition movie file is about 3 GB or 4 GB, a growing number of movies are available in 4K, for which files sizes can exceed 100 GB.
The top two U.S. fixed line telecom carriers Verizon and AT&T are just starting to introduce competing home Internet services with new “5G” (proprietary) fixed broadband wireless access (BWA) technology. Those “5G” BWA services are 10 to 40 times faster than current 4G LTE wireless networks, which are generally NOT used for BWA. Those two mega carriers along with Comcast are ranked among the best ISPs.
Google Fiber may not be too far behind in it’s use of fixed BWA technology to deliver triple play residential services. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has put Google Fiber projects on hold in San Jose, Portland, and California. Google states that the move to wireless is inevitable, it will not neglect existing markets and will continue signing up new customers with wireless instead of fiber. Plans are underway to provide cities such as Dallas, Los Angeles, and Chicago with wireless internet service. Wireless technology is less expensive as it does not require labor-intensive constructions, the issues with the telephone owners, current copper and fiber providers and much cheaper to roll out.
In October 2016, Google bought Webpass, a company that specializes in the provision of wireless internet that at speeds of 1GBps at around $60. Webpass uses antennas on a building’s rooftops to provide internet connections to both businesses and residences. Unlike in conventional ISPs where you would need to have a modem, with Webpass you only need to have a router where you can plug in an Ethernet cable and distribute the internet to your office or residence.
Comcast Corp, which has more than 29 million business and residential customers, today blamed cuts in two fiber lines for a widespread system failure that knocked out cable, internet and phone services around the country.
It was unclear how many customers were affected as the system failure, which appeared contained to Comcast’s network, also disrupted connectivity services like Netflix Inc. and Okta Inc. as other internet service providers routed internet traffic through Comcast’s network, according to network research firm ThousandEyes.
Comcast service problems today (June 29, 2018):
Comcast, one of the dominant cablecom companies in the U.S., said most service had been restored by late Friday. The Philadelphia-based company said in a statement that “one of Comcast’s large backbone network partners had a fiber cut that we believe is also impacting other providers.” Later, Comcast said the damaged fiber optic lines are owned by CenturyLink Inc. and Zayo Group Holdings Inc.
A spokeswoman for CenturyLink issued a statement saying CenturyLink’s network was working normally, though the company had “experienced two isolated fiber cuts in North Carolina affecting some customers that in and of itself did not cause the issues experienced by other providers.” The spokeswoman, Francie Dudrey, didn’t comment further. Attempts to reach Zayo were unsuccessful. Fiber networks, which make up the backbone of the internet, transmit vast amounts of internet traffic, processing everything from online purchases to 911 calls.
Down Detector and Outage.Report, two websites that monitor the running of consumer-technology services, ranked the system failure as extreme and posted maps indicating large numbers of customers affected in the New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., metro areas as well as San Francisco, Chicago and Denver.
Reports of outages, according to the websites, spiked early Friday afternoon. Some customers took to social media to discuss the outages, saying they were having trouble getting through the company’s phones and online chats. Comcast, on Twitter, directed customers to an internal website that was at one point down as well, eliciting a second round of customer complaints.
Write to Maria Armental at [email protected]