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66 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | www.broadbandcommunities.com | OCTOBER 2014 TECHNOLOGY Designing a Gigabit Experience Gigabit speed is a great marketing tool, but user experience is what really matters – and that requires good system design. By Dan Grossman / NetAccess Futures G igabit, or 1 Gbps bandwidth, is the gold standard for broadband access. Economic development advocates, planners, elected ofcials and leading-edge consumers demand it. It's a marketing catchphrase. But what does a gigabit really mean, and how does it beneft customers? Te answer is: It's complicated. Broadband is all about speed, right? As a network operator, you pitch gigabit speeds to stakeholders, advertise gigabit speeds to customers and compare your network's speed with the competition's. Marketing gigabit speeds helps build your network and subscriber base. However, attracting customers is one thing, retaining them is another and satisfying them is yet another. Customer satisfaction is about great user experience: high-defnition videos that don't freeze, Web pages rendered instantly, instant backups, videoconferences that don't break up. Speed is necessary for a great user experience, but it is not sufcient. In fact, issues beyond the access network can make a great access network look bad. And most of that gigabit speed can be wasted because of poor design. Customer satisfaction is also about pricing. Te higher the costs, the higher the price has to be to meet fnancial goals, and the more potential customers are lost. Providing a consistently great user experience while shaving unnecessary costs is the formula for satisfying customers. DO YOU HAVE A GIGABIT NETWORK? Te term "gigabit network" is ambiguous. It could have any of three precise technical defnitions: • Line rate in each direction is 1 Gbps or more. • Usable rate in each direction is 1 Gbps or more. • 1 Gbps headline rates are possible in one or both directions. Tese defnitions apply whether or not the physical medium is shared, as in passive optical networks and cable networks. Under any defnition, instantaneous bandwidth per user may be less than 1 Gbps. Most FTTH networks are based on one of three standards: point-to-point Gigabit Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet Passive Optical Network (GEPON) or Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON). All three have line rates greater than 1 Gbps and usable rates at least close to 1 Gbps, and all three can support 1 Gbps headline rates. So any FTTH-based network that uses one of these technologies can be truthfully described as a gigabit network. Hybrid fber/coax networks were originally designed to carry cable television and later adapted for data and voice. New technology, DOCSIS 3.1 – expected to be deployed in late 2015 – enables gigabit line rates and capacities over these networks, though achieving these rates may require signifcant outside-plant upgrades. Even legacy copper plant can support gigabit rates – at least in the lab, over short distances. Engineers have made heroic eforts to overcome the physical constraints of twisted copper wire. Despite that, copper-based gigabit networks remain impractical to deploy in volume on existing outside