Why SFR made the bet to change fiber optic access technology

Released discreetly last February, the new SFR Box 8X modem nevertheless marks a significant technological evolution. The operator has inaugurated a new fiber optic access technology, moving from the good old GPON to the more recent XGS-PON standard. A first in France. But no surprise. SFR* had been testing this technology for several years and had even communicated on an XGS-PON experiment in Amiens in 2018.

The promise of symmetrical 10 Gbit/s

The interest is obviously to obtain better performance.

“XGS-PON is more powerful. It offers a throughput of around 10 Gbit/s against a maximum of 2.5 Gbit/s for GPON. It is also a flow that is symmetrical, which makes it easy to project into the next ten years.explains Damien Jahan, network marketing director of SFR.

Remember that, for the moment, the associated commercial offer does not yet allow you to take advantage of a symmetrical speed since the downlink speed is 8 Gbit/s and the uplink speed 1 Gbit/s. It should also be noted that the four Ethernet ports of the modem only deliver Gigabit as standard. You must ask to receive (free) a 10 Gbit/s SFP+ module to overcome this limitation.

Nevertheless, the operator knows that it has a comfortable margin of maneuver to develop these offers in the future towards symmetrical 10 Gbit/s.

The SFP+ module allowing to obtain an Ethernet speed of 10 Gbit/s.

SFR is a pioneer in France

XGS-PON was standardized by the International Telecommunication Union in 2016. It has already been used in Switzerland since 2018 by the operator Salt, which belongs to Xavier Niel. It is also being tested by Orange and Bouygues Telecom.

So how do you explain that SFR is the only one to go there in France? Probably because of the cost it represents. As this is a new standard, it requires investing in new equipment on both sides of the network, at the operator and at the subscriber.
The ONT (Optical Network Termination) of the boxes must be changed, as well as the OLT (Optical Line Termination) which is in the NRO (Optical connection node) of SFR.

“We only touch the active elements, not at all the passive elements, therefore not the optical fiber which leaves from the customer and which goes to the NRO, nor to the FttH tree or to the street cabinets”details the marketing director.

The connector part of the SFR Box 8X.

Make two access technologies coexist

SFR’s entire FttH base is not eligible for XGS-PON. Currently, more than two million homes are affected and this figure should gradually increase, thanks to new sockets opened or upgrades. As a reminder, the operator has more than 26 million sockets eligible for Very High Speed.

This therefore requires the coexistence of two different fiber optic access technologies on the fixed network. To achieve this, SFR uses what is called wavelength multiplexing, ie it circulates several wavelength signals on a single fiber.

“On the network side, we have Combo ports capable of supporting both XGS-PON and G-PON. Several signals are sent on several wavelengths. And on the other side, the client will tune into a single wavelength”sums up Damien Jahan again.

A high-end offer

The XGS-PON is not however intended to be generalized in the short term by SFR to all its subscribers because it does not correspond to the needs of everyone.

“It will still concern the top of the range for some time because it involves costs on the network and customer equipment side”, says Nicolas Leroy, Director of Products and Services at SFR.
“This also corresponds to very high bandwidth needs, for intense uses that combine Wi-Fi 6 and a 10 Gbit/s speed”he completes.

SFR also considers that its Box 8 X only represents an evolution of the SFR Box 8. This modem was not accompanied by a new TV decoder and the box remains the same. It was still necessary to change the SoC to have more power to manage the transit of 8 Gbit / s of speed.

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No upcoming 6E Wi-Fi

Three years ago, SFR was the first operator to launch a Wi-Fi 6 Internet box. Today, its new modem remains compatible with this standard. Except that in the meantime, Bouygues Telecom has updated its Bbox Fiber to be Wi-Fi 6E and Orange has also launched a Livebox 6 Wi-Fi 6E.
SFR is therefore no longer at the forefront in this area. There is no question of changing the Wi-Fi cards of the SFR Box 8X to switch them to Wi-Fi 6E.

“Today, we have a very rapid evolution of Wi-Fi, faster than that of fiber. We have a desire to follow it, but it seemed to us that Wi-Fi 6E did not bring a sufficient increment compared to Wi-Fi 6 and that it could introduce some confusion in the minds of users..

Another argument is the idea that a balance must be found between fiber optic access and Wi-Fi. And that there is no point in switching to a new, more efficient Wi-Fi standard if the output speed of the box remains restrained. For the moment, according to SFR, Wi-Fi 6 and XGS-PON would represent a sort of winning combo. The operator will therefore wait for the next generation, Wi-Fi 7, to renew its box. The new standard should arrive very quickly. The first chips are expected for this end of the year. But the standard will not be finalized for about two years.

* 01net.com is published by a subsidiary of NextRadioTV, itself owned by Altice Media

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