A PON is a fiber network that only uses fiber and passive components like splitters and combiners rather than active components like amplifiers, repeaters, or shaping circuits. Such networks cost significantly less than those using active components. The main disadvantage is a shorter range of coverage limited by signal strength. While an active optical network (AON) can cover a range to about 100 km (62 miles), a PON is typically limited to fiber cable runs of up to 20 km (12 miles). PONs also are called fiber to the home (FTTH) networks.
The term FTTx is used to state how far a fiber run is. In FTTH, x is for home. You may also see it called FTTP or fiber to the premises. Another variation is FTTB for fiber to the building. These three versions define systems where the fiber runs all the way from the service provider to the customer. In other forms, the fiber is not run all the way to the customer. Instead, it is run to an interim node in the neighborhood. This is called FTTN for fiber to the node. Another variation is FTTC, or fiber to the curb. Here too the fiber does not run all the way to the home. FTTC and FTTN networks may use a customer’s unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) copper telephone line to extend the services at lower cost. For example, a fast ADSL line carries the fiber data to the customer’s devices.
The typical PON arrangement is a point to multi-point (P2MP) network where a central optical line terminal (OLT) at the service provider’s facility distributes TV or Internet service to as many as 16 to 128 customers per fiber line (see the figure). Optical splitters, passive optical devices that divide a single optical signal into multiple equal but lower-power signals, distribute the signals to users. An optical network unit (ONU) terminates the PON at the customer’s home. The ONU usually communicates with an optical network terminal (ONT), which may be a separate box that connects the PON to TV sets, telephones, computers, or a wireless router. The ONU/ONT may be one device.
In the basic method of operation for downstream distribution on one wavelength of light from OLT to ONU/ONT, all customers receive the same data. The ONU recognizes data targeted at each user. For the upstream from ONU to OLT, a time division multiplex (TDM) technique is used where each user is assigned a timeslot on a different wavelength of light. With this arrangement, the splitters act as power combiners. The upstream transmissions, called burst-mode operations, occur at random as a user needs to send data. The system assigns a slot as needed. Because the TDM method involves multiple users on a single transmission, the upstream data rate is always slower than the downstream rate.