Passive Optical Networks: A Game Changer for Now And The Future
Folden Peterson & John TaglieriFolden Peterson & John Taglieri

Passive Optical Networks: A Game Changer for Now And The Future

By Folden Peterson, Director of the Federal Initiative at Quadrant Four, and John Taglieri, President of Mission Focused Consulting LLC

The Department of Defense (DoD) faces challenges in meeting network requirements due to evolving needs, diverse missions, and coordination with other sectors. However, the current network infrastructure falls short in addressing these challenges. While acquiring more physical infrastructure or optimizing existing resources may seem like viable solutions, they also come with their own set of challenges. As an Army communications battalion commander, I experienced the reliance on human touch, tenacity, and innovation to make the existing technology work for our mission requirements. However, there were concerns about the interoperability of our systems, the durability of our aging equipment, and whether these systems aligned with the DoD Software Modernization Strategy from a resilience, unity, and cyber-survivability standpoint. To ensure that we effectively incorporated these mission facets into practical terms, my team and I consistently conducted planning meetings to project future budgets.

Given these challenges, passive optical networks (PON) technology has emerged as a game-changing opportunity for the DoD to take a lead role in establishing more sustainable networking and achieve its green energy goals. Prioritizing the adoption of PON can lead to the creation of a secure, efficient, and environmentally resilient communications infrastructure. This paper emphasizes the numerous benefits of PON, including cost-effectiveness, improved network infrastructure and services, and support for various applications. By leveraging successful use cases and best practices from both civilian and military sectors, the DoD can maximize outcomes and position itself as a pioneer in sustainable networking.

PON technology, widely utilized by major telecommunications service providers such as Verizon and AT&T, is transforming how data is transmitted over optical fiber networks. While commercial entities have already embraced this technology, the DoD currently lags in leveraging cutting-edge network technologies. Adopting PON can provide significant advantages, as it offers enhanced security, reliability, and cost-effectiveness. It can reduce capital costs by up to 30-50% and operational costs by 50-70%, while also improving network infrastructure, services, trustworthiness, and speed. PON supports various applications like voice, video, wireless access, security, surveillance, building environmental controls, and automation using Power over Ethernet.

PON technology uses a Layer-2 transport medium to deliver converged audiovisual and data services at gigabit speeds over a single strand of fiber to the user’s location. Unlike traditional copper-based LAN, transitioning to a PON infrastructure does not require reconfiguration of clients or PCs.

To gain a competitive edge, the DoD should aspire to integrate state-of-the-art commercial network technologies into its networks at the speed of relevance. This requires aligning telecommunications technology goals with environmental sustainability and proficient management of the application portfolio. By adopting PON technology, which is already employed by various industries such as by finance, hospitals, manufacturing, airports, solar farms, hotels, stadiums, schools, and utilities, the DoD can achieve this edge.

By embracing innovative solutions, the DoD can establish a secure and efficient communications infrastructure that is technologically and environmentally sustainable and resilient, positioning itself as a pioneer in the field. This would not only benefit the DoD but also showcase the substantial impact of PON technology in telecommunications. Leveraging successful use cases and best practices from both civilian and military sectors, the DoD can maximize cost-effectiveness and results, driving transformative changes that benefit both sectors.

Embracing PON: Technology for Environmentally Sustainable Military Networking

The DoD seeks to enhance operational efficiency and maintain global dominance in national security, but utilizing sustainable and energy-efficient solutions in the military is also important, so much so that the DoD has spent over $100 million since 2010 on what are known as Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program (ERCIP) fund projects.

Aligned with its commitment to environmental sustainability, the DoD has prioritized the adoption of PON technology in its Digital Modernization Strategy publication to reduce energy consumption, minimize waste, and promote eco-friendly alternatives. While some may argue that the reductions in energy consumption and waste from PON installation may not have a significant impact on the environment, using PON technology in the telecommunications mission is beneficial for the environment and enables other energy-saving capabilities like smart grid integration and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. By reducing our carbon footprint, PON enhances its sustainability contributions.

Enhanced Efficiency: Network Reliability, Operational Savings, and Less Human Touch

PON technologies offer enhanced efficiency, network reliability, operational savings, and less human touch, making them the future of networking resilience. These technologies align with the current administration’s green energy goals and require less human intervention by eliminating the need for active electronic components. As a result, PONs are an ideal fit for military networking, delivering significant long-term savings.

The capability of PONs to operate without active electronic components means they are less prone to failure and require less maintenance. This enhanced reliability results in high-speed internet connections of up to 40km, which is significantly further than traditional copper wire connections. Initiatives such as the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) aim to improve broadband infrastructure and access in underserved rural areas in the United States. These initiatives align with the broader concept of promoting Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) to bridge the digital divide and create economic growth opportunities in rural communities.

The deep fiber design of PON technology offers four times better Ethernet density from a smaller footprint and reduced cabling, which continues to attract cable and telecom cooperatives. As a result, PON is an excellent choice for organizations pursuing sustainability and zero-trust initiatives. Thus, PON is an ideal fit for organizations seeking sustainable and cost-effective networking solutions.

PON for the Military: Reduced Infrastructure, Unmatched Security

PON is superior to traditional alternatives, particularly in military applications. One of its main advantages is that it can connect multiple users using a single optical fiber, thereby eliminating the need for copper cabling and bulky active equipment. This feature makes PON ideal for rapid deployment and mobility, making it perfect for military operations. In addition, PON offers physical layer security, which allows for the implementation of various security measures at different levels, ensuring HIPAA-compliant and PCI-compliant networks, and it has a lifecycle of 10 years or more.

Although some critics claim PONs are vulnerable to cyber-attacks, implementing AES encryption and regularly updating security measures can substantially reduce the risk. PON operators must stay vigilant and continuously enhance security to stay ahead of emerging threats. PON technology provides a secure and low-emission solution by utilizing fiber optic cables to eliminate TEMPEST concerns. It includes extensive security measures, such as Access Control Lists, Broadcast Datagram Rate Limiting, and strong authentication across the physical, data, and user port layers to prevent malicious activities.

PON technology is a versatile communication platform that supports video, voice, and data transmission from a single network. It is also designed to be resistant to electromagnetic interference, a critical advantage in military environments. By adopting PON technology, the Department of Defense can optimize its limited resources and protect critical information from potential adversaries. Therefore, PON technology represents an excellent opportunity for the military to enhance its communication capabilities while also safeguarding its networks.

A Call to Action: Prioritizing PON Adoption

To assume a leadership position in the field of sustainable networking and fulfill its green energy goals, the DoD must continue its focus on prioritizing the adoption of PON technology. It presents an affordable option for increasing equipment lifespan, and it enables the prioritization of future military construction projects through periodization.

To ensure successful implementation, it is necessary to conduct a thorough assessment of PON technology’s long-term expenses, scalability, maintenance costs, and compatibility with current systems. Additionally, optimizing the benefits of this technology requires a well-managed application portfolio that utilizes the Six Step Process for Application Rationalization.

Service providers have already widely adopted PON technology, making their local area networks more secure, reliable, and cost-effective. It can save up to 30-50% in capital costs and 50-70% in operational costs while improving network infrastructure, services, reliability, and speed. It also supports various applications like voice, video, wireless access, security, surveillance, building environmental controls, and automation using Power over Ethernet.

By adopting PON technology, the DoD can align its telecommunications technology and environmental sustainability goals and gain a competitive edge. It can position itself as a pioneer in establishing a secure and efficient communications infrastructure that is technologically and environmentally sustainable and resilient. The DoD can also draw upon successful use cases and best business practices in the civilian and military arenas to maximize cost-effectiveness and results, potentially benefiting both sectors.

Having served as an Army communications battalion commander who has seen the technology’s effectiveness in an operational environment, I strongly recommend that the DoD prioritize the adoption of PON. Its passive architecture simplifies infrastructure and lowers maintenance costs, while its inherent security benefits will protect sensitive military data. This move will not only enhance operational efficiency but also contribute to climate resilience.

The DoD has a unique opportunity to revolutionize our understanding of sustainable networking by adopting PON technology, so it is crucial to urge the DoD to do so. Once implemented, the use of PON will enable each service component to create a brighter, more sustainable future and lay the groundwork for 2035 and beyond.

About the Authors

Passive Optical Networks: A Game Changer for Now And The FutureFolden Peterson, Director of the Federal Initiative at Quadrant Four, brings over 30 years of U.S. Army experience. His expertise spans digital communications, risk management, and strategic transformation, acquired through service at all levels from tactical to Army and MACOM staffs. His operational, combat deployment, congressional, and legislative liaison experience further enhances his capabilities. He can be reached on the Quadrant Four website, LinkedIn[email protected] or by phone at 717-753-4148.


Passive Optical Networks: A Game Changer for Now And The FutureJohn Taglieri, President of Mission Focused Consulting LLC, has 41 years of U.S. Air Force service, 28 years on active duty and 13 years in civil service. He has a wide range of experience in communications, information technology, and cyber. His insight, dedication, and persistence ensured mission accomplishment at the operational, deployed, and base levels and at the Air Staff and MAJCOM staffs. He can be reached on LinkedIn[email protected] or by phone at 425-984-4102.

October 17, 2023

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