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While supply chain challenges and inflationary pressures are putting a squeeze on many markets, the data access sector shows no signs of letting up; the installation of advanced systems to provide data delivery improvements is moving full-speed ahead.
While supply chain challenges and inflationary pressures are putting a squeeze on many markets, the data access sector shows no signs of letting up; the installation of advanced systems to provide data delivery improvements is moving full-speed ahead. The infamous ‘the last mile’ – which has long been noted as a primary source of data delivery bottlenecks – stands to shed its former negative perceptions, with next-generation passive optical networks (PONs) significantly improving performance and bandwidth. As data traffic has exploded and demands for high-speed data access have accelerated, the PON, which delivers multi-user access to high-speed broadband signals from a single optical cable, is becoming increasingly more efficient and powerful. And its growth is notable, with 2021 showing a 12% gain in broadband access equipment revenue versus the prior year, according to a report by analyst Dell’Oro Group.
Gigabit PON, or GPON, has been the historical fiber to the home (FTTH) solution, allowing downstream traffic rates of 2.48 Gb/second and upstream capacity of 1.24 Gb/second. But this is transitioning to the next generation to address the massive residential and enterprise bandwidth requirements. 10G PON has emerged as the new standard. With this, 10G PON’s enabling components – the optical line terminal (OLT) and the optical network unit (ONU)/optical network terminal (ONT) – are facilitating ultra-high speeds of up to 10 Gb/second symmetrical. The expansion of 10G PON is happening globally, while PON also continues to make gains.  By 2027, the worldwide PON equipment market is expected to generate over $18 bn, delivering a CAGR of 13.2% between 2021 and 2027. 
Likewise, next-generation GPON OLT revenues are projected to climb by more than 15% during the same period, reaching $5 bn in revenue by 2027. 
New OLT designs are integrating larger, more powerful electronic components to accommodate increased bandwidth capability (with more on the way as development of 25G and 50G PON expands). To provide this level of processing and performance, the terminal designs incorporate very large, high-powered components like switch ASICs, FPGAs, double data rate (DDR) memory, and microcontroller units (MCUs) with high power densities. Likewise, network terminals (ONT/ONU) are also designed with advanced ICs that facilitate more capable operational capacity. These large, multi-functional devices – which can measure anywhere from 7 mm x 4 mm up to 45 mm x 45 mm -- operate constantly and generate high operational temperatures that, if not controlled, can limit performance and lifetime. Leveraging material technologies that efficiently dissipate heat from high-powered devices is essential for function optimization and reliability.
Like any electronic device, OLT and ONU designs vary by supplier, as do the thermal management strategies. There are several factors to consider, including the thermal mass of each component, a thermal management material’s automation compatibility, thermal conductivity performance, thermal impedance, and adaptability to various component tolerances, to name a few. Thermal interface material (TIM) formats are broad. They range from pads to adhesive films to liquids, gels and pastes, and optimizing a TIM solution across OLT and ONU/ONT designs for the best result for all heat-generating devices and the entire unit can be a complex endeavor. Partnering with a thermal materials supplier that provides application expertise and a diverse portfolio of solutions can help broadband access equipment developers select the best formulations for manufacturing efficiency, terminal responsiveness and long-term performance. A knowledgeable supplier with expertise in data and telecom applications, and a deep innovation pipeline ensures a trusted partner that can help system designers seamlessly transition to next-generation fiber access technologies that deliver on their promised performance.