There is really no-clear cut answer to this question. Both are excellent technologies. It really depends on your specific project. Typically, PONs use less fiber than Active-E networks. This is why passive optical networks (PONs) have been more popular in the U.S., where the distances between customers are greater, while active Ethernet (Active-E) networks have been more prevalent in Europe and Japan, where housing tends to be more dense.
It used to be an easier call when TV distribution was strictly RF-based. Many PON technologies support RFTV, while Active-E does not. With the advent of IPTV, however, the question becomes more interesting. Active-E has many advantages, especially where you may have commercial as well as residential usage. Active-E's symmetrical bandwidth is also better suited for many of the newer multimedia services.
If you plan on delivering RFTV, a PON technology still tends to be your most cost-effective option. Where that is not an issue, I would give Active-E a serious look. It is an excellent option for many campus designs, where you have high-rise multi-dwelling units (MDUs) with apartments or condominiums. Active-E can also be a good choice for denser residential communities with patio homes or traditional neighborhood development (TND) designs. As your distances grow, however, you will have to weigh the costs against your current and future service offerings to see which approach best suits your needs and your budget.
This was first published in June 2010