In the very last years, optical access networks are growing very rapidly, from both the network operators and the research interests points of view. Fiber To The Home (FTTH) is already a reality in plenty of real contexts and there has been a further stimulus to the proposal of new solutions and the investigation of new possibilities, in order to optimize network performance and reduce capital and operational expenditure. A complete and systematic overview of passive optical access networks is presented in this paper, concerning both the hot research topics and the main operative issues about the design guidelines and the deployment of Passive Optical Networks (PON) architectures, nowadays the most commonly implemented approach to realize optical fiber links in the access networks. A comparison of advantages and disadvantages of different multiplexing techniques is discussed, with specific reference to WDM-based networks, almost universally considered as the enabling technology for future proof bandwidth requirements. An exhaustive summary is also given about the-state-of-the-art of modulation and encoding techniques recently proposed by the scientific community, as well as the open challenges (such as colorless and coolerless ONUs) for telecom companies and international standardization compliance.
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