Town serves as network pilot

Town serves as network pilot

GEORGE KOTELLY

In conjunction with AT&T Corp., the Walt Disney Co. is planning to install a switched digital video, fiber-to-the-curb network in its proposed 20,000-family, 4900-acre model community of Celebration, which is being constructed near Orlando, FL.

The futuristic community is projected to serve as a test bed, structured to help network planners and providers understand how customers adapt to, and select, emerging communications technologies, products and services. Initially, however, proven networking platforms will deliver basic cable-TV and telephony services.

Several companies, such as AT&T Solutions, AT&T Network Systems, Broadband Technologies Inc. and United Vista Telephone Co.--a joint venture of Sprint and Disney--have been selected by The Celebration Co., a subsidiary of Disney, to build the fiber-optics-based network.

Over the long term, Celebration residents will be able to access a variety of online communications, information and entertainment services. Indeed, about 300 voluntary families will serve as a "living consumer laboratory." They will be monitored for reaction to a range of voice, video, imaging and data communications services.

Comments Donald L. Dittberner, president of Dittberner Associates Inc., a telecommunications management consultancy in Bethesda, MD, "With the Disney acquisition of ABC, this `laboratory` system should be able to provide sufficient programming content for wide experimentation. But the basic questions about the broad marketability of new video services is not likely to be answered from a small, loosely controlled sample."

The jointly developed broadband network comprises AT&T Network System`s SVC-2000 digital access system and Broadband`s fiber loop access switching and transport equipment. The equipment will be emplaced in central and end offices to deliver analog television, switched and broadcast digital video, telephony and power signals over a network of fiber-optic cables, coaxial cables and twisted-pair copper wires. Standard networking technologies, such as synchronous optical network and asynchronous transfer mode, are also proposed.

Concerning the hybrid mix of fiber, coaxial and copper lines, Doug Kidd, business planning director at AT&T Network Systems` integration services unit in Bridgewater, NJ, says, "The Celebration Co. wanted to be leading-edge, but not necessarily bleeding-edge, to satisfy consumer needs. The company is not trying to trial technology in terms of the infrastructure. It chose AT&T and Broadband Technologies because both companies had already deployed a well-defined and well-developed fiber-to-the-curb network in Richardson, TX, for Southwestern Bell."

The Celebration fiber-optic network installation is expected to be done in stages over a 10-year period. The network recently completed Celebration Place, a business park within the community. Adds Kidd, "The network technology is going to be Sonet-based. It will become part of a larger Disney Sonet network that is already in place."

Larry Yokell, president of Convergence Industries Associates, a telecommunications consultancy in Boulder, CO, remarks, "The AT&T and Disney approach to the proposed Celebration network makes sense as a living consumer laboratory. It reserves the option to make modifications to the architecture and service mix based upon field results. Plans to deploy fiber in stages over 10 years affords maximum architectural and business case flexibility."

As the systems integrator of the broadband fiber/copper network infrastructure, AT&T Solutions--the consulting, integration and outsourcing business service company of AT&T Corp.-- is responsible for providing telephone, television and computer communications products and services.

Says Alf Andreassen, AT&T Solutions client partner, "Forward-looking Celebration will provide opportunities to explore how people learn about new technologies."

The Celebration fiber-optic network is projected to be buried all the way to more than 370 neighborhood optical network units and associated video/power hubs. At system turn-on, the units are expected to receive telephony, analog cable-TV, switched digital video and broadcast digital services. The analog cable-TV and power signals are anticipated to be sent first to the hubs over fiber, and then on to the optical network units via coaxial cable. Interactive broadband services will be provided at a later date.

Dittberner observes, "AT&T and Disney are taking a low-risk approach to implementing an integrated telecommunications service for Celebration. Their focus on exploring new services and service acceptance, rather than on new untried technology, is a wise choice. A technical approach that can be upgraded gracefully is the right way to go today."

To meet that goal, the nearby Disney campus central office is fiber-connected to an end central office in Celebration. ATM switching and Sonet transmissions at optical carrier, level 3 (155 megabits per second), OC-12 (622 Mbits/sec) and OC-48 (2.5 gigabits per second) between the two offices are being investigated. A host digital terminal installed in the Celebration end office is anticipated to feed four or more singlemode fibers to all the neighborhood optical network units and video/power hubs.

Upon project completion, several host digital terminals are estimated to interconnect about 110 miles of fiber to more than 370 optical network units and hubs. The network units will be emplaced within 700 feet of the homes. According to Don McCullough, product line manager, at Broadband Technologies, "Disney preferred bringing fiber closer to the home because it doesn`t place restrictions on network planning."

A twisted-pair of copper wires will deliver telephony services to homes from the optical network units. A coaxial-cable connection and another twisted pair will help bring in broadcast analog, broadcast digital and switched digital signals. All cables and wires from the units to the homes will also be buried.

At the receiving end inside the homes, analog and digital television sets and home computer-type terminals are scheduled for user analysis. The fiber-to-the-curb network will deliver a 51-Mbit/sec downstream bandwidth into each home. The upstream bandwidth from each home for interactive services will be 1.62 Mbits/sec plus telephony requirements.

Services planned for eventual delivery over the fiber-optic broadband network range from standard telephone service to full-motion, high-definition, digital interactive multimedia services. These will include home security with a link to a central monitoring station; home energy management controlling electricity, water and gas usage, as well as meter readings; interactive banking; home voting; interactive home working office with telephone, fax, computer, data and information communications for technical, professional and independent workers and businesses; Internet access; and interactivity among residences, health-care facilities, schools, community offices and retail stores.

Yokell adds, "Major issues to be addressed in the Celebration network include provisioning, managing and maintaining side-by-side analog and digital technologies; whether the revenue streams generated by this network will justify the costs of deployment on a return-on-investment basis; systems integration of hardware and software within and between the central and end offices; and implementing operational and business support systems that manage the network and bill customers cost-effectively." q

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