SBC-Pacific alliance links populous states

SBC-Pacific alliance links populous states

Paul palumbo

The merger of two of the seven regional Bell operating companies--Pacific Telesis (formerly Pacific Bell) in California and SBC Communications Inc. in Texas (formerly Southwestern Bell Communications)--at the network level should be a less-complicated process for fiber-optic design engineers than was preparing for divestiture in the early 1980s. While the merger`s impact on fiber-optic deployments is not yet clear, Kessler Marketing Intelligence Corp., a marketing consultancy in Newport, RI, claims that "since there will be no consolidation of trunk and feeder networks, there should be no immediate downturn in fiber materials."

According to the company, "SBC Communications has shown strong growth in the amount of fiber purchased for metropolitan rings and feeder applications. The merger should not curtail this growth in the near term." KMI expects fiber-optic cable installations of the two companies to total approximately 900,000 fiber-kilometers in 1996 and more than one million fiber-km a year later.

The proposed merger links a combined 30 million access lines across 16 of the top 50 markets in the U.S., possibly leading to a smoother transition into the ranks of a fully integrated telecommunications service provider. That translates into a more serious competitive threat to both incumbent cable-TV companies and long-haul providers within or outside of California and Texas.

Keith Cambron, Pacific Telesis chief network architect and director of systems engineering, says, "As far as network technology is concerned, it was more difficult to split the network up than it will be to bring together some of these assets" because of the original network design. Cambron recalls that before divestiture, AT&T`s network was based on a single-carrier concept. Pacific Telesis (and the other Bells) had to invent technologies to accommodate a multiple-carrier environment after the breakup. Equal access signaling was needed, for example, so that data could be added to each customer`s line so that information about equal access providers and interexchange carriers could be secured.

Staying the course

Both Pacific Telesis and SBC Communications say they are staying on course with their respective network upgrade paths for the time being. Tom Carson, area manager of technology planning for SBC, says, "The company is still in the process of going through its Richardson, TX, video trial. One of the aspects of that trial is to determine the viability of a fiber-to-the-curb video solution, as opposed to the hybrid fiber/coaxial-cable (HFC) concept." The network is currently a switched digital video design, with an HFC analog video overlay (see figure).

Carson notes that SBC appears to be heading toward the direction of switched digital video for residential video applications but that "the company has not made a determination if that will be a standard network configuration." Carson is almost certain, however, that fiber-to-the-curb (or a similar variation) will probably be a part of the residential video market.

According to Carson, SBC never formally announced its entrance into the video business as did other regional Bells. This fact may account for some of the media`s perception that the company is less committed to video and broadband networks than is Pacific Telesis. "SBC always said that it intended to go through with the Richardson trial before any further decisions were made," says Carson. "There has not been that much of a change in the company`s position." He notes that "the company is definitely placing fiber, and that growth has not slowed; regardless of which way the video market goes, the placement of fiber is still hot." As a result of the merger, SBC now has approximately 1.3 million route miles of fiber throughout its network, and fiber deployment is a big push in the company, according to Carson.

The company`s fiber vendors include AT&T for fiber cable, and Fujitsu for Synchronous Optical Network transmission equipment. The company`s backbone network operates at OC-48 (2.5 gigabits per second) and OC-12 (622 megabits per second). Carson says the company began deploying OC-48 equipment when it became available in 1994. The company will most likely deploy 10-Gbit/sec OC-192 equipment as soon as it becomes available.

According to Cambron, "All of the company`s business systems had to change to support customer choices," and Pacific Telesis had to get the data into the company`s switching systems and keep track of it. Cambron wrote the original requirements for equal access signaling at Bell Laboratories. "That was a huge change," he says.

Assuming the two Bells decide to fortress network assets, it is not difficult to provide equal access--including long-distance services--under existing tariffs. "Providing long-distance access through SBC, or anybody else, is pretty straightforward," says Cambron.

Peter Krasilovsky, senior analyst at Arlen Communications in Bethesda, MD, agrees with Cambron. Cable-TV franchises, on the other hand, are trying to emulate the broadcast market and hit as many households as possible in one geographic region," Krasilovsky says. There is not necessarily an advantage in aligning contiguous regional Bell geographic regions, even though he believes an alignment would be beneficial for advertising and marketing.

The possibility of additional mergers exists, but this does not imply that an alignment of telecommunications providers would begin trading states like cable-TV companies trade local franchises. Telecommunications analyst Mitch Shapiro in Encinitas, CA, says that "it`s unprecedented in the telecommunications industry for players to swap entire geographic regions."

As for Pacific Telesis, Cambron says that nothing has really changed during the past six months; the company remains committed to HFC upgrades. "Most of the equipment is in full production, starting in the central office," according to Cambron. In fact, the company has two or three offices already equipped with host-digital terminals produced by Lucent Technologies. Those offices also house all the optics, narrowband and broadband lasers (optical transceivers), amplifiers, cable and connectors. The power-fiber-node design proved difficult and took much longer than planned. "There were some design changes, and that restarted the process," says Cambron.

Pacific Telesis is using the same basic design that it developed two years ago. With Lucent Technologies as its systems integrator, it has designed its base node network so that each 500-home node is split into four quadrants. Pacific Telesis dedicates full- reverse bandwidth (5 to 40 megahertz) for each 100- to 120-home node. Three fiber links deliver up to 750 MH¥downstream to each optical network unit.

The node size is crucial to managing return path and ingress issues, says Cambron. Pacific Telesis has built ingress management into the network interface unit that goes on the side of every home for telephony. If a home has digital services, for example, the return path can be filtered to keep it out of the telephony part of the spectrum. If a home has an ingress problem, the return path can be cut off remotely, automatically and independently from all other customers. To do this, the network interface must have ingress-management capabilities, and those units have to be deployed everywhere, says Cambron.

Long-distance thrust

Long distance appears to an area that the proposed SBC Communications may go after in earnest, because California and Texas are two of the most populous states. Cambron says that companies designing long-distance networks want to know what percentage of the traffic originates, or terminates in a specific area, and then goes to the other area. For example, if there is considerable traffic between Los Angeles and Dallas, then "a lot of opportunity exists there," according to Cambron.

Although it is still early to discuss network integration, Cambron believes that if Pacific Telesis and SBC decide to aggressively pursue the long-distance market, the impact on building in California would be minimal. "I don`t think that affects the access piece of the network much at all," he says.

Cambron`s Pacific Telesis team is known as the Advanced Communication Network, or Broadband Team, which does all the design work in San Francisco and testing in its Concord, CA, laboratory. The team then goes into the field, working with engineers to do first installations test and turnup.

Once the initial installations are completed, an operations group oversees the second, third and fourth field tests. Cambron`s team supports those functions in specific build regions. For example, his team supported the first build and first customer turn up in San Jose, CA. The company has placed enough fiber cable to serve more than 200,000 homes and is presently putting existing cable into service.

Currently, team members are working out of San Diego to put into operation that city`s office. The company is also targeting Orange County and Los Angeles. Pacific Telesis already sells video transport throughout California, but particularly in Los Angeles, which is part of the company`s overland service. That service, however, is not tied closely to the proposed merged network, which is a residential network, but some of the engineers that developed those services now work for Cambron. q

Paul Palumbo writes from Seaside, CA.

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