Is Active Ethernet best FTTH option for Google?

Feb. 24, 2010
Google’s plans to test 1-Gbps open access FTTH networks has drawn considerable attention -- particularly from equipment vendors who believe their Active Ethernet technology would provide a perfect fit.

FEBRUARY 24, 2010 By Stephen Hardy -- Google’s plans to test 1-Gbps open access FTTH networks has drawn considerable attention -- particularly from equipment vendors who believe their Active Ethernet technology would provide a perfect fit.

Active Ethernet, which involves point-to-point links from the central office to the FTTH subscriber, has already proven popular for open access networks in both Europe and the United States because it is easier to support multiple service providers on the same infrastructure with this technology than PONs. Because the bandwidth on the connection isn’t shared, it’s also an efficient way of ensuring a 1-Gbps connection to each subscriber. (For more, see "Active Ethernet FTTH offers PON alternative.")

For these reasons, “Google will use Ethernet FTTH or Active Ethernet as the access technology for this network,” predicted Jeff Heynen, directing analyst, broadband and video, at Infonetics Research in an email to Lightwave. “Because it will be working with municipalities and will have direct access to ducts to reduce the amount of trenching it will have to do, Google will be able to eliminate the most expensive aspect of the build out. Equipment costs are comparable to GPON, though operational costs are higher due to the active electronics in the field. However, those costs will be a small price to pay to achieve speeds cable and telco operators can only dream of.”

Suppliers of Active Ethernet equipment happily agree. “Active Ethernet is offering a straightforward approach for an open access network and is a proven technology that has been successfully deployed in various city networks around the U.S. for many years,” wrote Irit Gillath, vice president, product line management at Telco Systems, in an email to Lightwave by way of example. “We have customers who have offered 1-gig open access to their residential users since the early 2000s.”

Heynen noted that Google has previously funded companies with innovative technologies, which led him to speculate about their potential interest in WDM-PON. However, Juan Vela, director, solutions marketing and strategy for Occam Networks, believes Google will want to make the networks as easy to build and manage as possible.

“There’s a level of complexity that comes with either WDM-PON or even just traditional GPON or EPON that requires some sophistication in the operations of the network operator,” he asserts. “So if I want to become a network operator, and I have no background in operating a facility, do I want to experiment and teach myself how to run a PON network?”

Heynen listed ADTRAN, Allied Telesis, Calix, Cisco, Occam Networks, Packetfront, and Zhone as among the Active Ethernet suppliers that will bang on Google’s door. However, how Google will answer those knocks is uncertain.

Vela, for example, Vela says that Occam has already contacted the search engine giant. “We got the cordial call back saying, ‘Thank you, we know you’re out there.’ But that’s about as far as it went,” he recalls.

Vela is convinced his experience won’t be unique. “If they are truly kind of a disciple of the open model, I think they’re going to go and just define a very basic switch device that becomes this OLT, and I think they’ve already done it themselves,” he says of Google.

Gillath is more hopeful, however. While conceding Google’s historical preference for doing things themselves when possible, residential service has unique requirements that she thinks the company will need to consider.

“The first is that a residential customer needs a highly reliable product. We all know that sending a technician to a site is extremely expensive and takes time till reached. Second, the certification that a product has to go through in order to go inside homes is very strict. While these are all achievable, it will delay their time to market if they choose to design their own product,” she wrote. “Third -- and this would depend on their installation model -- most US residential FTTH deployments utilize outdoor devices where the fiber CPE (or ONT) is located outside of the premise. Creating an outdoor solution (that will also be reliable) requires additional expertise and experience.”

With these factors in mind, Gillath could also see Google selecting a vendor to build something specifically to their requirements.

Regardless of where the equipment derives, the use of Active Ethernet in Google’s networks would give the technology a marketing shot in the arm. “I would think that Google’s initiative will enhance the visibility of Active Ethernet in the U.S. similarly to what Verizon’s deployment did to PON,” Gillath speculated. “While many projects have proven that Active Ethernet can be more economical and by far technologically superior to PON, there are still people that are left unconvinced. A successful deployment by Google can certainly help to boost demand.”

Vela agrees that Google could promote both open access networks and Active Ethernet. “I think what Google will do is, number 1, bring more attention to it; number 2, show it at a larger scale; and number 3, accomplish what I think their ulterior motive is, and that is to validate the open network approach to broadband here in the U.S.,” he says.

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