FTTP bidders await RBOCs' pleasure

Sept. 1, 2003

At least 20 companies, either alone or as part of a team, met the July 21 deadline BellSouth, SBC Communications, and Verizon set for responses to the fiber to the premises (FTTP) requests for proposal (RFPs). According to vendor sources, the three carriers expressed a willingness to entertain Ethernet- and ATM-based passive-optical-network (PON) technology for requirements that shouldn't tax the capabilities of currently available equipment.

Advanced Fibre Communications, Alcatel, Alloptic, Fujitsu Network Communications, Lucent Technologies, Marconi, Paceon, Siemens, Terawave, and Wave7 Optics confirmed their participation. In addition, Lightwave believes Vinci Systems is aiding as many as two respondents by supplying optical-network-terminal (ONT) expertise.

Several companies, including Adtran, FlexLight Networks, Nortel Networks, Optical Solutions, Quantum Bridge (which is working with Motorola), Salira Optical Networks, and Zhone Technologies, refused to comment on their status, with several citing the nondisclosure agreement (NDA) that accompanied the RFPs. Sources at iamba Networks, an Israeli-based PON equipment supplier, say the company had not "bid directly" on the program but was under an NDA that forbid it from discussing partnerships. All these companies are likely players.

Alloptic, which partnered with Ericsson in its response, has been among the more forthcoming vendors regarding its plans. According to the company's chief corporate officer, Kirsti Spiva, and Mike Serrano, market manager, the teaming merges Alloptic's Ethernet-based GigaForce PON product line with Ericsson's services expertise. Alloptic sees its Ethernet-based approach as a stronger option for video services than ATM-based competitors.

Other companies, while acknowledging that they have formed teams, were coy about their partners. Lucent spokesmen acknowledged that their submission combines Lucent and partner resources but declined to provide further details. Similarly, Terawave has joined at least one team, but sources there would not name names. At Paceon, sales and marketing head Bill Shank says, in the context of potential partners, "We are open to doing whatever it takes to find a suitable solution for the RBOCs."

Meanwhile, Wave7 president and CEO Tom Tighe says, "We are pursuing this opportunity on two fronts: the first with our own product coupled with the financial backing of a $60-billion-plus annual revenue company and the second with a leader in the FSAN-compliant PON system area where we will be helping them get to a triple play product." He declined to name either company. However, Siemens, which would not comment on its teammates, enjoys the level of revenue Tighe described.

For its part, Fujitsu is "working closely with certain startups in this field," according to John Stewart, senior director, corporate and marketing communications, at Fujitsu Network Communications. Stewart also would not reveal those companies.

Marconi represents an interesting case in regard to potential partners. The company has a strong background in optical access infrastructure; it is BellSouth's primary supplier for fiber to the curb (FTTC) equipment and has delivered its FTH 1000 fiber to the home (FTTH) system to Verizon for a field trial. However, according to Mark Cannata, vice president of marketing for the company's North American access group, while the FTTC system has been used to service small and medium-sized businesses, it currently lacks an offering for large enterprises. He says the company has plans to introduce this capability in the future; however, he declined to comment on whether the company had partnered with anyone to fill that hole immediately.

Some companies appear content to go it alone. Advanced Fibre Communications will use the recently introduced FiberDirect capability of its AccessMax central-office platform as the centerpiece of its offering. The fact that 100,000 shelves of AccessMax equipment are already in the field—some in the inventories of each of the three carriers—puts Advanced Fibre in a great position, according to the company's director of marketing, Ryan Koontz. Koontz says his company is rare in that it offers in-house developed optical line terminals, ONTs, and voice gateways—three of the primary components that an FTTP network will require.

While the requirements contained in the RFPs are known to heavily reflect the ATM-based ITU G.983 recommendations, the carriers appear willing to consider alternatives. Alloptic's Spiva and Serrano, for example, say the fact that the company received an invitation to bid, coupled with input received at the bidder's conference July 8, lead them to believe that the carriers are open to Ethernet infrastructure. That would be good news as well to other vendors of Ethernet equipment, such as Salira. The inclusion of Wave7 further underscores the three carriers' willingness to look beyond G.983 technology; the company's standard offering isn't even a PON (see "Are PONs too small for big fish?," Lightwave, May 2003, p. 28).

While no one would fully describe the carriers' requirements, industry sources expressed confidence that current systems could meet them relatively easily. One source went so far as to say that the bandwidth requirements were not significantly greater than what DSL systems already provide. "IP HDTV [Internet protocol-based high-definition television] would bring the network to its knees," says the source.

Nevertheless, the fact that BellSouth, SBC, and Verizon want offerings that can support business and residential customers, as well as accommodate the "triple play" of voice, video, and data services, had some vendors scrambling for partners. That was particularly true of companies that initially had focused on business applications, such as Alloptic, Paceon, Quantum Bridge, and Salira. Alloptic solved the problem of adding an ONT for home applications with the introduction of its homeGEAR Ultra. Meanwhile, Quantum Bridge has partnered with Motorola, which likely will supply the residential ONT if Quantum Bridge makes the cut. Paceon and Salira also would appear to need a partner to provide a residential ONT. On the other side of the fence, Optical Solutions has focused on FTTH and may need help with an enterprise ONT.

Of course, several major players needed partners because they don't currently have PON equipment in their portfolios. Lucent, Fujitsu, Nortel, and Siemens fall into this camp. Another giant, Alcatel, has long partnered with Scientific Atlanta to provide video capabilities for its products. It also announced last April a deal with General Bandwidth to resell the latter's G6 Packet Telephony Migration Platform to provide voice over ATM in FTTP networks.

Based on position as the RBOCs' primary provider of DSL equipment as well as its established FTTP product line (it is currently supplying systems to SBC for a field trial), many observers view Alcatel as the frontrunner in the competition. A final decision on suppliers could come as early as this month, following lab trials of equipment that were expected to begin in August.