February 22, 2007 By Stephen Hardy -- It took a change in infrastructure deployment strategy and optical access technology but Optical Entertainment Network (OEN; search for OEN) has announced commercial availability of its FISION Triple Play Plus Services in Houston.
OEN's services options include more than 450 channels of IPTV, VoIP, and symmetrical Internet access at speeds of up to 10 Mbits/sec. The launch comes after successful beta tests that began last September, according to OEN President and CEO Albert J. Estrada. The company had planned to serve 70 customers during the test. However, a "request for participants" elicited approximately 1,000 responses, and OEN extended the test group to 100. Estrada reports that 65 of the 100 have signed on as customers for today's official launch, with more expected.
Estrada says that gaming applications have proven to be a significant driver among customers -¿ so much so that the company has also created a symmetrical 15-Mbit/sec Internet offering. Estrada reports that approximately 10% of the beta users signed up for the service; he expects anywhere from 3% to 5% of his initial customers will choose this option as well, with home businesses adding to the pull from gamers.
OEN's footprint currently passes 5,000 homes and businesses in Houston, with half of those already connected with fiber. However, the company created this footprint in a different manner than originally intended. OEN first made an appearance at the 2005 FTTH Conference, during which then-CEO Thomas Wendt touted a partnership with Phonoscope, a Houston-area business with a fiber ring OEN planned to use as a backbone through which to deliver FTTH services. The company announced it had selected Alloptic to supply EPON equipment and Nexans to provide cable for the network roll out. It also contracted with PacketFront to provide active FTTH equipment.
However, the company changed strategies last year. It abandoned the Phonoscope partnership and leased network resources from Eagle Broadband; the deal includes a 15-year right to buy the infrastructure, which OEN will operate, manage, and control. The infrastructure was based on active Ethernet equipment, which the company replaced with equipment from PacketFront. Active Ethernet is now the technology of choice in its existing footprint, says Estrada, who was promoted to his present position from chief marketing officer early this year after Wendt departed. Estrada adds that the company maintains Alloptic equipment in its inventory and was conducting tests at a commercial strip center using Alloptic's gear.
OEN uses a 10-Gbit/sec ring to feed 1-Gbit/sec connections to individual neighborhoods. The company budgets 62 Mbits/sec for each home, with an expectation that customers will use a maximum of 50 Mbits/sec for the time being.
Estrada says OEN plans to expand not only the customer base within its current footprint but extend its reach in Houston and in other areas. The company has been approached by other optical network operators in Houston and the surrounding area. Estrada says the company is investigating partnerships and acquisitions. It also hopes to act as a content provider to FTTH network developers such as Connexion and Zoomy Communications or directly to municipalities, real estate developers, and property managers. To this end, the company has created a sales agent program to provide content to other communities via its head end in Houston. Estrada says that the company would be interested in gaining ownership of the customer in such arrangements.
One feature of its original vision that OEN has maintained is a commitment to custom or "community" content. The service provdier has acquired programming agreements for IPTV distribution from television networks in the US, Latin America, South Asia, and Europe with programming in 13 foreign languages. For example, FISION service can provide 55 channels of Hispanic TV programming, which the company says is the most offered from any network in the US.