Independent telco brings fiber to the curb

Independent telco brings fiber to the curb

By GRACE F. MURPHY

Hutchinson Telephone Co. in Hutchinson, MN, isn`t waiting to run out of bandwidth or for regional Bell operating companies with more capacity to pop up in its backyard. Instead, Hutchinson is becoming the first independent telephone company to commit to deployment of a fiber-to-the-curb (fttc) network for its 10,000 customers. Opinion seems to be split, however, whether this new network represents the start of a fiber trend for other independent telephone companies.

Hutchinson`s current system has a digital loop carrier that is optically fed with copper cable that runs to each home or business. The new system, using the flx platform of Research Triangle Park, NC-based BroadBand Technologies, will bypass the copper distribution lines. Hutchinson will install new fiber-optic cable to connect a host digital terminal in the central office to nodes in the field. Copper cable will then connect the nodes to customers` homes or businesses.

BroadBand Technologies will supply both the optical transport system and the broadband delivery system, while Lucent Technologies, Holmdel, NJ, is the partner for the narrowband service. Tom Dahl, operations coordinator for the telephone company, says examinations of both companies` equipment convinced the telephone company that a field trial wasn`t needed. Work is under way on the first of four phases.

Bill Nelson, product line manager with BroadBand Technologies, says that the new network will allow Hutchinson to transport all of its services over one common network.

"That same fttc is going to deliver narrowband services, high-speed data services, or, someday, digital broadcast services. Video services will also be enabled over that same common infrastructure, and what that does for [Hutchinson] is lower their operational costs," Nelson says. Hutchinson currently offers a variety of services, such as Integrated Services Digital Network and Internet, but each has a separate network and operating crew.

To respond to present and future demands for more bandwidth, Dahl says that Hutchinson was faced with either making an addition to its Lucent 5ESS switch and hooking up dial tone to customers over its copper lines, or making the change to fttc technology and putting nodes in the field.

A fttc solution offers more long-term solutions, according to Dahl. The new network will use a variety of transmission types: narrowband for telephone service, wideband for dedicated Internet service, and broadband services. The company hasn`t decided which broadband services to offer, he says.

Nelson anticipates that those features will attract other independent telephone companies. "That`s why these independents like the idea of being able to put one system in and being able to provide services," he says. "Maybe those multiple services aren`t going to exist in the next six months to a year or two years, but it enables the phone companies to add features one at a time."

Leader of the pack?

Vern MacKall, a senior analyst at International Data Corp., a marketing firm in New York City, says Hutchinson`s choice to go with the technology is noteworthy, but that installation of the fiber-optic cable may prove too expensive for many of the nation`s 1000 independent telephone companies.

"I think any sort of a win for fttc technology is significant, because mostly it`s just been in trials. I think that all the different phone companies are looking at different architectures that they`re going to move toward, but not all of them are going to necessarily move toward this type of technology right away," he says.

"fttc is more easily cost-justified in areas that are fairly densely populated with subscribers. Some companies are taking a look at it, but I don`t think that the independents in general with their sparsely populated areas are going to be a huge market right off the bat for fttc," MacKall adds.

Independent telephone companies may be able to justify putting in such a network if they are replacing old copper wires or refurbishing an existing plant, he says.

They may also decide in favor of fttc networks as a way to guard against future competition.

"If competition should come into their area in the form of a competitive local exchange carrier, they have the arsenal now to provide similar services and hopefully for a low cost, because it`s all being transported over one common network," he says.

Independent phone companies can act more quickly than the regional Bells, which have to wait for telecommunications legislation to come up with pricing and access guidelines, he says.

But MacKall says that not everyone is sold on fttc technology yet. While Bell Atlantic and some other large phone companies have talked about fttc platforms, he says other large companies haven`t committed to the technology. q

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