Has fiber finally penetrated the last mile?

June 1, 2001

Recent events suggest that fiber is finally making some headway in the last mile. While it's not quite time to throw a party yet, the technology is picking up some of the right early adapters that could provide a long-awaited spark.

Certainly, fiber in access networks has had some success stories, with companies like Optical Solutions unearthing forward-thinking developers willing to take a chance on fiber-to-the-home. However, the technology really needs a boost from the carrier sector before it becomes a truly viable market.

That boost may finally be on the way. The event that has drawn the most attention in this context took place at Networld + Interop, where SBC Communications took the wraps off the second phase of its Project Pronto data services effort. This phase includes a passive-optical-network (PON) approach to providing broadband services to small business now and- perhaps-residents down the road. Working with Paceon, a company owned by Mitsubishi Electric Co., SBC plans to implement a combined WDM/PON architecture serving 12 businesses per splitter.

Then the following week, Alloptic Inc. announced it is conducting field trials of its PON approach with a whopping 23 carriers. While the carrier names that Alloptic revealed aren't of the stature of SBC, the size of the list and the fact that it includes Changzhou Broadcast and TV Information Networks was significant in its own right.

If BellSouth moves its fiber-to-the-curb efforts into greater deployment (or, better yet, moves more dramatically to bring fiber to the business), then I think we can say that fiber has become a serious player in the last mile. For now, however, we should realize that as encouraging as the recent announcements are, they represent not much more than initial toes in the water. For all the hoopla SBC made, it only plans 1,000 T1 rollouts by the end of this year and not quite 9,000 by the end of 2002. In the case of Alloptic, field trials don't necessarily equate with sales.

Still, the momentum in this space is starting to build. SBC's senior executive vice president of services, Ross Ireland, told an audience at Networld + Interop that "a couple of years ago" he doubted whether he would see PON technology mature in his lifetime. You can bet that several influential executives at other major carriers (and minor ones) felt the same way-and, no doubt, still do. Fiber in the access-PONs, in particular-is finally being given a chance to show what it can do. If it fails to take off now, it won't be because no one is paying attention.

This Lightwave Special Edition is the first of what promises to be a series of mid-month issues of Lightwave, each of which will focus on a single theme. While this, our first full-run Special Edition, takes this concept to the extreme by offering a package exclusively composed of feature articles, future Special Editions will contain some of the standard columns and departments found in your regular issue of Lightwave.

We'll follow the present "Optical Carrier Solutions" theme with "Integration, Production, and Manufacturing" in mid-October.

Stephen M. Hardy
Editorial Director and
Associate Publisher
[email protected]