Most industry insiders believe fiber to the desktop (FTTD) will remain a niche technology for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean all innovation in the space has ceased. Verizon Business (www.verizon business.com) and Science Applications International Corp. (www.saic.com) recently announced a partnership in which they are leveraging PON technology to deliver fiber to the desktops of some of the carriers’ federal government and military customers.
In the simplest terms, Verizon Business uses single-fiber PON technology to create what is essentially an FTTP network within a building. But instead of extending fiber out to an optical network terminal (ONT) at the home, this network extends fiber to individual desktops. Like Verizon’s residential FiOS network, the PON-based FTTD offering is entirely passive. In fact, no active electronics, repeaters, or other equipment are needed to boost the signal for 7 miles, says the carrier.
“There are applications in these particular environments that tend to be very data intensive, and the FTTP technology-the FiOS technology-has the bandwidth headroom to accommodate that,” explains Bill Kight, director of network engineering with the carrier’s Federal Network Systems division. “We’ll be providing full Gigabit Ethernet to every desktop, and we do that for a fraction of what it would cost using traditional work group switch solutions.”
Ed Hill, director of Verizon Federal Systems’ Columbia, MD, operation, confirms that the company has employed both BPON and GPON architectures for its FTTD offering. “But now that GPON is maturing and available, we’re moving all of our solutions to GPON,” he reports.
GPON has the added advantage of more sophisticated data encryption to ensure user-to-user privacy and isolation, which makes it particularly attractive to Verizon Federal Systems’ unique customer base, says Hill.
For the time being, Verizon Business will offer its FTTD architecture only to select customers, primarily federal agencies and military facilities with 500 or more employees and higher than normal security requirements. The carrier does not have plans to roll out FTTD to other enterprise customers at this time because in many cases, “it would be hard to justify the cost,” admits Kight. An enterprise that just wants to run e-mail and word processing applications, for example, can meet its requirements with a 100Base-T network running Category 5 copper cable and a couple of switches for $150 apiece, he says.
“When you start talking gigabit to the desktop, that’s where we get competitive. And when you start talking gigabit fiber as required in security applications, we’re way ahead of the game there,” he asserts. “You have to look at the market when you’re talking cost comparisons. A 50-user business has got some pretty easy solutions in front of them. A 5,000-user business and we start to look very attractive.”
Kight and Hill say they are able to keep costs down by leveraging the same vendor base that supplies Verizon’s FiOS network; except for some additional security engineering, the basic hardware remains the same. The carrier also takes advantage of Verizon’s proven practices and procedures, resulting in significant savings on the operations and maintenance side, they note.