PON technology gains ground among network architects

NETWORKS

By ROBERT PEASE

The recent deployment of passive-optical-network (PON) architecture in Ohio's Butler County creates a new market opportunity for vendors of this relatively new access technology. The latest PON customer is part of an emerging category known as municipal local-exchange carriers (MLECs). MLECs are the result of local government-funded network deployments for the sole purpose of stimulating economic development in the area.

Quantum Bridge Communications (North Andover, MA) penned the deal with NORMAP Telecommunications LLC, wholly owned by SFT LLC (Toledo, OH), to supply the optical-networking equipment for a fiber-optic network connecting businesses and government offices within the county. According to Quantum Bridge's director of corporate communications, Charlie Guyer, the county saw three things important to economic development-"bandwidth, bandwidth, and bandwidth."

Although PONs have not yet emerged as the predominant solution for the growing metropolitan access market, some network architects are beginning to see its benefits. Recent customer announcements by two of its larger vendors, Quantum Bridge and Terawave Communications (Hayward, CA), indicate that PON is ready to step beyond the hype and into the mainstream.

Quantum Bridge's customer list includes Comcast Business Com munications (Moorestown, NJ), Advanced Telcom Group (ATG-Santa Rosa, CA), and Sigecom, an Indiana-based utility. Although Terawave has claimed just one customer to date-FiberLab, a Taipei-based systems integrator-the company recently announced a multimillion-dollar order from a second customer that could not be revealed at press time. More potential customers are currently conducting tests with PON equipment from these and other vendors. It's clear the interest in PON across the industry is increasing.

According to Quantum Bridge, the potential for market growth is evidenced by nearly all the incumbent local-exchange carriers (ILECs) publicly stating plans for PON at some point in their access networks.

There is also additional acceptance by cable companies who see PON as complementary to their current cable modem strategies. With PON, cable companies could loosen the stranglehold ILECs currently have on the business market.

Most PON applications to date have been transparent LANs, virtual LANs, and high-speed Internet access, making the recent project in Butler County particularly significant. This project targets a potentially new market-one that provides PON equipment vendors with more customer base. MLECs have money, fiber, and rights-of-way-as well as a foot in the door to potential end points or customers. These advantages put them ahead of competitive local-exchange carrier competitors who also happen to be eyeing this space.

"Initially, MLECs will light up end points that they have control over, such as schools and government offices," says Guyer. "This will assist in the profitability of the network while they work to bring other end points onto the network. In Butler County, for example, the University of Miami in Ohio has already committed to joining the network, lending connectivity to their geographically dispersed campuses."

Ohio's Butler County project will include a 96-strand fiber backbone linking the cities of Hamilton, Middletown, Fairfield, and West Chester. A secondary 24-strand fiber loop will follow along Ohio State Route 4 to connect Hamilton and Middletown. NORMAP will design, build, and operate the network. Cincinnati Bell, a division of Broadwing Communications, will install the fiber plant. The entire project-for which the county is contributing $2.75 million-is scheduled for completion later this year.

"This network is based on PON," says Guyer. "On top of the PON, other technologies, such as DWDM, will be applied to add additional capacity to the network. Because the network is linking many large buildings and providing local-loop connectivity, it could also be considered a metro-area network in addition to the access classification."

As the downturned telecommunications market begins its recovery in the coming months, PON could prove attractive in the access space. In particular, say advocates, an architecture that employs PON can mix business and residential applications to increase revenue and make the last mile more affordable.

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