China weighs FTTH ­options

The fiber to the home (FTTH) initiatives that have blossomed to varying degrees in Japan, Korea, Europe, and the United States have provided significant relief (or at least hope) for optical communications systems, components, and cable vendors around the world. But as is the case with other niches in optical communications, the potential market China represents for sales of optical access gear has made that country a prime target for ambitious companies. Our sister publication, Lightwave China, held an FTTH conference in Shenzhen, China, last month. Since I was invited to speak, I had an opportunity to check out first-hand the current level of interest as well as the extent of decision-making within China when it comes to FTTH equipment purchases and deployment.

One thing that became clear immediately is that, as was the case in the U.S., the smaller carriers will likely act first while the incumbent service providers run trials. A representative from one provincial carrier indicated that his company would have immediate success selling PON-based services, if he could only get the infrastructure into the field; he repeatedly peppered speakers at the event with questions concerning whether he should go with EPON or GPON and which vendor was the best equipment source. Meanwhile, a representative from one major Chinese systems house, FiberHome, suggested that massive deployment-which I took to mean rollouts by the likes of China Telcom, China Netcom, and other nationwide carriers-would probably not begin until 2007. Until then, the major carriers would continue testing not only systems, but also cabling, accessories, cabinets, and split ratios.

Certainly, both Chinese carriers and equipment suppliers have paid close attention to what is going on elsewhere in the FTTH world. While the presentations delivered by Chinese speakers occasionally touched on active Ethernet approaches, most of the attention focused on PON architectures. They know the capabilities of EPON and the promise of GPON, including the fact that the GPON standard promises more downstream bandwidth and higher split ratios but at the likely cost of more expensive components. They also know they can get EPON equipment now from a variety of vendors (including several in China) but that the first wave of GPON equipment from vendors other than FlexLight and Optical Solutions is just starting to arrive. The fact FlexLight has already sold systems into the Chinese market, including to China Netcom, and that Optical Solutions has equipment in trials tells me that China will not reflexively turn to EPON when it comes time to make a decision. I expect we’ll see trials of GPON equipment from more broad-based systems houses in the near future.

Meanwhile, in-country vendors have readied their own offerings. The better-known systems houses such as Huawei, FiberHome, and ZT have PON equipment at the ready, with their high-end gear based on 802.3ah. But other companies are looking for a place at the table. Banian Tech (Shanghai) represents this new class of company, offering what it calls GEPON+. As its name implies, the company’s technology aims to provide an enhanced version (including 20-km reach) of EPON. The company’s equipment was developed using in-house ASIC and FPGA technology and has already been trialed in several locations within China.

Naturally, the components end of the spectrum is well represented within China also, a fact illustrated at the China International Optoelectronic Expo (CIOE), which was held in Shenzhen at the same time as the Lightwave China event. For example, Fiberxon showed off its FTTH transceivers at CIOE, including a new triplexer-based ONU device. Wuhan Telecommunication Devices displayed several devices for GEPON applications, including SFF transceivers for OLTs and ONUs as well as bidirectional devices, triplexers, and video-receiver modules. Hisense Optoelectronics Technology touted its new 2.488/1.244-Gbit/sec GPON OLT transceiver.

LightComm trumpeted its coupler technology for FTTH applications, including a three-wavelength coupler. The company also provides coupler/filter combinations for OLT WDM requirements. Meanwhile, Accelink Technologies also offered a variety of components for optical access applications. These devices include a manual power splitter, 1×32 PLC-based splitters, tapped photodetectors, and GEPON transceivers and triplexers. More details on all of these products can be found in an article I wrote for our website (www.lightwaveonline.com) last month.

One would think when the major carriers such as China Telecom and China Netcom decide to commit to optical access technology, the native vendors will have the inside track, if not the inside three tracks. It is clear that Chinese companies are working hard to be ready. However, it appears there will still be a role for Western vendors to play, both in the trial phase and perhaps as technology partners for the major deployments, as well as suppliers for the provincial and competitive carriers.

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