20 June 2003 Atlanta Lightwave -- The much-anticipated RFP from BellSouth, SBC, and Verizon for fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) equipment was released yesterday. While details of the joint requirements were not available as of this afternoon, it is expected that the RBOCs would closely follow the ITU's Recommendation G.983. Meanwhile, confidence began to build that the three carriers are serious about following the procurement process with deployment.
Brent Fowler, manager, media relations at BellSouth, confirmed this afternoon the release of the RFP. In an interview conducted June 11, Peter Hill, vice president of technology planning and deployment at BellSouth, said he expected that vendor response would be completed by the end of July.
However, some back-and-forth between the carriers and the vendor community might result in changes in requirements. "That's fairly standard in an RFP process," Hill said. "You get information from the vendor community and the industry, and sometimes things that you learn can cause you to look at different ways of doing things."
Nevertheless, Hill expects the three RBOCs will whittle responses down to a short list of companies for further evaluation over the following month. This evaluation may include some testing of hardware, but Hill said he did not believe field trials would be part of the process. He predicted that the evaluation process would be completed in the September timeframe, after which each carrier would negotiate contracts.
Hill declined to predict how many vendors would be eligible to receive such contracts. "We haven't finalized that yet. Obviously, we have to see what comes back from the RFP," he explained. "So there could be, you know, one vendor who's head and shoulders above the other vendors; there could be two equally qualified vendors. We can't really predict that at this juncture."
As a point of reference, when the RBOCs joined to develop common DSL requirements in 1996, Alcatel was named the primary vendor, with Ericsson and Westell cited as secondary sources.
Hill also predicted the RFP would call for equipment conforming to G.983, which closely follows the Full Service Access Network (FSAN) passive optical network initiative of which the RBOCs were a part. This calls for an ATM-based passive optical network that supports 622 Mbits/sec downstream and 155 Mbits/sec upstream. The architecture supports voice, data, and video -- the last on a separate, downstream-only wavelength.
Hill also said that GR-909 point-to-point support might be explored.
Meanwhile, Hill dismissed the notion that the RFP release was timed to influence the FCC's finalization of its Triennial Review. "Originally, the thinking was that the Triennial Review would already be out. So the timing was not related," he said. "We began this work early this year, well before we knew the relative timing of that. Originally, the FCC's order was anticipated in May, I believe."
Meanwhile, Merrill Lynch released a report this morning based on a conversation with Matt Desch, CEO of Telcordia Technologies, in which Desch expressed confidence that the RBOCs were sincere in their FTTP interest and "are not just posturing for the FCC," in the words of the report. Merrill Lynch says that Desch expects deployments to "start small" next year.
However, Hill cautioned that a change in the FCC's expected position on whether the RBOCs would have to share their FTTP infrastructure could significantly dampen enthusiasm for the new initiative. "There's always that potential. We're going to have to see the actual written order and understand what it means. Does the written order meet the intent as expressed in the press release of the announcement of the order?" he asked rhetorically. "We understand the order is about 800 pages. A lot of things could happen in those 800 pages."
-- S. Hardy