Intel and Broadband to speed digital data to home computers

Intel and Broadband to speed digital data to home computers

george kotelly

In a joint agreement, Intel Corp. and Broadband Technologies Inc. are combining technology resources for delivering high-speed digital data services over new or upgraded telephone company fiber-to-the-curb networks to residential PCs.

Plans call for Broadband to incorporate its existing Asynchronous Transfer Mode-structured, fiber-loop access system architecture and assist Intel in providing network interface card hardware and software capabilities. The resulting network products promise accelerated interactive access speeds to the Internet and World Wide Web, as well as the faster transport of new and improved voice, video and data services. Downstream speeds over fiber-optic and copper cables are expected to run at 52 Mbits/sec and upstream at 1.6 Mbits/sec--many times faster than present telephone and cable modems. These transmission speeds are considered more than adequate for present service requirements. New hardware and software could easily accelerate these speeds.

Products are expected to be demonstrated this summer and made generally available late this year or in early 1997. According to the agreement, Broadband will sell both the PC interface cards and fiber-to-the-curb network equipment. Intel is designing and developing PCI-bus hardware and software technology for interface cards that plug into Intel Pentium and 486-type PCs; the technology will be licensed to Broadband.

"We view high-speed access to the PC as a key facet for PC-market segment growth," says Avram C. Miller, Intel vice president for business development.

Salim A. L. Bhattia, cofounder, president and chief executive of Broadband Technologies, adds, "PC customers are increasingly demanding interactive information and entertainment services from providers of choice. Our solution will enable telephone companies to bundle lucrative services from one telephone jack in their customers` homes, delivering hundreds of TV channels, electronic commerce over the World Wide Web, personal videoconferencing and access to computer networks at work."

According to Vern Mackall, senior analyst at Northern Business Information in New York City, "The joint effort between Intel and Broadband is another attempt to capitalize on the explosive growth of the Internet and the pent-up demand for higher-speed access solutions. Intel pushes cutting-edge applications like high-speed Internet access and Integrated Services Digital Network videoconferencing because they help fuel the demand for fast PCs and top-of-the-line microprocessors.

"For Broadband, the goal is to build a resurgence of interest in telephone company broadband-to-the-home at a time when many telephone company customers have placed their wireline video deployment plans on the back burner. Broadband`s access system for switched digital video is well-suited to interactive, bandwidth-intensive applications such as video-on-demand. Telephone company interest in advanced video, however, is currently light, due to high infrastructure costs and uncertain consumer demand. Broadband is trying to latch onto an application that will get its equipment out of trial mode and into the mainstream," observes Mackall.

Most industry analysts believe that in addition to implementing a common ATM-based, dedicated, high-bandwidth network, telephone companies are also interested in carrying digital information services to generate additional revenue, remain competitive and migrate quickly to future multimedia services.

Comments Michael Smith, lead analyst, network services, at Datapro Information Services in Delran, NJ, "The joint-development agreement reached by Intel and Broadband represents a concerted effort by Broadband to empower service providers with comprehensive residential broadband service packages that include not only the bandwidth itself, but also the hardware required at the user end. In this sense, Broadband is positioning itself as a solutions partner with service providers. Although the agreement is strategically significant, products are not scheduled until next year. They will, therefore, have little impact on fiber deployment for the next 12 months."

Smith also adds some insights on why this agreement is slanted to the telephone companies. Due to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, explains Smith, "The Bell operating companies are focused on protecting market share on the local service front, particularly with business customers; providing long-distance service, particularly to customers within their respective home territories; and controlling capital expenditures to stay profitable and competitive in the face of intensified competition.

"The latter point is significant in regard to fiber deployment by the Bell operating companies. Bell Atlantic and Pacific Bell have abandoned plans to deploy switched digital video networks, largely because of the high cost of such builds and the uncertainty of end-users willing to pay for high-speed data and video capabilities. Today, long-distance services appear to be the best opportunity for revenue for the Bells.

"Although running fiber-to-the-curb is appealing today from a technology perspective, the [Bells] are presently in a streamlining mode to battle competition. When the [Bells] do move, Broadband will be well-positioned to assist them in provisioning comprehensive service packages," remarks Smith.

Market goal

The market goal is to sell these joint broadband products to telephone companies that are looking to upgrade or install new fiber-feeder optical-node configurations deeper into the neighborhood. From the nodes, twisted-pair copper wire carries the information to the home. On the side of, or inside, the home, coaxial cable makes the last drop directly to a PC or television set via a set-top box. In this combined fiber/copper approach, Broadband`s FLX 2500 system delivers ATM cell-based signals from optical nodes located at the curb or as far away as one-half mile from subscribers.

Remarks Don McCullough, Broadband Technologies` product line manager, "We have jump-started the data opportunity with this deal with Intel. The [fiber-loop access] system is still delivering ATM-based transmission over fiber. But now, a service provider can get at a high-speed data stream. In addition to providing video, service deliverers can use the stream for high-speed Internet, data to the home or any data use. The network cards work with the same interface as does the set-top box, but instead of having a decoder, the cards can interface directly into a PC."

The cards contain a coaxial-cable interface that accommodates the connection to both the PC and the television set. However, the wire connection from the curbside optical network unit to the home is twisted-pair copper. At some point in the neighborhood--either on a pole or on the side of the home--an interface connection is made to coaxial cable for transport into the home. For delivering video services, the distance limitations are 600 feet to the coaxial-cable transfer and 200 feet for the last drop to the PC or television set.

According to McCullough, the joint agreement provides an improvement in application rather than a new capability. "If a telephone company is delivering ATM-based signals to the home, it can now use the same lines for data and video; native ATM to the desktop is a versatile application," he adds. No field trial is currently underway, but joint efforts have been proceeding for several months.

For Internet interaction, the planned network and card products are expected to substantially boost user-access speeds. More important, notes McCullough, content providers now have the means to originate application products, as well as access content products via the fast upstream or return path. Authors can more easily originate personal home pages and other related material because of the interactivity and higher upstream bandwidth capabilities.

McCullough says, "This technology is clearly positioned against both cable modem technology and hybrid fiber/coaxial-cable network technology for video services. Dedicated bandwidth is important; users can now have acceptable services without congestion, which slows down the network. All the attributes that are important for interactive video go double for interactive data, because the upstream bandwidth requirements are larger."

Plans call for Broadband to sell the network interface cards with help from Intel. Because these cards are simpler in design, they are estimated to cost less than set-top box cards and cable modems, which cost approximately $350, and $500 to $600, respectively.

Telephone companies planning network upgrades for video services over switched digital video networks can now provide data services and accrue additional revenue. For those telephone companies that are not sure about video services, but who are enthusiastic about data service opportunities, these joint products should help spur telephone company network upgrades.

Another key factor for telephone companies, claims McCullough, is that these network products converge voice, video and data services over a single infrastructure. They justify adding another layer for a network upgrade cost-effectively. Telephone companies can invest in fiber-to-the-curb networks initially for voice services. Then, the companies can decide what future services they are going to provide for video and data. q

More in Home