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AlcaLu Paints Its MSAN GreenAlcaLu Paints Its MSAN Green

Alcatel-Lucent turns green as it updates its ISAM multiservice access platform, but is it going too far with some of its claims?

July 1, 2009

6 Min Read
AlcaLu Paints Its MSAN Green

There appears to be a new unwritten rule in the telecom equipment sector's marketing manual: If it ain't green, don't bother.

Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) certainly isn't breaking that rule today as it unveils the fourth version of its influential multiservice access node, the ISAM (Intelligent Services Access Manager), which has been deployed by more than 210 service providers since it first saw the light of day in September 2004 at the Broadband World Forum in Venice. (See Vendors Claim DSLAM Breakthrough.)

Those were the days when Alcatel was the undisputed fixed broadband market leader, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. was a mid-tier vendor just getting under the skin of the majors, and Lucent was still single, fancy free, and dishing out bumper bonuses. (See Lucent's Fat Cats Get Fatter and Huawei Eyes Super Sales Growth.)

[Five years is a long time, though. (See Huawei Rivals AlcaLu for DSL Crown, Russo, Tchuruk Out at Alcatel-Lucent, and Huawei Closes In on Rivals.)]

It's questionable, though, whether the giant vendor has gone a bit too far with some of its claims, even though the industry is undoubtedly in the midst of a green revolution. (See Recent Moves in Green Telecom, Everything's Gone Green, Juniper Goes Green Around the Edge , Green Telecom East: Verizon's Thermal Ware, and APAC's Green Power Play.)

For example, "Alcatel-Lucent launches world’s first 'green DSL.'"

Well, "green DSL" is an AlcaLu marketing phrase based on criteria not universally recognized as the qualified composites of "green DSL." So AlcaLu might be the first to claim a particular set of operationally efficient attributes, but it's not the first broadband access equipment company to have announced a "green" product. (See {doclink153062} and Huawei exhibits Green Broadband at Deutsche Telekom.)

And then there's this claim about the latest ISAM version: "[It is] the market’s first true high-capacity and eco-efficient digital subscriber line (DSL) platform -- enabling service providers to deliver tomorrow’s applications over their installed copper base, all while consuming up to 25% less power compared to conventional DSL solutions."

And which "conventional DSL solutions" are these? It turns out that the 25 percent-less-power claim comes not from a test of the ISAM against alternative broadband systems, but from whether an operator chooses to activate a particular function on the ISAM platform or not. That function is L2 Power Mode, a power-saving function introduced across the industry in 2003 as part of the ADSL2/ ADSL2+ standard.

While that casts a different light on the vendor's up-front use of that power-saving claim -- it appears in the first paragraph of today's press release -- AlcaLu has tackled one of the problems associated with L2 Power Mode. According to Thomas Kallstenius, director of product marketing at AlcaLu's wireline networks business, implementing L2 Power Mode can cause noise on the broadband line when a modem is woken out of its "sleep" mode after a period of inactivity, an event that causes a mini power surge on the line.

So how is AlcaLu, which kick-started its green broadband campaign in February with its "distributed DSLAM" announcement, making a difference? (See AlcaLu Greens Up.)

Saving power, going green
Essentially, AlcaLu has combined Layer 2 Power Mode with a proprietary capability called "Smart DSL," which was first unveiled by the vendor in January 2008, when Light Reading just happened to be around to catch a pre-launch presentation at an IPTV conference in Paris. (See AlcaLu Develops 'SmartDSL'.)

In essence, Smart DSL stabilizes a DSL line by introducing low-level noise that masks the "crosstalk" that can deplete a DSL line's available bandwidth by up to 30 percent.

That in itself is useful, but what AlcaLu has done is integrate Smart DSL into the ISAM and combine it with L2 Power Mode for ADSL2+ deployments. The combination of the two capabilities cancels out the power fluctuations, reduces crosstalk, and keeps the network more stable.

In VDSL networks, a combination of Smart DSL and Max SNRM (signal to noise ratio margin) have the same "green" impact.

Kallstenius says these combinations have been tested with a number of broadband modems and been shown to work well, though the AlcaLu man says a number of the modems tested didn't support L2 Power Mode or Max SNRM, though that can be rectified by the vendors with a relatively simple software patch. Kallstenius won't say which vendors' CPE (customer premises equipment) did or didn't work, though, of course, AlcaLu's own modems were amongst those that passed the tests.

But won't broadband service providers be wary of deploying Smart DSL because of its proprietary nature? AlcaLu has been touting the technology for about 18 months and doesn't have a commercial deployment as yet, though Kallstenius says the technology is in "advanced field trials" with a number of operators.

The only proprietary part of the Smart DSL offering is the "artificial noise" element in ADSL2+ deployments, but the vendor says that's not a problem because it works with any receiving modem on the market, so interoperability isn't an issue.

It's worth noting here that Smart DSL isn't the only technology designed to increase the efficiency of DSL lines. One alternative is Dynamic Spectrum Management (DSM), also known as "vectoring," which aims to curb crosstalk rather than mask it. DSM is championed by specialist vendor Assia Inc. , which has also stressed the green attributes of such techniques. Kallstenius says AlcaLu has DSM "on our radar... we are working on this."

More green ISAM attributes
While AlcaLu focuses on the "green," there are a number of other enhancements that might be of equal interest to broadband service providers in the new release, which will be generally available from early 2010.

For example, the ISAM's line cards require less power than before -- a simple but positive advantage.

It has greater backplane capacity -- 2.5 Gbit/s, a significant increase on the 1 Gbit/s in ISAM version 3 -- that enables an average of more than 50 Mbit/s per port in a 48-port platform. "Backplane capacity is a common bottleneck" in broadband systems, states Kallstenius, who says this will help meet the demands of carriers rolling out high-definition IPTV services.

ISAM V4 also enables VDSL2 line bonding, something AlcaLu claims will be an industry first when the platform is commercially available. Kallstenius says AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is believed to be testing this capability currently.

And AlcaLu is integrating new applications into the platform, specifically: synchronous Ethernet capabilities for mobile backhaul; greater support for voice services, with 72 voice parts per line card; and in-built DSL line testing capabilities, so a separate service test platform doesn't need to be deployed.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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