Calix Goes to the Node

Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX) this morning announced a new access product designed to help service providers extend IP-based broadband services in a fiber to the Node (FTTN) architecture. The move beefs up Calix's portfolio and represents a clear bid to compete more aggressively in the access market with large public competitors such as Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA).

The E5, the first product in Calix's "E-Series," is described as a "service edge node" that can deploy a combination of POTS, DSL, and eventually PON-based broadband services to hundreds of customers. (See Wham! Bam! Calix Is Building a DSLAM.) Its primary focus is on adding longer-reach and higher bandwidth VDSL capabilities, and would serve as a hub for up to 384 combined DSL and POTS lines, with support for PON connections planned for the future.

The product would plug into the network at the service area interface (SAI), which has become crucial in new broadband installations because it's where service providers need to add longer-reach technology such as VDSL to reliably deliver video services.

Heavy Reading analyst Rick Thompson thinks the product expansion will indeed put Calix into direct competition with companies -- such as Alcatel -- for new IPTV deployments.

"Generally, the introduction of the E5, in addition to the newly acquired F-Series from Optical Solutions, gives Calix a broader access portfolio to compete with larger vendors in bigger accounts," says Thompson. "Specifically, the E5 provides another option to address the numerous service provider access architectures being built to deliver IPTV."

The E5's closest competitor is likely to be Alcatel's 7330 ISAM, regarded by several market research firms, including Infonetics Research Inc. , as the No. 1 box in the broadband services access space.

Calix CEO Carl Russo, in fact, hinted at more aggressive behavior as Calix expands its product line. According to Russo, Calix plans to compete with other boxes, not necessarily on price, but by introducing features that lower operational costs and providing better interoperability.

"Getting everything to work together seems to be a bit like the early modem business," says Russo. "We show up to all the plugfests, yet it seems like other folks are avoiding it."

Russo also says that rather than just building the cheapest box, Calix is trying to sell operational efficiencies which could lower installation costs. And this includes more than just offering technicians an integrated cup holder -- one of the famous features of Calix's C7 platform. (See Calix: First in Liquid Refreshment.)

For example, the E5 has the capability to use existing copper connections to the central office to supply remote power to each of its linecards. Providing remote power to the access node remains a big problem in broadband deployments, according to Calix officials.

The E5 makes a grander statement about where Calix wants to take the access network. The product is based purely on IP and Ethernet technology and includes an integrated crossconnect capability and VOIP features, so it would enable carriers to backhaul voice and data traffic as IP from the service node. This could lower operational costs by unifying the network, Calix claims.

The addition of VDSL technology is necessary to compete in the new broadband market because service providers employing an FTTN strategy shun fiber in the last hop to the customer, instead using the higher-bandwidth DSL technologies to supply enough firepower to offer video services, or IPTV. Using next-generation VDSL technology, an access box can deliver speeds as high as 26 Mbit/s at 3,000 feet. Most service providers will need between 22 Mbit/s and 26 Mbit/s to deliver IPTV services to consumers.

According to Heavy Reading's Thompson, the extension of the service length and capacity using VDSL is a natural, since it's the primary issue facing service providers rolling out IPTV. "The E5 helps to address that issue," says Thompson. He also believes Calix is right to focus on operational aspects. "Calix continues to prove their knowledge of the operational intricacies of these networks -- a good example is the distributed power management supported by the E5."

Calix officials say the long-term plan is to integrate the F-series PON products it acquired when it bought PON player Optical Solutions. The E5 will eventually include EPON and active Ethernet cards, although the company has yet to announce the timing. (See IBM Aims Security Software at SMBs.)

— R. Scott Raynovich, Editor in Chief, Light Reading

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