BBWF 2010: Adtran Rethinks FTTX Economics

PARIS -- Broadband World Forum 2010 -- Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN) thinks it's got a novel way to expand the reach of broadband fiber deployments: Give up on fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), put the remote outside plant terminal farther away from the central office, and use the existing copper plant for the final connection to the customer.

Yes, that's called fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) in most circles, but this is slightly different: The technology deployed from the remote terminal to the customer premises equipment (CPE) isn't standards-based DSL but a proprietary flavor of Ethernet, and Adtran also wants the customers to install the broadband service themselves.

To achieve that, Adtran proposes having eight houses share each remote terminal that sits at the distribution node (on a telephone pole, for instance), reducing the in-home requirements to a media gateway that customers can set up themselves.

Adtran is calling this setup Ultra Broadband Ethernet (UBE) -- and is referring to the remote box as an ONT (optical network terminal), because it terminates the fiber link, even though the final link is over copper -- and is pushing this alternative approach here in Paris this week.

The goal is to give telcos a way to deploy 100Mbit/s symmetric services quickly, letting them compete more readily with cable operators' Docsis 3.0 offerings without incurring the expense of full FTTH deployments. (See Comcast: Upstream Bonding Tests Yield 'Sustained' 75 Mbit/s and CableLabs Eyes a Super-Sized Upstream .)

Adtran contends that FTTH stops making sense (economically) after 50 percent of a territory's homes are passed, and that has a lot to do with the complications of laying fiber. For example, "they may be able to get a fiber to a suburb on one side of the street, but then they can't get across to the other side," says Kevin Morgan, Adtran's director of marketing for carrier networks.

Under UBE, a carrier sends any fiber-access technology -- GPON, EPON, WDM-PON, active Ethernet -- out to the remote ONT near the customers' premises. The ONT would then send 100BaseT Ethernet to each home over twisted-pair copper. In nearly all cases, that distance is less than 75 meters, Morgan says.

New subscribers would be mailed a gateway box they install themselves; it plugs into a phone jack on one side, and a home gateway or integrated access device on the other.

The ONT would be powered by subscribers. Adtran is using an Ethernet variation that allows for power to get sent back into the network, "kind of the opposite of power-over-Ethernet," Morgan says. Subscribers might not be thrilled to learn they're footing the electricity bill, but the ONT uses only 10 W, which, when divided among eight households, equates to "no more than a little bitty night light," he says.

Adtran may face push-back from operators that aren't keen on proprietary technology, though. The vendor's remote ONT houses Ethernet chipsets that are being developed by Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) and Lantiq Semiconductor (one has the product ready, one is still working on it), but it's not a standards-based development.

That doesn't mean there isn't any operator interest, though. Adtran says it has trials of UBE running with one provider in North America, another in Europe, and a third in the Middle East. Commercial release for UBE equipment is slated for the first half of 2011.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:20:23 PM
re: BBWF 2010: Adtran Rethinks FTTX Economics


I think that they would have to show what percentage of deployments this is good for.

The 8 home thing is very troubling for me.  If you go into the way back machine to 1996, BellSouth approved an 8 home ONU from Marconi/Reltec.  This came with Ethernet and was only economically viable in high density suburban homes found in housing developments throughout the Southeast.  This system also came with a cable TV capability so could provide "triple play" a long time ago (all of this was crippled compared to today's systems but we are talking about almost 15 years ago).

This is the exact turf that works for FTTH.  If they are trying to get over the drop cable installation, then this has been done before and there are extensive studies on it. 

The big issue is that Adtran will uncover with this is that unless there can be very wide coverage with this system, then nobody will buy it.  Nobody is going to approve it (at least at a Tier 1) for a niche play.  FTTC has died an ugly death each time because of this.  The 8 home ONU is bad for rural properties (home density means you get a home or 2 per ONU and at that point FTTH is actually cheaper than FTTC).

So - welcome to 1996.  You should probably get yourself to the "all fiber" Central Office in Sunrise, Florida.  Ah the heady days of dial-up.  Hey K56Flex or X2?


Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 4:20:23 PM
re: BBWF 2010: Adtran Rethinks FTTX Economics

I may have gone overboard in implying UBE's coverage potential -- Adtran admits it's not going to get you 100%.  The idea is to get to more than 50%, which they claim has been economically impractical for a lot of FTTx rollouts.

I was bothered by the fact that the customer has to add another box to the home, but Adtran had some reasonable points about that.  It's the simplest way to guarantee that they can truly mail their gateway in a hands-off way. And, most of the customers at this stage are going to already have computers and a home network.

What do you think?

Duh! 12/5/2012 | 4:20:22 PM
re: BBWF 2010: Adtran Rethinks FTTX Economics

"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  George Santayana



billy_fold 12/5/2012 | 4:20:21 PM
re: BBWF 2010: Adtran Rethinks FTTX Economics

Are they going to run a new Cat 5 cable from the ONT to the customer premise or are they going to use the existing Cat 3 cable that is already there?

If they run a new cable, why not just run fiber?

If they use the existing Cat 3 cable and there are only 2 pair available, will the customer have to convert to VOIP for voice service?

Silly questions?


paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:20:21 PM
re: BBWF 2010: Adtran Rethinks FTTX Economics


1 for you!



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