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Qwest Floats Fiber Access RFP

Phil Harvey
12/29/2006

Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q) is bracing itself for a steady diet of fiber in 2007.

The RBOC is querying equipment vendors to see what it costs to "support simultaneous voice, data, and video services" with fiber-fed next generation access gear. The carrier circulated a request for proposal, called "NG Access FTTx," on Nov. 6 that sought vendor responses just before Christmas, Light Reading has learned.

In a portion of the RFP document, Qwest admits it "continues to be challenged to develop innovative, more cost effective solutions to meet ever changing market needs. Within the access environment, the ability to leverage the embedded base of copper and fiber plant to provide voice, data, and video services is critical."

Qwest's RFP calls for a wide variety of technologies, including fiber to the premises (FTTP), fiber to the curb (FTTC), fiber to the node (FTTN), and upgrades to areas "currently fed by copper, digital loop carrier systems, and/or fiber multiplexers."

It may be replacing existing gear. It may be foraging into a huge access network makeover. Company execs in the CTO's office haven't returned calls seeking comment.

Whatever Qwest is up to, observers note that it is a big deal for equipment vendors focused on the U.S. "This will be the last really big fiber access RFP in the U.S. for quite some time," says Kermit Ross, principal of Millennium Marketing. "For access equipment vendors, Qwest's RFP is like a wildcard game. Win it, and you go on to the play-offs. Lose it, and your season is over."

Sources say the carrier is asking vendors to respond with information on products that could be deployed as early as June 2007. The RFP's respondents, according to equipment vendor sources, include Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX), Entrisphere Inc. , Fujitsu Network Communications Inc. , Hitachi Telecom (USA) Inc. , Occam Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: OCNW), and Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA).

Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) are likely respondents, too, but no sources corroborated that those vendors were participating.

One source says Qwest is moving to replace several fiber access boxes it once bought from Next Level Communications, a Petaluma, Calif. vendor that Motorola once funded, bought, and summarily killed. (See Motorola Buys Rest of Next Level and Moto Shuts Next Level Facility.

Qwest's RFP says the Next Generation Access Platform it is seeking should have IP uplinks, and it would like for all three architectures (FTTP, FTTC, and FTTN) to be supported from a single platform. The carrier, however, doesn't give deployment number projections or any kind of data related to how extensive an access network makeover it is considering.

While the RFP insists that the new access gear supports POTS connections, consumer and enterprise VOIP services may be a consideration, too, as the document inquires about interoperability with Sonus Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SONS)'s ASX and/or GSX products.

Among FTTP options, Qwest's RFP mentions only GPON by name. In doing so, it describes what is becoming a familiar scenario where a service provider residential gateway is monitored and controlled in the home using TR-069. (See RBOCs Want Inside Your House.)

For FTTN gear, Qwest inquired about whether vendor systems supported ADSL2+ and VDSL2 capabilities, a tip that the carrier is likely building on what it has learned from its telco video deployments in Omaha, Phoenix, and some Denver suburbs.

For remote terminals, the carrier is looking for a system with a minimum backplane speed of 100 Gbit/s. It also wants to know how far vendors can deliver 40 Mbit/s of useable bandwidth with two bonded copper pairs -- a scenario that would allow it to offer more TV channels and bandwidth than several competitive telco offerings.

Interestingly, Qwest's RFP mentions digital video and video services, but never once calls out IPTV. The carrier does, however, believe that DSL will be a big player in its video services plans. Qwest sells DSL in 75 percent of its footprint and will push to increase bandwidth using VDSL technology during the next few years.

In newer areas, FTTP makes more sense. For instance, Qwest is deploying some FTTP in a new South Jordan, Utah subdivision, where its Qwest Choice service will go head-to-head with video services offered over the Utopia municipal broadband network (See Utah's Broadband War.)

This new RFP isn't the first time Qwest has had big plans for video and next-gen access. Before U.S. West became part of Qwest, that carrier announced in 1998 that it would deploy telco TV service via VDSL to homes outside of Phoenix. Next Level Communications was the vendor providing the infrastructure and in-home gateway boxes for that effort. The goal for U.S. West, at the time, was to reach 400,000 customer lines with voice, video, and data services in Phoenix by the end of 1998.

— Phil Harvey, News Editor, Light Reading

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