Alphion Finds GPON Success in India
Deployments with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) and now Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd. (MTNL) represent the majority of Alphion's business. And Alphion is hoping its clout in this corner of India's telecom world -- "about half the market" in GPON, says Chris Peterson, Alphion's vice president of marketing -- can be parlayed into business elsewhere, including the United States.
Alphion, based in Princeton Junction, N.J., was recently picked as the sole GPON supplier for MTNL's deployments in Mumbai and New Delhi, Peterson says. That follows up last year's announcement that BSNL would use Alphion's GPON equipment, as well as that of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and Nokia Networks . (See BSNL Picks Alphion for GPON.)
But there's a catch: GPON deployments are a droplet among India's 1.2 billion people. Analyst Jeff Heynan of Infonetics Research Inc. has pegged BSNL's GPON deployment at 700,000 homes passed, and he says MTNL is using GPON on a "very, very limited trial basis."
Pyramid Research predicts fiber will represent just 9 percent of India's broadband market by 2015, compared with WiMax's 39 percent share of the market. (DSL, coming from a large installed base, would still reign with a 49 percent share.)
Alphion originally worked on planar lightwave circuits, optical components that integrated functions the way chips do. But as the market sagged in the early 2000s, Alphion tried a new direction -- passive optical networking -- and sought out a subspecialty.
"A lot of our development was around the unique requirements of emerging markets, India in particular," Peterson says.
One example: path protection. "In emerging markets, you have a real problem with fiber cuts," Peterson says. Alphion developed a low-cost way to have two fiber routes between the central office and the fanout point, an architecture it showed off last month at the FTTH Council Conference.
ITI Ltd. , the state-owned telecom equipment supplier, was convinced and gave Alphion its big break. It's ITI that is supplying Alphion gear to the carriers, fulfilling the requirement that 30 percent of a telecom deployment must go to an India-based entity. Huawei is BSNL's lead supplier, providing gear for northern areas, but it's Alphion and ITI that are supplying equipment for the southern and western segments of the deployment, Peterson says.
The ITI partnership could set up Alphion "to get more business when the next tender comes out, supposedly next year," Heynan says. That deployment could pass 1.5 million homes, he's heard. "Then, I think you'll see MTNL become more aggressive with their own GPON movement, and then things could get really interesting," he says.
But even at that point, the market will require patience. "It's going to take a lot of time without a lot of revenue coming from sales out of that service," Heynan says. "It's so tough, because the revenue per user is so low."
No wonder, then, that Alphion wants to use its India business as a calling card for other markets: Eastern Europe, other parts of Asia, and Tier 2 and 3 carriers in North America.
That last part won't be easy, as Alphion would be late breaking into established networks (the human kind) of resellers, channel sellers, and consulting engineers, Heynan says. The company would be up against established names such as Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN), Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX), and Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA).
Alphion does have one technological trick that might appeal to the rural Tier 3 market, and it comes from the company's optical heritage: PON.ext, an amplifier for extending PON reach. "Here's a device you can plug into the network, regardless of whether you have GPON, BPON, or EPON -- it's transparent, and it amplifies the optical signal enough to extend it out," Heynan says. (See Alphion Bows PON Extender.)
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading