GPON Vendors Line Up
Favored status is likely to fall on (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA), which are already involved in big RBOC access projects, but analysts say GPON newcomer Hitachi Telecom (USA) Inc. could pull an upset.
And another big name, (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE), discussed GPON plans at last week's Broadband World Forum, potentially creating more trouble for the incumbent equipment vendors.
"Vendors who can demonstrate technical compliance, timeline (1Q06 availability) and price targets will at least get a strong look from the RBOCs," writes Teresa Mastrangelo, analyst with Broadbandtrends.com, in an email to Light Reading. She admits, though, that RBOCs tend to stick with incumbent suppliers.
The vendors are targeting an RFP that (NYSE: BLS), (NYSE: SBC), and (NYSE: VZ) are expected to jointly issue in November. Sources say the RFP describes a network with 2.5 Gbit/s downstream and 1.25 Gbit/s upstream bandwidth being split among 32 subscribers, with an option to increase the split to 64. GPON appears to be a critical cog in the IPTV plans of all three -- particularly for SBC and Verizon, which have publicly stated GPON is in their plans for 2006. (See RBOCs Gearing up for Gigabit PONs.)
So far, Alcatel, Motorola, and Tellabs have driven the RBOCs' fiber access plans. SBC has chosen Alcatel as the systems integrator and lead supplier for its Project Lightspeed. BellSouth is using Alcatel and Tellabs equipment for fiber buildouts, while Verizon is using Tellabs' BPON products with Motorola recently named as a second supplier. (See Mais Alors! Alcatel Bags $1.7B SBC Deal , Tellabs Secures BellSouth Biz, and Moto Gets a Piece of Verizon FTTP.)
But the GPON race is still very much up in the air.
Tellabs, for one, may not make the RBOCs' stated deadline. Word has it the RBOCs want GPON equipment to be shipping in volume by the first quarter of 2006, for probable deployment in mid-2006.
Alcatel and Motorola have announced their GPON plans and appear on target for that timing. Tellabs hasn't made a formal announcement, although it's got GPON plans, too. Tellabs wants to apply its 1000 series to GPON as well as BPON; more ambitiously, the company plans to outfit the Tellabs 8800 edge routers with GPON cards to create a new breed of platform for the central office. (See Alcatel Says 'Oui' to GPON and Tellabs Edges Into GPON.)
But, given the rushed timing, it appears Tellabs has the most to lose.
"A shift to GPON may provide risk to current FTTC vendor Tellabs (AFC) should BellSouth opt for another GPON supplier with more aggressive GPON rollout schedules," writes analyst Simon Leopold of Morgan Keegan & Company Inc. in a note issued Friday -- although he adds that BellSouth isn't showing the aggressiveness of SBC or Verizon.
Tellabs' bigger risk lies with Verizon, he adds, considering that carrier's aggressiveness and its choice of Motorola as a second source.
Leopold calls Hitachi, which only recently announced GPON products, the "dark horse" candidate and believes Verizon may seriously consider the vendor. (See Hitachi Intros GPON .)
Mastrangelo agrees: "Hitachi may be an interesting vendor to watch, especially with their recent announcement -- but they will have to overcome a lack of U.S. presence and political currency."
And what about the reigning king of GPON deployments? Optical Solutions Inc. is notching dozens of wins among U.S. municipalities and smaller service providers -- albeit with GPON at half the speed requested by the RBOCs. But they're not exactly "in" with the RBOCs. "I am not sure they have the scale and scope on their own," Mastrangelo says.
Optical Solutions agrees it needs a hand for an RBOC win. "We feel like we need to have a partner that's acceptable to the big companies," says John Griffin, the company's executive vice president. "They want to have somebody that has $100 million on the balance sheet."
The toughest part of the RFP could lie in keeping all three RBOCs happy. The three companies' networks are different, and it stands to reason that the joint RFP will ask vendors to accede to all three sets of demands.
"The challenge will be the expected diverse requirements between the RBOCs -- such as continuing support for the RF overlay at Verizon as well as different ONT [optical network terminal] options," Mastrangelo writes.
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading