RBOCs Gearing up for Gigabit PONs

A GPON request for proposals (RFP) from the three U.S. RBOCs could arrive as early as November, sources say.

The long-anticipated RFP, which would outline the large North American carriers' needs for a combination of passive optical and gigabit Ethernet technologies, would indicate the RBOCs are serious about jumping to the next level of broadband.

The RFP was preceded by an update notice sent to vendors this week, according to one equipment vendor source. The notice says (NYSE: BLS), (NYSE: SBC), and (NYSE: VZ) seek speeds of 2.488 Gbit/s downstream and 1.2 Gbit/s upstream. It's unclear if the RFP will dictate whether the PON line should be split among 32 subscribers or 64 subscribers.

Reportedly, the RFP also includes provisions for a radio frequency (RF) link for video -- possibly at the behest of Verizon, which uses RF video delivery in its BPON installations. All equipment involved must be shipping for production in the first quarter of 2006.

Sources say the RFP is expected in the first week of November, although one source admits that could be optimistic, given the RBOCs' reputation for moving slowly.

The RBOCs' interest in GPON was formalized with a request for information (RFI) issued in April. (See Sources: RBOCs Are Gawking at GPON and RBOCs Cast Wide GPON Net.) And two of the three have publicly professed that they're considering GPON for future deployments.

SBC officials discussed their interest in GPON at the OFC conference in March. Ralph Ballart, SBC's vice president of broadband, reiterated the carrier's interest earlier this week in a discussion about SBC's Project Lightspeed, sponsored by the IEEE San Francisco Communications Society.

"Next year, for new builds, our intention is to go to GPON" for fiber to the premises (FTTP), Ballart told Light Reading.

Note that it's FTTP, not fiber to the node (FTTN). The latter scheme involves bringing a PON to a neighborhood node, then using VDSL to connect to homes. SBC isn't considering GPON there, Ballart said.

Verizon has likewise embraced GPON. "With our fiber-to-the-premises rollout, we're looking at starting to introduce some GPON next year," a spokesman says. Verizon will continue using RF for video but eventually wants to use IPTV for video on demand (VOD) offerings, the spokesman says. The RF and IPTV feeds would coexist on the GPON plant.

Neither Ballart nor the Verizon spokesman would comment on whether an RFP was imminent or even existed. A BellSouth spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

While GPON is a successor to BPON, it won't necessarily carry the same Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) ties as BPON. In fact, carriers involved with the Full Service Access Network (FSAN) standards are steering GPON towards an Ethernet future, says Michael Howard, president of Infonetics Research Inc.

"A few months ago, the FSAN commitee met -- they're mostly carriers -- and said their preference about GPON was to not even work on ATM, because they're not talking about using ATM with their GPON access networks," Howard says.

Whatever happens with GPON in North America could color the next wave of PON buildouts elsewhere in the world.

"Japan and Europe are similar with respect to their GPON plans, in that they're both watching what happens in North America," Howard says.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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