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

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:00:26 AM
re: RBOCs Gearing up for Gigabit PONs ... By which I mean, does this change anybody's perception of the RBOCs's chances in the broadband wars?

Probably not, but I do find it interesting that they appear to be moving so fast (relatively) on GPON. I guess they're anxious to get video services going. Or maybe they really need a substitute for something that didn't work as expected.
arch_1 12/5/2012 | 3:00:25 AM
re: RBOCs Gearing up for Gigabit PONs It matters in that the RBOCs have finally abandoned ATM. This implies that they are abandoning the legacy services and shifting to IP, rather than wasting any more effort on the declining legacy revenue stream. Voice over PON will be VoIP (or at least VoE of some sort.)

The "RF" channel for TV also makes sense. It's an acknowledgement that broadcast TV still represents the bulk of the demand and that TV-on-demand is not a real market.

However, the RBOCs will not change my perception until this service is actually inatallable for at least 50% of the population. They have been promising broadband for so long that they no longer have any crebibility.
ragho 12/5/2012 | 3:00:24 AM
re: RBOCs Gearing up for Gigabit PONs Craig,

That is precisely it. Remember back in the hay days people were rolling out more bandwidth, but nobody could specify what the 'killer app' was?

For GPON, the killer app is IPTV (or so they say). Cable MSOs are already rolling out toll-quality voice and data service. RBOCs have had no problem with data and voice, but have not been able to break into the TV business (yet).

The problem is with a) bandwitdh and b) quality. BPON works fine for today--a 622 split across 32 subscribers give a nice 20 Mbps [downstream]. That is really good for today, but not when it comes to multiple channels of video, or with multiple streams of HDTV.

My personal feeling is that GPON will allow RBOCs to get past the comfort margin for triple/quadruple play services. With a 2.5 Gbps downstream at 1:32, they can easily push ~80 Mbps to a subscriber easily (~40 at 64 split). This beats the current non-broadcast cap on HFC cable plants.

hitekeng 12/5/2012 | 3:00:21 AM
re: RBOCs Gearing up for Gigabit PONs So providers are looking for "triple play compatible" infrastructures with the "least network ownership costs" and "highest revenue generating services". Considering that:
- VoIP is slowly but firmly taking the front seat with established carriers.
- the accelerating UMA and WIMAX standards evolution coupled with Mobile/WiFi convergence are taking hold.
- E911 support is ultimately becoming prevalent over the internet and Mobile.
- Satellite broadcast becoming less expensive.
I would not then be surprised if all providers are ultimately eyeing AIR as the medium of choice for delivering triple play services. Heck!! Who wants outside plant cables and electronics if they can limit them to bare minimum with wireless technologies? After all and for instance, a wireless/satellite backbone would logically fare much better with faster service recovery against Katrina & Rita when compared to GPONs (which I would think would be designed for Zone 4 but not for submarine applications).
Fiber would still on the other hand make sense in the risers of metro networks and dense urban centers but that is a different story...

rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 3:00:21 AM
re: RBOCs Gearing up for Gigabit PONs It matters in that the RBOCs have finally abandoned ATM. This implies that they are abandoning the legacy services and shifting to IP, rather than wasting any more effort on the declining legacy revenue stream.

GPON seems like an access technology where IP is only one part of the equation. Selling TDM and broadcast video are the others. So, to me, it doesn't seem so much as a shifting to IP but rather a technology that is hopeful that there will be a migration to a converged fiber access network. It seems like a technologist's approach to the problem which, unfortunately, may not be sufficient.

Some thoughts on fiber investment and public policy from Charles Jacobsen, an economist at Morgan Angel and Associates. http://www.morganangel.com/

If he's correct, the majority of the US might be stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to motivating investment into modern fiber access networks. We seem pretty far down the road with the "facilities based competition" ideology which, by my judgment, hasn't solved the fundamental funding challenge.

1) I think that the goals you mention, motivating investment in fiber optics (particularly, the "last mile" to the consumer which can be enormously capital intensive) while promoting structural separation are worthy goals but may need to be thought through more carefully. In particular, it seems to me that the ultimate goals of separation of application and service providers is to promote technological innovation, and diversity and openness of speech - prevent the content of communications from being monopolized and censored.

2) Separation is of value to the extent that it fulfills these goals, but may not always be the best means of getting there. My own judgment, is that the real prize is not to have three or four choices of competing broadband providers (to use an example from today's internet), but to make sure that the provider that is there has reasonable incentives to provide good service, does not censor content, and does not get in the way of developing innovative applications etc.

3) Care is needed in thinking about competition. Encouraging competition among owners of fiber optics, cables, etc. may actually
slow rather than promote the diffusion of more advanced internet technology, investment in fiber etc. The reason is that with many firms potentially competing, firms may not find it worthwhile to make the large initial capital investments required. That is, investing
large sums in a fiber optic network maybe worthwhile for a firm if it can have reasonable assurance that it will reap the gains of people
using the network. If there is a risk (from the firm's perspective) of other firms building duplicate systems and taking some of the customers, engaging in a price war, the risk of the investment is vastly increased.

4) For public policy, these thoughts suggest that attempts to encourage competition among telephone, cable providers, etc. for provision of internet connectivity, maybe less productive for protecting consumers, encouraging innovation, etc. than accepting possibility of monopoly provision in this domain, or even government
investment, under common carrier principles in which the owner of the communications pipeline does not dictate content.
fiberous 12/5/2012 | 3:00:19 AM
re: RBOCs Gearing up for Gigabit PONs Craig,

Most obvious but somewhat subtle issue is the spokesperson who makes the claim for RBOC's next initiative. The CTO and next generation network architects all have visions that address the true prolems threatening the RBOCs. However, the RBOCs have created an environment where adoption of any such significant change is not possible. While people like Ralph drive forums and public opinion on what is good for the future, everyone except the US RBOCs really take advantage of it. An evening with IEEE in SF should not suddenly create the impression that RBOCs have a plan :)

Craig, to your other question GĒō does PON alter perception?
This is standard RBOC modus operandi. Basically, RBOCs have dug themselves a rather deep 12 feet hole. Yet, they are publicly held and people invest in them. Probably, less now since investors are wary. They have to project a brighter future o get more in the stock markets and such speculations always helps that. Video and PONs have been standard RBOC pitches that go back several times. The track record is however pathetic.
One should be happy if you get good phone services and a bill that you donGĒÖt have argue about!

OldPOTS 12/5/2012 | 3:00:18 AM
re: RBOCs Gearing up for Gigabit PONs At what cost/price?

Keller TX, one of the first FIOS areas in metro Dallas, is having a TV pricing war that is already spreading to my suburb where it is just begining to receiving FIOS service for Internet and Voice(ATM/BPON).

-Base Service: $13 for 15 - 35 channels
-Premium Service: $40 for 180 channels

Charter (cable)
-Analog/Base Service: $47 - 86 channels
-Digital/Premium Service: $53/69 for 240 channels

-Digital Service $42

You'll need to offer a lot of additional services to maintain market share and be profitable. Why spend upgrade money for GPON later?

PS But be carefull in assuming BW available on GPON. Effective BW is what counts (Bits of information delivered). Ethernet requires a very large header and then there is the MPLS label in the network. Multicast has it's limitations also. Yes GPON supports more than BPON, but at what total upgrade cost?
BTW I still subscribe to Analog(RF) TV.
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