Optical Solutions Preps Multimedia PON

Flanked by Microsoft and other partners, this PON vendor's out to make fiber-to-the-home a household term

May 22, 2001

4 Min Read
Optical Solutions Preps Multimedia PON

Optical Solutions Inc. is readying a new version of its FiberPath passive optical networking (PON) system for release at Supercomm. The new product supports high-speed telephony, 100-Mbit/s Ethernet data, IP-based streaming video, and broadcast analog TV in a single unit designed for home use, the vendor says.

"We're out to prove that fiber to the home can have the same economic criteria as cable TV service, only be substantially less expensive to maintain," says Darryl Ponder, Optical Solutions' CEO.

Optical Solutions' new product, dubbed the FiberPath 400, is similar to the vendor's earlier products and to other PONs in its use of inexpensive passive optical splitters, which allow as many as 32 users to share bandwidth on a single strand of optical fiber terminated close to several homes (see PONs: Passive Aggression). This approach helps obviate the expense of running multiple dedicated fiber links to individual homes.

The FiberPath 400 features ten times the 10-Mbit/s data rate of its predecessor, which was the first commercially available PON product (see PONs on the Home Front). But the new PON has one thing in common with former iterations: It uses a modified version of the FSAN (Full Service Access Network) specifications endorsed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Using this approach may be proprietary, but it's helped Optical Solutions keep costs down on past products, and the vendor says it's helping do so again. "By our estimates we save a couple of hundred dollars per home by tweaking the FSAN protocols and cutting down on the timing circuitry of FSAN," says the eponymous Ponder.

Ponder says this tack brings the total cost of providing a PON link with FiberPath 400 to about $1,000 per customer for a carrier -- close to the cost of creating a hybrid fiber coax link for one home. But maintaining the connection on a PON is cheaper, he asserts, and the service offers considerably greater capacity.

Optical Solutions also endorses Ethernet as a possible basis for PONs and is working with other vendors on PON specs that support Ethernet as another alternative to ATM-based FSAN PONs (see Ethernet in the 'Hood ).

Along with the FiberPath 400, Optical Solutions is releasing a product designed for small businesses, called FiberPath 440, which includes the same capabilities as the FiberPath 400, only quadrupling the capacity of the home box. The 440 will pack up to four 100-BaseT Ethernet interfaces, four cable TV links, and eight phone lines. The business box also will optionally support two T1 (1.544 Mbit/s) connections.

Optical Solutions says several of its customers, chiefly small independent telephone companies nationwide, have expressed interest in the new boxes. And Ponder maintains that once the bigger players, including former RBOCs like BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS) and SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC) catch wind of the possibilities, he's confident they'll be interested too.

That may not happen as quickly as Ponder would like. The RBOCs have so far taken years to set up PON trials, and they seem to be taking years more to roll out live services. According to most sources, it will be at least two years before PON services materialize as planned, if indeed they do.

Meanwhile, Optical Solutions is determined to stay ahead of the curve and promote its cause as aggressively as possible. At the upcoming Supercomm tradeshow, the company plans to demonstrate its PON carrying video and IP data traffic from a range of independent suppliers, including Intertainer, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT). These suppliers each will demonstrate a multimedia link for Optical Solutions' PON that uses their multimedia products.

Optical Solutions isn't alone in planning a Supercomm PON rollout. Rival Alloptic Inc. plans to release an Ethernet-based PON it claims is capable of delivering up to 1.25 Gbit/s total capacity to up to 32 home users, divided among Ethernet, POTS, and cable TV interfaces.

Alloptic plans to announce new customers at Supercomm but won't say much more right now.

Like its competitor, Alloptic is talking up the future of PONs. "It will be a couple of years, but we think there's a great long-term opportunity," says Mark A. Kelsey, Alloptic senior product marketing manager. "The big players are going to catch on."

- Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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