July 26, 2004
Though it joined BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) last year in exploring fiber-to-the-premises, SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC) has signaled that it has a much more deliberate approach to providing triple-play services. One of its latest requests for proposal (RFPs), titled "Extended Reach DSL," shows the carrier will first extend and add more bandwidth to its copper network, with the option of going all-fiber in the future.SBC's RFP, which Light Reading obtained from sources close to the carrier, asks vendors for a 24-port DSLAM with an enclosure that's hermetically sealed and submersible in up to four feet of water for a three-day period. It must be mountable "to pole, strand, manhole, SAI cabinet, pedestal, pad, and vaults." The box is required to have a minimum of 24 ADSL output ports, but the RFP also asks vendors for pricing and availability of 48, 72, and 96 port DSLAMs.
These requirements are important because they show that SBC is seriously thinking of the remote DSLAM, once used just as a device to take DSL service to rural consumers, as a key strategic device in its triple-play strategy.
At Supercomm, SBC talked up its fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) initiative, a plan to take fiber to the serving area interface (SAI) – the demarcation point where the cables coming from the phone company's central offices meet the wires that extend to the customer premises. Once fiber gets to the SAI, SBC would use the existing copper for the rest of the way, in most cases. And remote DSLAMs, which can provide some data services now, would upgrade to the point where they could eventually serve fiber all the way to consumers.
The RFP spells this out. It says its first objective is to reach SBC customers that are more than 16,000 feet from its central offices with DSL service. The DSLAMs would be line-powered by dedicated copper pairs and would reside at the SAI. The RFP also addresses customers that are served by copper connections emanating from fiber-fed digital loop carriers (DLCs). "While 'reach' is not the prime factor here, the focus will be on increased bandwidth, increased line rates, and RT [remote terminal] relief," the document states.
SBC says it wants to "extend fiber beyond the RT to the SAI location," a sign that it will provide DSL services for now, but the carrier eventually wants to provide triple play services from the SAI.
These two objectives – DSL reach and an FTTN migration path – might require two different solutions completely, SBC acknowledges. But the carrier has taken an important step in pointing out that it has an intermediate plan to bridge the gap between today's DSL services and tomorrow's all-fiber network.
"This is a line in the sand for SBC... it's a place to start from," says Howard Headrick, principal of AusTelTec, an Austin-based telecom consultancy. "It is important because it tells the world that SBC is thinking about its network in terms of evolving it, as opposed to just running forklifts and tearing everything up."
Headrick says the FTTN-via-remote-DSLAM approach gives SBC a way to reach all of its customers with voice and data services but still allows time for an "orderly change out of new technologies with legacy networks in the last mile." Once SBC has fiber to the SAI, he says, then, depending on the timing and situation, the carrier can stick with copper, extend fiber to the customer, or even use a mixture of other technologies, such as fixed wireless.
The RFP asks vendors how far their gear can reach with a 1.5 Mbit/s backhaul and a 768 kbit/s downstream end-user connection. It also asks for reach statistics with 3 Mbit/s backhaul and a 1.5 Mbit/s end-user connection.
The remote DSLAM should also have an integrated crossconnect to pre-provision all lines out of an SAI. This is requested, presumably, to reduce the number of truck rolls required to turn up new DSL customers. Vendors also have to provide pricing and availability for the shelf and chassis, line cards, splitter cards, cabling, and all equipment required to daisy-chain multiple shelves.
Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN) is heavily favored to be SBC's overall pick, but it's not the only game in town. "We expect SBC to test Lucent Technologies Inc.'s (NYSE: LU) Stinger Compact remote [DSLAM] through the remainder of this year and then take the full deployment through an RFP process," writes Legg Mason Inc. analyst Timm P. Bechter, in a note issued July 1 (see SBC Plan: Upside for Adtran? and SBC's $6 Billion Banquet).
Other potential competitors include Pedestal Networks Inc.; ECI Telecom Ltd. (Nasdaq/NM: ECIL), via its partnership with Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT); and Zhone Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: ZHNE). Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), which has not delivered an outside plant DSLAM, pitched privately-held Conklin Corp.'s product into Verizon's recent RFP, according to George Notter, an analyst at Jeffries and Co. Inc. (see Verizon Wrangles Remote DSLAMs).
While Adtran and other larger equipment vendors are prominent in this space, startups figure in as well. But SBC says any would-be supplier with less than 200 employees "must provide a statement signed by the President or Chief Financial Officer of the company that it has the ability to meet any requests by SBC under the RFP."
And, yes, there is the all-important pricing discussion. "Will you be offering SBC Most Favored Customer Pricing, i.e., the best pricing given to any of your customers?" the RFP asks longingly.
The RFP did not give deployment specifics, such as how many SAIs it hopes to equip with remote DSLAMs, nor did it specify how many customers it was trying to reach.
SBC would not comment on its RFP.
— Phil Harvey, News Editor, Light Reading
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