VDSL Races to 100 Mbit/s

Ikanos and Metalink show off different VDSL advances – and launch different standards pushes

March 30, 2004

3 Min Read
VDSL Races to 100 Mbit/s

With deployment of 100-Mbit/s VDSL (very-high-speed digital subscriber line) equipment likely to start in Japan next month, early standards efforts are starting to emerge, according to chip vendors.

As with recent VDSL rounds, the 100-Mbit/s race comes down to Ikanos Communications Inc. versus Metalink Ltd. (Nasdaq: MTLK), each one pitching a different technology. The companies demonstrated their 100-Mbit/s chips side by side in a session at the FastNet Futures conference today.

Ikanos is pushing for its VDSL2 to become a North American standard, having submitted it to the T1E1.4 working group for consideration.Metalink, with support from NTT Group (NYSE: NTT), submitted its VDSLPlus to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for standardization about a month ago, says John Egan, Metalink's director of sales for North America.

Those efforts could cross paths with an eight-band proposal recently submitted to the Telecommunication Technology Committee (TTC), Japan's equivalent to North America's T1E1 group, according to Richard Sekar, vice president of marketing at Ikanos. Egan says he's not aware of the eight-band proposal yet.

For now, "100 Mbit/s" means 100 Mbit/s downstream and 50 Mbit/s upstream, which Sekar says NTT plans to deploy starting in April. Ikanos and Metalink both say they're developing chips running 100 Mbit/s in both directions.

So who cares about this standards stuff? Well, carriers for one. Standards are supposed to drive down the cost of equipment by creating direct competition. With Ikanos and Metalink pitting different specs against each other, those price drops will take longer to arrive. Equipment vendors likewise have to stake their bets on either side, whereas with universal standards, they could grab anybody's chips -- handy in case of shortages or supply-chain glitches.

Metalink developed its VDSLPlus 100-Mbit/s chips in conjunction with Japan's NTT, which combines fiber to the premises (FTTP) with VDSL to reach each household. The chips' first design win is with Fujitsu Access Ltd., which is developing VDSL equipment for NTT's use and is under the gun to do so quickly, Egan says (see NTT to Spend $2.6B on FTTP, Fiber Boosts VDSL Biz, and Metalink, Fujitsu Offer 100-Mbit/s DSL).

"NTT wanted to be the first to claim 100-Mbit/s service," Egan says. "They have been aggressively pushing [Fujitsu] to get a system out."

The U.S. might not be far behind, as Sekar claims Ikanos's VDSL2 chips have drawn the interest of a U.S. carrier that could deploy 100 Mbit/s in trials by year's end. That would be a surprising twist, given that U.S. DSL tends to lag Asia the way fashions in Albania lag the latest from Paris.

"It's hard to believe, but we're very active in North America," Sekar says. "We are working closely with people [in the U.S.] who say they need 100 Mbit/s downstream and 25 Mbit/s upstream." Trials could start by the end of this year, he says.

Sekar wouldn't reveal which carrier is considering this, but it almost has to be an incumbent. "It would have to be one of the phone companies, because they have right of way," says Charles Hoffman, CEO of Covad Communications Inc. (OTC: COVD).

Separately, Metalink and Ikanos aren't saying much any more about the QAM versus DMT debate. The acronyms stand for incompatible line-code schemes that duked it out in a "VDSL Olympics" series of tests last summer. DMT -- Ikanos's side -- appeared to win, allowing longer reaches at certain speed grades, but QAM supporters, including Metalink, responded that newer versions of their chips could match DMT's performance (see DMT Chips Win 'VDSL Olympics').

Ikanos considers the matter settled, with DMT the winner. QAM supporters can point to an installed base of QAM-based VDSL as well as the fact that the scheme is used by the cable industry.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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