Vendors Claim DSLAM Breakthrough

Alcatel and Fujitsu target triple-play hopefuls with their new DSLAMs at Broadband World Forum in Italy

September 21, 2004

6 Min Read
Vendors Claim DSLAM Breakthrough

VENICE – Broadband World Forum Europe – If you've got a soft spot for DSLAMs – and let's face it, who hasn't? – then Venice was the place to be today as both Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and Fujitsu Telecommunications Europe Ltd. took the wrappers off their new all-singing, all-dancing access products at Broadband World Forum Europe 2004 (see Alcatel Launches New IP DSLAM and Fujitsu Europe to Unveil MSAN).

Everywhere you turn at this event, people are talking about triple play, and the two DSLAM launches today are squarely aimed at carriers looking to deliver high-quality simultaneous video, voice, and data services to fend off the serious threats they face from cable players and shrinking traditional voice revenues (see Video Profits on Pause? and Carrier Comes Clean on Triple Play for some background).

So what have Alcatel and Fujitsu come up with? In alphabetical order...

Alcatel's 7302 Intelligent Services Access Manager (ISAM)
The French vendor is touting this new DSLAM as the broadband access product for carriers wanting to provide the bandwidth required for multiple TV broadcast channels (with high-definition quality), interactive gaming, voice, Internet access, and so on, all at the same time. That requires about 20 Mbit/s, reckons Alcatel, and this new box can deliver that bit rate to almost 1,000 users per 7302 shelf. Alcatel's senior director of broadband access, Jay Fausch, says ten shelves can be stacked together to provide 20 Mbit/s connectivity for almost 10,000 users through a single network interface.

But it was Michel Rahier, COO of Alcatel's fixed communications group, who stepped up to the podium today to tell the media about this new product and boast about having shipped more than 50 million DSL lines, a milestone achieved during the second quarter (see Alcatel Claims DSL Milestone). He says the 7302 represents a massive leap in per-user bandwidth availability compared with an average 2 Mbit/s per user from existing IP DSLAMs, and that the product has already been deployed by China Telecommunications Corp. (NYSE: CHA).

For carriers looking to offer TV and video services, the ISAM can come with the vendor's IP TV middleware system, the Open Media Suite (see Alcatel Unveils Open Media Suite), pre-integrated for operators looking to step straight into TV and video services, though Rahier insists that carriers can easily deploy rival IP TV systems with the 7302. The product is also designed to handle all flavors of access technologies, including the whole gamut of DSL up to and including VDSL, as well as fiber access and WiMax. It also uses the same network management software and OSS interfaces as previous Alcatel DSLAMs.

That's covering a lot of bases, so what will it cost? Rahier wouldn't even offer a ballpark figure per port or shelf, but he admitted this was a product that would command a premium investment. However, he denied any suggestion that it was "expensive."

It's hard to see how it can come cheap, though. Even with cost-effective component sourcing in China, where some 7302 manufacturing will take place courtesy of Alcatel Shanghai Bell Co. Ltd. to counter some of the cost benefits of competitors such as Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and ZTE Corp., this is a box crammed full of additional processing power.

Fausch says the 7302 gets its extra capabilities from a network processor that handles the IP functionality on each line card, replacing the single central processor common in current DSLAMs. That means a dedicated processor for each set of 48 lines. This provides the speed needed for real-time interactive processes, such as channel hopping, says Fausch. He won't, however, reveal Alcatel's processor suppliers, saying only that there are two sources that designed their products to Alcatel's specifications. "These aren't off-the-shelf items," says Fausch.

There's also the question of voice service support. While the 7302 supports TDM traffic and can hand off VOIP traffic to remote gateways, this initial version of the product doesn't have fully integrated SIP session control capabilities – though that'll be added by the second half of 2005, says Fausch.

Graham Beniston, Heavy Reading analyst at large, says this is a long-awaited announcement from the French vendor, and one that strengthens its position in the DSL market. "It's clearly aimed at carriers expecting a 100 percent takeup of TV and video services, but even if that market doesn't take off as well as many people expect, Alcatel has all the bases covered. It's an extremely useful capability for them to have, as it'll be a useful tool in fending off the competition."

Fujitsu's GeoStream Access Gateway Hub 1000
Fujitsu flagged this baby up a short while back, but it is on display for the first time here. Again, this is a multiservice access hub designed for the triple-players. Fujitsu Telecom Europe general manager Andy Stevenson says the box can be stacked to support up to 16,000 users via a single network interface and still provide enough bandwidth for whiz-bang multimedia and video-based services.

Again, the capabilities are driven by deploying processors on each line card – a network processor from Wintegra Inc. alongside a DSL transceiver from Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) – but, unlike Alcatel, Fujitsu has a central processor, from Agere Systems Inc. (NYSE: AGR.A), in the hub too.

Again no prices are available publicly, but business development director Marc Curtis is more candid than Alcatel about the fact that the new, more powerful product is going to eat into more capex dollars than a standard DSLAM unit. "This is only the beginning of the market, so there are no economies of scale to be had yet," he states.

And as it's the beginning of the market, Fujitsu doesn't have any users it can talk about, though Curtis says there are three carriers lined up in the U.K. and "some" in France. Curtis can't name names as yet, but those British carriers will almost certainly include BT Group plc (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA), already a major Fujitsu DSLAM customer.

Although the product is being launched globally, the Fujitsu team is targeting specific markets and customers. In Europe it has prior customers in just three countries (Portugal in addition to France and the U.K.) and isn't specifically looking to spread its wings. "We're careful not to over-commit ourselves," says Stevenson, tongue in cheek.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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