Access Is 'In' at USTA

LAS VEGAS -- Geneva? Looks like many telecom bigs have decided to amble up to the slots here rather than venture to ITU in Geneva, but, as the United States Telecom Association (USTA)'s annual conference gets underway, it looks like they aren't in the mood to gamble on their access networks.

The majority of buzz here so far is focused on the Last Mile -- that most treacherous strip of land between the carrier's facilities and the customer's premises. More than ever, equipment vendors want to provide triple-play (voice, video, and data) services to carriers. As a rundown of this morning's vendor announcements shows, this triple-play desire is making for unlikely bedfellows:

  • Entrisphere comes out: Secretive access gear vendor Entrisphere Inc. is revealing some details about its BLM 1500, a passive optical networking (PON) access box that can serve POTS, ADSL, DS1, Ethernet, ATM, and Sonet services out of a single chassis. The BLM is reminiscent of Calix Networks' C7; both are super access boxes that collapse several services in a single platform. Rather than chase the smaller incumbents and work up to bigger fish, Entrisphere is aiming right for the regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs). The BLM is fully Osmine-compliant and ready to ship, according to Peter Bourne, Entrisphere's VP of marketing.

    In that vein, Entrisphere has struck a partnership with Fujitsu Network Communications Inc. (FNC) as a way of ensuring that the big incumbents take it seriously. In fact, the two companies have acknowledged that they are bidding as a team in the big fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) request for proposal (RFP) that BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), and SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC) have put out (see Analysts Narrow RFP Odds).

    Fujitsu isn't the strongest player in the North American access space, but it's looking to put together the right partners and deliver carriers a triple-play product. At its booth, Fujitsu has a full triple-play network with Entrisphere’s BLM platform as the optical line terminal (OLT), Vinci Systems' V-142 as the optical network termination (ONT) unit, and several video overlay pieces provided by Fujitsu partner Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT).

  • Occam pairs with SkyStream: Third-generation digital loop carrier (DLC) vendor Occam Networks Inc. (OTC: OCCM) follows in Paradyne's footsteps and partners with SkyStream Networks Inc. (see Pair Pushes Video Over Broadband). SkyStream's Mediaplex-20 Video Services Router handles video routing and video backhaul, allowing Occam to make a more compelling argument to carriers that have ATM networks, but want to take advantage of video-over-IP.

  • DSLAM developments: DSLAM advances are abundant at this show. One of the most quiet access companies around, Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN), has introduced a new series of self-contained, hermetically-sealed, mount-just-about-anywhere DSLAMs -- a product group reminiscent of the gear Pedestal Networks Inc. debuted last week (see Pedestal Displays DSL Gear). The first in this series of Adtran's line-powered DSLAM is called the Total Access 1124. That box delivers 24 ports of ADSL with integrated splitters from a DS1 network uplink. What's more, Adtran says the unit can be powered to beyond 80,000 feet from the central office when a special kind of repeater is used.

    Meanwhile, Net to Net Technologies Inc. announced a quality-of-service software upgrade that affects all of its DSLAMs. Now the Net to Net boxes can better handle differentiated services -- meaning they can help carriers prioritize different types of voice, video, and data IP traffic.

  • Class 5 cacophony: Next-gen Class 5 switch maker Taqua Systems Inc. has introduced a "Mini-Me" version of its ix7000 central office switch. The new switch, the ix700, is a 21 inch wide, 12 inch high box that can terminate 624 POTS or xDSL lines. It's meant to be used instead of a DLC in central or remote offices and controlled environment enclosures, according to Jody Bennett, Taqua's VP of marketing. The ix700 hits a sweet spot, Bennet says, because legacy gear is too large to use in remote offices and newer DLCs have too many functions that drive up their cost. With both switches, Taqua says it can replace central office switches in networks that serve anywhere from 600 to 80,000 subscribers.

    CopperCom Inc., too, is hoping to entice carriers to switch their switches. The struggling switch maker, which was bought recently by The Heico Companies, says its customers can now rent, buy, or lease its gear. The company is announcing Norcast Communications as a new customer for Class 4 and Class 5 services, though it didn't specify if Norcast is actually buying some gear, or just renting it, as one would an impractical car on vacation.

    So that's the skinny so far -- access vendors are pairing up, DSLAM vendors are adding features and becoming more remote, and next-gen switch vendors are finding new ways to entice reluctant carriers.

    So what about those carrier customers? So far, Ed Whitacre hasn't been spotted at the blackjack table -- whether or not there's cash or PON equipment on the line. More on USTA later.

    — Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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