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Business Services Now FTTH Focus

ORLANDO -- FTTH Council Conference 2011 -- A year ago, the Broadband Stimulus created the crackle and buzz at this event, but now the focus is on the business services and mobile backhaul potential of fiber networks.

With much of the Stimulus money allocated, the only real discussion of the Stimulus money focused on how quickly it will be spent, a topic that recently caused heartburn for Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX). That leaves most carriers looking for something besides Stimulus money to fund efforts to push fiber further into their networks -- thus the focus on business services and backhaul. (See Calix Still Awaits Stimulus Funds.)

It also may account for why the show didn't have the sizzle of last year's event. The FTTH Council claimed attendance of 2000, equal to last year, and the show floor was busy and active for the first two days, but several vendors said traffic was down a bit from last year, though most were still happy with what they were seeing.

Scheduling also worked against the show -- both the Broadband World Forum and the NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association fall event were taking place at the same time, which hurt attendance here.

Multiple fiber access vendors played their part by unveiling new equipment aimed at supporting business services through Ethernet interfaces and more densely packed boxes.

Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN) announced it had doubled the capacity of its Total Access 5000 to support 5376 GPON subscribers and 504 Active Ethernet users. The new system features a 24-port, single-slot Active Ethernet card, and works with Adtran's new series of universal ONTs that can auto-detect Active Ethernet or GPON signals. (See Adtran Doubles FTTH System Capacity.)

"The higher density helps on the opex side as well," says Kevin Morgan, director of marketing for Adtran. The company is seeing a mix of approaches to how fiber is delivered all the way to the business customer or cellsite, and the universal ONTs enable maximum flexibility.

"Some carrier customers are running fiber out of the CO [central office] to the end-user, as a home run for active Ethernet," Morgan says. "Some are doing GPON and some are bringing the splitting function back into the CO for a GPON, going home run in that way."

Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX) introduced three new ONTs designed for the SMB and mobile backhaul markets, featuring standard Ethernet OAM, environmental hardening, and one Gbit/s of symmetrical throughput per unit. (See Calix Adds Business ONTs.)

"We decided we wanted to do some ONTs that hit a feature price point for SMBs," says David Russell, solutions marketing director for Calix. "Previously, to get Ethernet OAM, you had to buy a beefy unit for SMBs -- it wasn't ideal."

All three can do symmetrical Gig-E but depending on the unit there are SFPs that offer fiber to small cellsites, or traditional T-1 ports.

Zhone Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: ZHNE) also launched a new set of ONTs, called the zNIDs, that come in six different flavors, combining Gig-E LAN ports with POTS ports, Wi-Fi, USB, and RF Video in different combinations to meet different service needs.

A lot of that variety is aimed at the international market, where Zhone is most active, says Brian Caskey, chief marketing officer of Zhone. In many international markets, active Ethernet is the only option. He sees the recent U.S. interest in active Ethernet as largely Stimulus-related -- companies getting federal money are building home-run fiber networks to future-proof their networks.

Pivot Group 's Bernie Arnason, a long-time rural telco analyst, agrees that some of the Active-E fervor is directly tied to the Stimulus funding, and that rural telcos are likely to revert to more cost-conscious approaches, such as GPON, when spending their own money.

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. seemed determined to show every possible option for rural telcos, where the company is making progress but not yet able to publicly discuss contract wins, says Reg Wilcox, VP of network marketing and product management. That included its newly standards-compliant 10G PON ONT, which ultimately will deliver Gig-E business services but likely won't be deployed until 2013, despite an early trial by Verizon. (See Verizon Successfully Field Tests 10G PON and Verizon: Huawei No Shoo-In for XG PON .)

In addition, Huawei was showing off its SmartAX MA5680T, for GPON, point-to-point Ethernet, and TDM circuits and its multi-service access devices for enterprises.

But the company was also showing off its VDSL-2 product with both bonding, vectoring and "virtual channel" capabilities, which take existing physical pairs and create new virtual pairs to deliver more bandwidth. For example, the system can expand four physical copper pairs into seven virtual pairs to deliver 650 Mbit/s over four pairs of wires, offering rural telcos that can't push fiber to the home another high-bandwidth offering for business services and residential triple play.

The copper-extension technology wasn't front and center at Huawei -- maybe that's gauche at an FTTH show -- but it was getting its share of attention.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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