DLC Vendors in Next-Gen Name Game
Today's DLCs have to support so many features and functions that they make the devices in carrier networks today seem over the hill. Or under it.
From a name point of view, this presents a problem, because this out-of-date equipment is widely known as "next-generation digital loop carriers" or NGDLCs, reflecting a leap forward in DLC technology more than a decade ago. As a result, vendors are scratching their heads and finding it difficult to agree on what to call the new beasties.
Some background: Since the 1960s, "digital loop carrier" has referred to those systems that were basically channel banks used to extend the carrier's local loop so it could provide voice service to customers that needed it. DLCs helped carriers provide service without having to string twisted copper pairs all the way from the central office facilities to the customer's premises.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the NGDLCs arrived from Optilink (acquired by DSC Communications, which was acquired by Alcatel SA). Optilink first called its boxes "optical loop carriers" because of their ability to handle fiber connections on the transport side, while still feeding POTS (plain old telephone service) customers over copper pairs. The company then leaned toward the NGDLC descriptor.
Industry lore says then Optilink VP George Hawley came up with the term next-generation digital loop carrier to help the company differentiate itself from Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), which then had the lion's share of the market with its subscriber loop carrier platforms (SLCs). "I don't know if I remember it that clearly, but it's a pretty good story," says Kermit Ross, who was former director of marketing with Optilink and worked with Hawley.
Whatever the case, by the time Advanced Fibre Communications Inc. (AFC) (Nasdaq: AFCI) and others rose to prominence, DLCs were not only handling voice, but were also expected to handle ISDN and DSL connections as well.
The modern DLCs must handle all the traditional legacy functions -- and the kitchen sink. The new table stakes are broadband and POTS in every slot, packet voice and softswitch interfaces, as well as the ability to migrate to optical connections on the subscriber side, for applications such as fiber-to-the-home, according to Ryan Koontz, director of marketing at AFC. And, by the way, video over DSL is right around the corner, too.
"If all you're going to provide is POTS, the technology carriers have today is fine," says Russ Sharer, VP of marketing at Occam Networks Inc. (OTC: OCCM). "Alcatel and AFC have done a very good job of wringing costs out of those [legacy DLC] products."
And, thanks to the sizzle added to the DLC story by data applications, the DLC market is growing even while RBOCs are steadily losing access lines and making fewer dollars on providing POTS. In 2003, the DLC (or whatever you call it) market is projected to be worth $810 million, up from $676 million last year, according to Michael Howard, principal analyst at Infonetics Research Inc.
So about this naming problem: what do you call today's NGDLCs? NGNGDLCs?
Market leader Alcatel still calls its Litespan series a digital loop carrier. Other vendors -- including Catena Networks Inc. and Occam -- use the term broadband loop carrier. Industry analyst firms, such as Infonetics, embrace BLC as well.
AFC tried the term Integrated Multiservice Access Platform (IMAP) for a while, but abandoned it about a year ago. Now it's warmed up to the term "Broadband DLC."
TelStrat International sells DLCs, too, but calls them Multi-Service Intelligent Access Platforms. And the functions provided by Telstrat's DLC are referred to as Packet Loop Carrier capabilities.
Calix Networks, with all its integrated functions and stuff, goes with "Simplified Services Platform."
One thing many of the DLC vendors agree on is that some new name is sorely needed. "I call the current NGDLCs 'LGDLCs,' or last generation DLCs," says Ross. "What comes after them will be considerably different."
— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading