NTT Calls for Ethernet PON

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
9/4/2003



NTT Group (NYSE: NTT), Japan's main carrier, is trawling the technology waters for an Ethernet passive optical network (PON) -- another sign of ongoing interest in the technique in the Asia/Pacific region.

Ethernet PONs are devices that use native Ethernet to run multimedia traffic over multiple channels created by adding passive splitters to optical fiber. So far, the market for these PONs has been a small one, since they're not yet standardized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), as are the majority of PONs, which are based on Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM).

Now, that looks to be changing. While the scope of the NTT project isn't known, and NTT sources couldn't be reached at press time, at least one vendor characterizes it as work that will require any winning startups to partner with larger vendors. This implies that the NTT job is a big one and possibly part of a larger fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) project that's said to be underway at the carrier.

But that's scuttlebutt. Here's what is known for sure: NTT issued its RPF August 19 for an "optical line terminal [that] sends and receives Ethernet MAC frames with several optical network units connected through a passive optical network at a communication speed of 1 Gbit/s." An element management system to set up and control the PON is also required. Responses are due in by October 3, 2003.

There's a handful of vendors whose equipment seems to fit the bill. These include Alloptic Inc. and Salira Optical Network Systems Inc., both of which were Ethernet PON pioneers and have made a big push in the Asian market, where there seems to be more opportunities for PON and Ethernet access than there are stateside right now (see Salira Scores in China; Flexlight Funded).

NTT may also get a response from Hitachi Telecom (USA) Inc., which has over 60,000 PONs deployed in NTT now and showed an Ethernet-capable PON at several tradeshows this year (see Pining for PON). Still, it's not clear that Hitachi's product can run at the full gig reqired by NTT.

Salira won't say much about the RFP, and Alloptic won't comment at all. Hitachi didn't return calls at press time.

Analyst Michael Kennedy, co-founder of Network Strategy Partners LLC, doesn't know the specifics of the new RFP, but he says, "I have spoken with NTT's technical architects, and I know they are very much interested in PON and in Gigabit Ethernet." NTT is closely watching the progress of the recent RFP issued by several U.S. RBOCs seeking "fiber to the premises," he says (see Analysts Narrow RFP Odds and RBOCs Hungry for Fiber).

Kennedy suggests there may be PON designs coming from Japanese companies that aren't widely publicized. NEC Corp. (Nasdaq: NIPNY; Tokyo: 6701), for instance, still has its PON, though it sold the rest of its access gear to Zhone Technologies Inc. early in 2003 (see Zhone Gets Eluminated and Zhone Cashes In on Tellium).

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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