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Cable/Video

NTT Pushes Do-It-Yourself FTTH

ANAHEIM, Calif. – OFC/NFOEC 2005 – The competitive nature of the fiber to the home (FTTH) market in Japan is quite literally sending NTT Communications Corp. 'round the bend. The carrier says it wants to hook fiber to the outside of the customer premises, while allowing customers to handle the indoor wiring and service installation themselves.

The key to making FTTH as easy to install as DSL, according to Hiro-Michi Sinohara, director of NTT's access network service systems labs, is a specially developed optical fiber for inside the home that can be knotted or bent and will still work with minimal loss.

Shinohara says that too many customers and FTTP installers handle optical fiber cords as though they were phone cords -- and that has resulted in poor service in some cases. But now the carrier is hoping to build on its research and development in so-called holey fibers to create perhaps the most flexible optical fiber ever (see Holey Fibers!). He says NTT will finish development on its bendable optical fiber cable "by the end of this year."

With a bendy fiber as part of the kit, Shinohara says self-installed FTTH kits could be a reality in "two to three years." He says that NTT is even considering having the customers own and be responsible for their own ONTs (optical network terminations). He envisions a world where consumers would just detach and move the devices from house to house, as you would a set-top box from a cable company.

Shinohara's remarks here were indicative of just how committed some carriers are becoming to moving away from DSL and copper-based networks.

Indeed, Shinohara says that, in NTT's case, fiber access is eating ADSL's lunch. Thirty-two percent of NTT's FTTP users switched from an ADSL service, he says. Only about 7 percent of those users came from cable and less than 4 percent were first-time Internet users.

NTT has some aggressive goals attached to its fiber-to-the-home business plan. The carrier says it will spend around ¥300 billion (about US$2.88 billion) on its FTTH network this year, up slightly from last year (see NTT to Spend $2.6B on FTTP). Its overall goal is to get 30 million users onto its FTTH network by 2010.

Some fiber vendors suggest, though, that NTT is slowing down its fiber builds, which casts its aggressive plans in a different light. In its state-of-the-industry address here, Eric S. Musser, newly named vice president and general manager of Corning Inc.'s (NYSE: GLW) Optical Fiber division, said Japan, which represents 15 percent of the worldwide fiber demand, decreased by about 40 percent. This was due to "a sharp drop in fiber deployment by both NTT and the power utilities in the region," Musser said.

That slowdown, along with heightened competition by Yahoo BB and other service providers, has NTT dropping prices for its service, boosting bandwidth to gigabit speeds, and getting some of its best brains to chase the idea of bendy fiber cables and self-installed FTTH kits.

That do-it-yourself approach to FTTH has its skeptics, naturally. ADC Telecommunications Inc. (Nasdaq: ADCT) CTO Mike Day told Light Reading on Wednesday that he didn't think an optical fiber that could be tied in knots was "a realistic goal."

It should be noted, too, NTT's FTTH package is mostly a data-only play, with a recent (and reluctantly added) IP phone service (see Carriers Say VOIP & SIP Are Hot). ADC's Day points out that if NTT does succeed in its DIY approach at first, the complexity of installing an FTTH service would rise significantly once the carrier started providing true triple-play services via its fiber network.

— Phil Harvey, News Editor, Light Reading

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