PON Pushers Huff and Puff
In a bid to help boost the ever-floundering market for passive optical networking (PON) gear, a group of vendors, carriers, and other intrepid PON proponents are expected to launch a forum to promote PON technology. An announcement is set to happen at or close to the time of the NFOEC show next month.
Helped by founding member TeleChoice Inc., the group will sponsor a Web site and a range of activities designed to educate the world about PON.
Up to now, PON, the technique of using passive couplers to siphon bandwidth to multiple destinations via one fiber, has met with limited success, largely due to lack of adoption by major carriers. Nevertheless, a core of persistent PON promoters still maintains that PON success is just around the corner. At least a couple of them have scored sufficient wins with alternative carriers and cable multiservice operators (MSOs) to hang in there (see PON Believers Hang Tough).
The arrival of new specs is now helping vendors keep their spirits up. Specifications for faster, "gigabit" rate PONs (GPONs) are being finalized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The new specs will enable PONs to run faster than the 622-Mbit/s limitations many ATM-based PONs (APONs) now support. Vendors also have developed Ethernet-based PONs (EPONs). And other ways are emerging to support a range of traffic types in native mode instead of converting them to a single format for use on the PON -- a tack used by most PONs on the market today.
But innovations could have a downside, if they prove to complicate and confuse potential customers, adding to the ongoing difficulties of promoting PON to large carriers.
"We've got APON, EPON, GPON, coupon," quips Danny Briere, CEO of TeleChoice, who's spearheading his firm's involvement in the forum. He says the problem with multiple emerging specs in an industry that's still nascent is reminiscent of what happened with the DSL (digital subscriber line) industry. While vendors fought over and promoted disparate flavors of DSL, potential customers who still didn't understand the economics of the basic technology were confounded. "The DSL industry lost almost lost three years in building out the market due to infighting over emerging specs," Briere says.
The new PON forum is meant to help avoid a similar fate in the PON market. The first priority will be the Web site, featuring a boatload of educational materials for interested parties. The info will aim to clarify the different PON approaches without muddying the waters about the underlying premise of PON.
"We plan to publish negative information too," Briere says. If an article appears in the press that's relevant, a link will be featured on the forum's Web site as a means of helping everyone understand both the pros and cons of PON technology.
Briere is firm about the seriousness of the forum's goals: "This forum is not about meeting in exotic places all over the world each quarter," he writes in an email message to Light Reading. "All of our meetings are planned for either major trade shows or on the phone (conference calls). None of us have budgets for flying anywhere to spend time in meetings..... The focus is all on education and getting the word out."
Briere's also clear that the forum isn't meant to replace other organizations, such as Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Council or the Ethernet in the First Mile Alliance (EFMA). "We're not trying to compete with standards-setting bodies or any other groups," says Briere. "We just want to provide education about PON in a single place."
Members will stump up $5,000 to join, although educational institutions, analysts, and press can ride free.
Despite the forum's no-nonsense charter, it looks like getting vendors to sign on could be an uphill climb. Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), an influential but relatively new entrant to the PON market (see SBC Takes a Dip Into PON) says it's decided not to join. A spokeswoman says the vendor sees no need to join yet another forum, given its membership in existing bodies such as the FTTH Council.
Another vendor, Optical Solutions Inc., which specializes in residential PONs, says it won't be joining the forum "at this time." Business PON maker Quantum Bridge Communications Inc. says it's on the fence, undecided about whether to sign on.
At least one vendor says his company's likely to join. "There's been a problem marketing PON," says Oren Marmur, CTO of FlexLight Networks. "The forum will have the sole goal of evangelizing PON in all of its flavors."
Briere can't say who else has decided to join, because potential members are still making their minds up. But he expects the forum to represent all types - from the ATM-based PON players like NEC Eluminant Technologies Inc., Paceon, and Terawave Communications to the newer EPON startups such as Alloptic Inc. and Salira Optical Network Systems Inc.
— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading