The key catalyst to making it all happen is likely to come from the details in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s coming rules following its Triennial Review (see New FCC Rules: 600 Pages? and Poll: The FCC Fouled Up). In the meantime, major telecom carriers -- even the RBOCs -- appear to be stepping up their technology efforts in the face of competition for voice services from the cable industry.
So what’s happened? First of all, FTTH (fiber to the home) technology has plummeted in price, and carriers suddenly appear to have taken interest (see Fiber Access Plans Proliferate and RBOCs Hungry for Fiber). Secondly, there’s a new wave of DSL, Ethernet-over-copper, and video compression technology coming down the pike that will yield more bandwidth on existing copper access networks, making triple-play services more realistic.
Ralph Ballart, vice president of broadband for SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC), says his technology lab has been looking at a variety of video, FTTH, and DSL services, and that the technology has leaped forward in the past year.
“MPEG-4, the next generation of video encoding, can reduce the bandwidth necessary for definition broadcast television down to 1 Mbit/s. The capabilities of DSL become interesting at these rates,” says Ballart. “Clearly, we have a lot of copper, so we have a vested interest in video over DSL.”
Ballart also lauds the progress in fiber access technology. "I'm excited about fiber to the premises," he enthuses. "The technology is mature and it's ready."
High-speed access has emerged as a major theme at Supercomm 2003. A barrage of access announcements are touting video, DSL, and PON technology that could help enable triple-play services:
- Lucent Debuts VDSLAM
- Infineon Mixes DSL & Voice
- Infineon Puts a Modem on a Chip
- Motorola, Quantum Bridge Team Up
- DSL Vendors Agree on Code
- Actelis Shipping New MetaLights
- Next Level Teams With Optical Solutions
- Catena Intros Hybrid Access Kit
- Turin, Motorola Team on Access Gear
- Verizon Extends Alcatel DSL Deal
- IP Unity Joins Manystreams
Infineon is claiming that the telcos are ready to take advantage of cheaper integrated access gear that allows them to combine voice, data, and video on a single line card.
"The next trend in telecom is the replacement of telecom cards, which typically comes every 15 years," says Cyrus Namazi, senior director of marketing and application engineering for Infineon's access products. "A lot of stuff is coming up for replacement."
Infineon's IPVD (Integrated Packet Voice and Data) platform looks to be an important product in that area. Targeted at the market for Digital Loop Carriers (DLCs) -- and specifically Alcatel SA's (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) leading Lightspan product -- the IPVD is a new line card that will permit all older POTS cards to be replaced with integrated cards that combine POTS voice and ADSL capabilities. At the same time as DSL technology allows carriers to deliver more bandwidth at lower prices, strides are also being made in the video compression and delivery market.
Carl Furgusson, director of business development, Americas, with Tandberg Data ASA, says most triple-play services are being deployed by independent and rural telcos, but larger telecom carriers are looking at the services.
Tandberg, a Norwegian video company visiting Supercomm for the first time, was demonstrating its iTTV platform, which allows telecom companies to deploy video services over DSL and fiber.
“RBOCs are in the study phase," said Furgusson. “The recent changes in the FCC rules means there could be a protected investment -- that’s giving RBOCs new impetus to deploy video.
Indeed, the coming FCC rules are much discussed here. There is the rising sense that carriers are awaiting the final rules before they pull the trigger on new investments (see No Big Changes to FCC Ruling).
Ed Kennedy, president of North America operations at Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA), says the large carriers are now in the position where they have cut capital spending so much, they can start thinking about investing in next-generation services, including both triple play and corporate data services such as VPNs and Ethernet. But he says the FCC will play a crucial role in making this happen.
“They bottom line is that carriers need to figure out how to make money on invested capital," says Kennedy. “To build their next generation of services they will need to build new platforms.” — R. Scott Raynovich, US Editor, Light Reading