Actelis Heats Up the Copper
The latest bend in the copper comes from Actelis Networks, which yesterday announced not only the availability of its MetaLight 1500 hardware, which it claims enables the delivery of fiber-quality services over copper, but also deployment to its first customer -- Cincinnati Bell, a Broadwing Inc. (NYSE: BRW) subsidiary (see Actelis Intros MetaLight)
Actelis says carriers can use its MetaLight 1500 gear, based on its own MetaLoop technology, to optimize existing copper telephone wires to deliver bandwidth of up to 50 Mbit/s. The company claims the technology allows for the reliable delivery of services like voice, video, and data traffic.
The technology requires a box at the local carrier’s central office and one at the customer premises, can be deployed in a matter of hours, and can carry services up to 18,000 feet. Each system uses between four and 20 copper pairs, depending on how much bandwidth the customer needs. The only labor required for deploying the technology can be carried out by your traditional telephone technician, the company says.
“Everywhere where there are copper drops, customers could upgrade to 10-Mbit/s to 45-Mbit/s Ethernet,” boasts Actelis president and CEO Tuvia Barlev. “Whatever you can do with fiber, you can do with this.”
Actelis’ first customer, Cincinnati Bell, says in a case study that it chose the copper-based solution because of its lower cost, reach, scalability, and fiber-like performance. The service provider has deployed the MetaLight 1500 to the Cincinnati County Day School, which was looking for a cost-effective way to obtain a 10-Mbit/s connection to the Internet, since its T1 connection was no longer sufficient.
“We were looking for a solution that could scale beyond 10 Mbit/s and deliver high-quality broadband services over our existing copper plant,” Dennis Hinkel, Cincinnati Bell’s senior vice president of network operations said in the study.
The deployment may not be huge, but with only 10 percent of U.S. businesses currently connected to fiber, any development in Ethernet over copper is significant, observers say. “The concern is that it’s limited to one specific application… but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.” said Ron Westfall, an analyst with Current Analysis, adding that it helps to differentiate Actelis from all of the other companies out there trying to find access solutions.
Competing in this area won’t be easy, however. Incumbent players such as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), which are touting their own access solutions, are more likely to receive recognition from carriers. In addition, the company will have to run against other startups with their own Ethernet-over-copper solutions, such as Hatteras Networks.
While having a customer is a good first step, deployment to one school will hardly carry the company through. "It’s certainly not a slam-dunk for them," says IDC analyst Sterling Perrin. "Incumbents are slow adapters of anything new. And it’s the incumbents that are calling the shots these days, at least in the U.S."
So is there a chance the incumbents will commit? The RBOCs haven’t announced any deployment of this kind of copper technology, but they are all probably looking into it. "We are constantly evaluating new technologies," said a spokesperson for Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ). "Particularly on the last mile."
Actelis claims that five or six major carrier labs in the U.S. and internationally are currently beta-testing the technology.
But while they may be looking, observers say deployment with incumbents is a long way off. The main concern for carriers, they say, is whether the technology will prove reliable. Carriers would worry, they say, that after offering customers services, they would discover that there aren’t enough copper pairs available, that the customer location is a little too far away, or that the service delivery just doesn’t measure up.
Reliability isn’t a problem, Actelis says. Any existing copper infrastructure will do, the company says, since the proprietary noise-cancellation algorithms and error-correction techniques cancel out many of the disturbances that would otherwise jeopardize the reliability of the service.
David Passmore, the research director of the Burton Group, says that for the next year or so, there should be a lot of market opportunity for companies such as Actelis. “There is a void that is being filled by this,” he says. However, he warns, once Ethernet to the last mile becomes a standard, the company will probably lose its edge.
The cost of deploying the technology varies with the configuration, Actelis says. Depending on the services, it can cost between $15,000 and $30,000.
— Eugénie Larson, Reporter, Light Reading