AT&T Sets Copper Ethernet Course

Sources say AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is seriously considering VDSL-based technology for future Ethernet-over-copper deployments, a decision that could shift the balance among copper Ethernet startups.

What's interesting about the VDSL choice is that only one vendor is supplying that technology: Aktino Inc. Whether the startup has enough time to exploit that uniqueness is uncertain, though.

Other Ethernet-over-copper vendors support 2Base-TL, which is spelled out in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) 802.3ah standard for Ethernet in the First Mile and runs on the G.shdsl version of DSL. (See Aktino Dives Into Copper.)

Those vendors include two companies with ties to AT&T: Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN), which won an Ethernet-over-copper request for proposals (RFP) in January, and Hatteras Networks Inc. , which last year scored a deal with BellSouth, now part of AT&T. (See Adtran Scores at AT&T and Copper Ethernet Snares an RBOC.)

Neither Adtran nor Hatteras seems in any immediate danger from VDSL, though. Michael Howard, principal analyst with Infonetics Research Inc. , notes that, while AT&T is believed to have VDSL-based Ethernet over copper in its future roadmap, "that's going to take a while to get to standards," with the first version not expected until the second quarter of 2008.

Aktino and AT&T declined to comment for this story.

Why does any of this matter, since Adtran presumably won the job? Because AT&T's choice could influence other carriers, changing the outlook for copper Ethernet. "If AT&T says they're going in some direction, I'm sure other people will follow," Howard says.

And the RFP that Adtran won reads as if the carrier has seen and liked Aktino's technology.

According to one source, who requested anonymity, the RFP says AT&T is interested in VDSL using discrete multitone (DMT) modulation and, to mitigate interference, multiple-input/multiple-output (MIMO) techniques. That happens to be the technology Aktino chose to pursue when it joined the Ethernet-over-copper field in 2003, well behind rivals such as Actelis Networks Inc. and Hatteras.

Aktino might not be alone in the VDSL camp for long, though. Actelis has VDSL-based gear in its plans, says Craig Easley, the company's associate vice president of marketing. "That's everybody's long-term direction," he says.

"There's time for all the players in this field. You can be sure Hatteras is going to protect its position as a leader in this field," says Chris Cook, Hatteras senior vice president of sales.

It's also worth noting that AT&T is a big place, and one RFP doesn't necessarily set the direction for the entire company. One source requesting anonymity notes the carrier has two outstanding RFPs for Ethernet over copper, one of which deals with long-reach and international cases that are well beyond the scope of the Adtran RFP, which covered U.S. territory only.

In any event, Aktino's position has gotten it noticed, as our first industry source says the startup has held recent meetings with major OEMs including Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), which doesn't have any Ethernet-over-copper gear.

Cisco wouldn't comment on that, but the company says it's generally not interested in an Ethernet-over-copper acquisition. "Right now, we're sticking with our partnership strategy," says Mike Capuano, a Cisco senior marketing manager.

Hatteras is a part of that strategy. For about a year, Hatteras has been selling gear alongside a Cisco group that sells to non-ILEC clients such as Bay Area service provider Telekenex . It's not a formal partnership; rather, that Cisco unit refers interested customers to Hatteras. (See Telekenex Picks Hatteras.)

While Adtran isn't even confirming the AT&T win, it seems likely the company's Total Access 5000 would be the product line applied to the deal. The box isn't shipping in volume but has been in trials with a dozen customers, about a third of which came through with purchase orders late in 2006, says Kevin Morgan, Adtran's director of marketing for carrier networks. (See Adtran Touts Total Access.)

Competitors have questioned whether Adtran even has the technology to deliver Ethernet over copper, especially considering its Website doesn't list such modules for the Total Access 5000. But Morgan says Adtran's got the goods, including technologies like bonded copper, which combines copper Ethernet lines to boost bandwidth.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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stephencooke 12/5/2012 | 3:12:17 PM
re: AT&T Sets Copper Ethernet Course Hi Seven,

I never said that I would be using G.Bond on a single pair. Each house, serviced by the pedestal, has 2 pairs from the pedestal at a minimum; rings does not apply in neighbourhoods where there is physically only a single pair/house from the pedestal. If a single binder group is routed to the pedestal or if other binder groups at the pedestal are physically routed to different DSLAMs then my max bandwidth to that pedestal, and therefore around the ring, is 50Mb/s symmetric. I'm OK with that. As a consumer, access to 50Mb/s is much better than 2Mb/s, even if that 2Mb/s is dedicated.

Sharing the bandwidth is NOT the same as "3M/s to each home on average", especially given the QoS and multicast capabilities. P2P traffic is lower priority therefore it waits until there is bandwidth available that is not being used by higher priority traffic.

In terms of DSL bandwidth being limited by distance is the whole reason for doing this. Long haul optics need OpAmps and/or repeaters. Optical rings can be many times longer than individual span limits because they terminate & regenerate. Same principle here, it's do-able just tougher.

The high rates are on the individual links between houses, which ARE very short. In this case only 2 pairs are used for each house, one facing each neighbour (or the network gateway node on the ends). The link from the gateway node to the CO logically combines the pairs of all the subscribers on the ring (eg: if there are 8 subscribers then potentially 16 pairs can be combined towards the CO). This link is governed by the physics of DSL on each pair, the total available bandwidth is just multiplied by the number of pairs used.

If a telco, such as AT&T, can provide 50Mb/s (an increase of 25X over their current xDSL offering while simultaneously providing efficient multicast & QoS) without spending $??Billion to trench fiber, perhaps they can offer LightSpeed services to far more homes then their existing plans.

Incidentally, on links less than 1km (3.3kft) it is possible to get 400Mb/s with 4 people on the ring (or 1.5km - 5kft - with 8 people and over 2km - 6.5kft - with 12 people) so my statement holds in much of the US and almost everywhere in Europe depending on the number of people on the ring.

Thanks again,

stephencooke 12/5/2012 | 3:12:12 PM
re: AT&T Sets Copper Ethernet Course Seven,

I must apologize for not being clear. Perhaps a better description might be the following:

Where the distance can be made to be short (ie: between houses hanging off a pedestal) use DSL-based rings. VDSL2 gives sufficient bandwidth to make this approach interesting. There are other advantages, some of which I have mentioned in the earlier posts.

Where the distance is relatively long for DSL, use larger numbers of pairs with G.Bond to achieve sufficient bandwidth. Many DSLAMs already support bonding. I believe that T-Com was looking into offering a business service based on bonding.

Significant bandwidth, using existing Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP). Seems to fit most of the points on one of my previous posts...

Thanks again,

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