Carriers Give FTTP Update
BellSouth and SBC will start first office application (FOA) trials during the second half of 2004, the carriers say. Verizon says its FOA trials will start during either the second or third quarter of 2004. The carriers narrowed down their shortlist of prospective suppliers in August, and each began individual negotiations with suppliers this month. Only BellSouth and SBC are working together on the business aspect of the FTTP deal, according to Peter Hill, VP of technology planning at BellSouth.
The finalists, according to several equipment vendor executives here, are Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Advanced Fibre Communications Inc. (AFC) (Nasdaq: AFCI), and the Motorola Inc./Quantum Bridge Communications Inc. combo (see Motorola, Quantum Bridge Do FTTP). AFC's partnering with Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT) on video applications, and Alcatel is pairing up with Scientific-Atlanta Inc. (NYSE: SFA), the sources here say. Additionally, Alcatel may be forced to work with Marconi Corp. plc (Nasdaq: MRCIY; London: MONI) in some applications.
Others that bid on the project but aren't at the top of the list include a combination of Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) and ECI Telecom Ltd. (Nasdaq/NM: ECIL) and the combo of Fujitsu Ltd. (OTC: FJTSY) and Entrisphere Inc. (see Fujitsu, Entrisphere Turn Triple Play). Catena Networks Inc. is also said to be among the top of the secondary list of contenders, as is Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE). While the carriers were impressed with most of the proposals, there were some areas where the technology was lacking. Mark Wegleitnet, senior VP and chief technology officer at Verizon, says the products they're evaluating still require improved operational support for the equipment and improved ways to power the optical network termination (ONT) units. The responses by vendors to provide radio frequency adapters, used to convert composite video signals, were so bad the three carriers issued a separate RFP as a follow-up.
While the carrier RFP did cover all areas of active electronics to be used in an FTTP deployment, it did not specify what the optical distribution network feeding the FTTP network had to look like. Also, the RFP didn't specify anything about what kinds of video headends nor customer set-top boxes should be used, the carriers say.
All three carriers said they were committed to FTTP deployments, but admitted that, because of regulations and costs, greenfield deployments make the most sense for FTTP. "The FCC order incites us to fiber-build new subdivisions," says Keith Cambron, president and CEO of SBC Laboratories, noting that there's a "disincentive to fiber-existing homes." The carriers warned, however, that consumers won't understand why new subdivisions will get triple-play services over fiber, while, across the street, copper-fed houses will be stuck in 1990. "The answer can't be 'If you want fiber to the home, you have to buy a new house,' " says Cambron. "We have to do better than that."
Whatever the outcome of eventual FTTP deployments, just the activity by big carriers has led to several smaller RFPs from other phone companies, vendors here say. "If nothing else, the FTTP RFP has had a profound psychological effect on the industry," says Kermit Ross, founder of Millennium Marketing, a telecom consultancy.
— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading