Vendors Await FTTP Shortlist
Digital loop carrier (DLC) vendors and passive optical networking (PON) manufacturers are counting down the seconds until tomorrow. That's when three RBOCs are expected to tell vendors which ones have made the shortlist of companies that will remain in the running for a set of fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) equipment deployments starting in 2004.
Unfortunately, the vendors in the running are staying tight-lipped about what details they've received and when. Calls to several DLC vendors were returned, but they would only talk anonymously, in hushed tones, from underneath their desks, for fear of crossing one of the almighty RBOCs.
Here's what has led up to this crucial moment in the DLC and PON space:
In June, BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS), SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC), and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) said they had decided on a "set of common technical requirements" for extending FTTP, and they put equipment makers on notice (see RBOCs Agree on Access Specs).
In July, the formal request for proposal (RFP) was issued to vendors. And several weeks ago, the set of equipment vendors met with carrier representatives in California to go over more details regarding the RFP. Now, the vendors are on pins and needles waiting to see if they've made the cut.
In line with analysts' earlier predictions, sources tell Light Reading that, so far, Advanced Fibre Communications Inc. (AFC) (Nasdaq: AFCI) and Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE) are the lone vendors that have bid their own products by themselves. All other vendors are linking up with partners to increase their chances of getting picked.
"We view the partnership of Alcatel SA/Scientific-Atlanta Inc. as the most likely winner of this RFP," wrote UBS Warburg LLC's analysts shortly after the RFP was formally issued. Alcatel's incumbency and its DSLAM market share gave it a leg up, despite a glaring weakness: video capabilities. But that requirement Alcatel can gain "through their partnership with Scientific-Atlanta," the analysts wrote.
Since then, Alcatel has taken action to strengthen its own video-over-broadband product portfolio by acquiring iMagicTV (see Alcatel Finalizes iMagicTV Acquisition).
Another strong finisher in the FTTP race might be Marconi Corp. plc (Nasdaq/London: MONI), since BellSouth already uses its systems in several places in its access network. And, surprisingly, Marconi's DLC market share in North America has crept up in recent years. It held a 16 percent share of the North American DLC market in the first quarter of this year, up from the 11 percent share it held in 2001.
Analysts expect RBOCs to winnow their short lists sometime in the fourth quarter of 2003, with initial equipment deployments happening in the first quarter of 2004.
In addition to the shortlist of vendors, the other big unknown here is how serious each RBOC really is about deploying FTTP. "I think the three different companies have three different ideas," says one participating vendor.
"For Verizon, this is all about politics," the vendor says. "The FCC gave them fiber-to-the-home freedom, so that's what they're doing. It's hard to see them rolling out a million lines of FTTH when they can't even roll out a million lines of DSL.
"BellSouth's view is they want a competitor to Marconi in the fiber-to-the-curb business. And SBC is along for the ride. I don't think they're as vocal about all this as Verizon and BellSouth."
For the vendors, however, any win in any part of this RFP gives them a chance to answer Alcatel's dominance in the DSL market. "This is a huge strategic thing for us, no matter whether anything gets deployed next year," says another vendor.
— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading