ONI's RBOC Customer: Qwest?

ONI Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: ONIS) mystery RBOC customer may actually be a customer it already knows quite well: Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q). So say one industry analyst and another source close to both companies.

ONI already supplies other parts of the carrier's network (see Qwest Gets Cozier With ONI and ONI Wins Key Contract ). But Qwest's split personality may allow ONI to gain vaunted RBOC-accepted status at the company. Qwest operates both a cutting-edge greenfield fiber network and a regulated RBOC (regional Bell operating company) network it gained through the acquisition of US West. ONI is counting on the deployment and its recent progress in Osmine certification at Qwest to open doors for it with other incumbent carriers.

"The RBOCs have a long history of sharing technical knowledge and learning, regarding vendors and business models," says Peter Evans, ONI's VP of marketing.

Neither Qwest nor ONI will say specifically whether ONI's gear is carrying live traffic in the regulated portion of Qwest's network.

Last Thursday, ONI said that it had finished the first part of the Osmine certification process, thanks, in part, to some help from Qwest. The release quoted Augie Cruciotti, executive VP of Qwest's local networks, as saying that Qwest was rolling out new ONI equipment in its local network and that those installations were going smoothly.

During ONI's earnings conference call on Thursday, ONI CEO Hugh Martin said that ONI had four ILEC/PTT trials ongoing and it had equipment running live traffic on two Sonet rings in one RBOC account.

Some analysts guessed that the US West network is the new RBOC customer.

"We believe ONI’s first RBOC customer is US West, given ONI’s healthy relationship with Qwest," wrote Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. analyst David Jackson, in a Friday afternoon note to clients.

Nineteen percent of ONI's revenues came from incumbent accounts during its fourth quarter of fiscal 2001, compared to six percent of its revenues in the third quarter.

Qwest expects capital spending in 2002 to be about $4 billion, about 80 percent of which will go to improving its local network infrastructure in the 14 Western states of the former US West territory (see Qwest Keeps Cutting).

— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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