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Verizon Readies Landmark NG-PON2 Trial

Mari Silbey
7/20/2016
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Verizon is set to begin lab trials this month around NG-PON2 technology in preparation for the company's first major wireline access network upgrade in more than a decade. The vendors selected to participate in the trial include Adtran and Ericsson in partnership with Calix. The trial, which will take place in Waltham, Massachusetts, is expected to lead to commercial NG-PON2 deployments in early 2017.

There are two major story lines playing out in the Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) announcement. The first revolves around the technology upgrade to Verizon's Fios network. NG-PON2 will enable the company to deliver symmetrical speeds of 10 gigabits per second over its Fios footprint, with capacity to support those 10-gig speeds on each of the four wavelengths delivered over a single fiber. Each fiber, in other words, can host 40-gig in total capacity.

Unlike earlier versions of gigabit PON, NG-PON2 supports tunable optics, which means operators can also deliver different services over different wavelengths on each fiber. For example, Verizon could use the technology to deliver standard residential GPON services over three wavelengths, yet offer a 10-gig business service over the fourth. From a cost perspective, that means the company would only need to invest in higher capacity as warranted by customer demand. (See Verizon Preps Next Major Broadband Upgrade.)

The second story line in the Verizon news is equally important. By choosing Adtran Inc. (Nasdaq: ADTN) and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)/Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX) as its partners for the NG-PON2 trial, Verizon has delivered a major blow to other potential vendor candidates. Most notably, Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) is left out in the cold despite having declared that it is "committed to leading the industry into the NG-PON2 era."

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) might also have been a contender given that it participated in Verizon's limited NG-PON2 field trial last year. But Cisco has traditionally not been active in the passive optical networking (PON) space. (See Verizon Revs Up Wireline Race With NG-PON2.)

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. is the other major network equipment vendor with the scale and expertise to partner with Verizon. However, it has been locked out of the US market because of a perceived threat to national security.

Verizon says it worked with several vendors over the last six to nine months before settling on Adtran and Ericsson/Calix for the lab trial. The telco won't need to change out the fiber in its network to upgrade to NG-PON2; but it will need to deploy new optical line terminals (OLTs) and optical network terminals (ONTs), which is where the vendor partners come in. According to Verizon, a big focus in the selection process was ensuring interoperability. When Verizon previously deployed BPON and GPON equipment, it had to purchase its OLTs from the same vendor as its linked ONTs. This time around, the company is determined to buy itself more flexibility.

Verizon also emphasizes that it wants NG-PON2 vendors that can help it move more quickly toward network virtualization and away from dedicated hardware.

"In this case, there is more of a moving away from a chassis-based system... maybe becoming more like a pizza box or smaller-level OLT that gets connected to a top-of-the-rack switch," says Verizon Director of Network Planning Vincent O'Byrne, pointing to the advantages of then using software to roll out new services quickly.

O'Byrne adds that "Both [Adtran and Ericsson/Calix] are looking at ways to make sure that the commands can reach deep down into the chip level... [so that] as we see some operational benefits, we can start moving some of these services into the cloud, or even some of these control functions into the cloud. And it kind of moves the hardware into more generic-type hardware versus the very custom architecture that's been the OLTs in the past."


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No matter how you slice it, the partnership deal is a big win for both Adtran and Ericsson/Calix, particularly because O'Byrne acknowledges that it's highly likely that one or both will be part of initial commercial deployments early next year.

Over the next several months, Verizon says it will test different features with its partners -- like the ability to get tuning times between wavelengths down to 50 milliseconds -- and through that process will define the company's specification for an ONT interface supporting interoperability among vendors.

Commenting on Verizon's choice of partners, Adtran's EVP of Cloud and Portfolio Strategy Robert Conger points out that, "A lot of vendors try to generally protect their incumbency or have a lot of needs that they have to meet in their mass market. So if you're a big incumbent and you have this big revenue pipeline on what's more the commoditized or traditional product today, a lot of times you're going to look after that."

Specifically with regard to NG-PON2, Conger also says that, "I think we brought a startup player mentality [to the RFP process]. We combined that with [being] an established systems vendor... to deliver a differentiated solution to market faster."

For the trial, Adtran is committing hardware, a modular Linux-based operating system that runs on the network equipment, open APIs that run on the OS, a set of apps that run on top of any open source SDN controller for management and control functions and optics that plug into both the OLTs and ONTs.

On the other vendor side, Ericsson is taking the lead on the services front for the Verizon trial, but it has brought in Calix as a strategic technology partner.

"[Calix has] been focused on NG-PON2 for a long time," says Glenn Laxdal, head of technology and strategy for Ericsson North America. "They've optimized their solution around NG-PON2, and NG-PON2 happened to be the architectural direction that Verizon chose. And [they] chose it because of the added flexibility of the higher bandwidth link and the fact that the link is subdivided into a number of lambdas."

Noting the importance of being selected with Calix for the Verizon trial, Laxdal says, "It's a very significant deal for Ericsson." And he adds, "These sometimes are watershed moments. They're important, and this is a big deal for us."

Although it will take time for NG-PON2 to roll out at scale commercially, Verizon's efforts should help improve cost efficiencies and smooth the way for eventual mass adoption. This is important because of continued growth in bandwidth demand. As Verizon notes, NG-PON2 will be applicable in the business services market first, but will also gain relevance in residential broadband delivery with the emergence of Ultra HD video and virtual reality applications. NG-PON2 will also be critical for driving more bandwidth to cell sites to support increasing wireless traffic and 5G network deployments.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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