SaskTel names Alcatel-Lucent as key vendor in its FTTP initiative

SaskTel is once again putting Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) to work in its Fiber to the Premises (FTTP) program that will reach in nine of its nine largest urban centers.

Under the auspices of its Next Generation Broadband Access Program (2011-2017), SaskTel will spend CAD 207 million (USD $216 million) this year and about CAD 670 million (USD $699.7 million) over the next seven years to build the FTTP network in its nine largest urban centers–Saskatoon, Regina, Moose Jaw, Weyburn, Estevan, Swift Current, Yorkton, North Battleford and Prince Albert.

Leveraging Alcatel-Lucent's High Leverage Network (HLN), SaskTel will deploy a network infrastructure that can support both its ongoing wireless, including LTE, and wireline service initiatives for its business and residential customers.

For this particular program, SaskTel will leverage five key components: the 5780 Dynamic Services Controller (DSC) for subscriber management; the 1830 Photonic Service Switch (PSS); the 7750 Service Router (SR); the 5620 Service Aware Manager (SAM) for end to end network management including photonic management integration; and the GPON-based 7342 Intelligent Services Access Manager Fiber-to-the-User (ISAM FTTU) to deliver FTTP services to wireline business and residential customers.

SaskTel and Alcatel-Lucent are hardly strangers as the two companies worked before on SaskTel's Fiber to the Node (FTTN) deployment that began in 2006 via its Next Generation Access Infrastructure (NGAI) program.

BT's Openreach fiber network to pass 5 million homes by the end of June

BT (NYSE: BT) Openreach is confident that by the end of this month its fiber network will pass five million homes and businesses.

To reach its goal, Openreach will equip 66 additional telephone exchanges with fiber that will enable its wholesale customers like Talk Talk and Carphone Warehouse to deliver higher speed broadband services.

Spread across Britain, the 66 new locations cover almost one million homes and businesses with the majority of them being enabled in 2012 and others set to go give live by the end of this year. Openreach added that it would name other locations in the next few months.

“Being able to bring faster broadband speeds within reach of more than five million premises is a significant milestone and we are well on our way to passing 10 million in 2012 and two-thirds of UK premises by the end of 2015″, said Liv Garfield, CEO for Openreach, adding that” this is the largest single commercial investment in fiber-based broadband infrastructure ever undertaken in the UK and is one of the biggest civil engineering projects running in the country at this time.”

Complementing the fiber deployment in areas where loop lengths are too long to deliver VDSL2-based copper broadband or too cost prohibitive to run fiber directly to homes and businesses is a new wireless broadband access technology on the Isle of Bute in Scotland.

Developed in tandem with the University of Strathclyde, BBC Research and Development, Steepest Ascent, Berg Design and Netpropagate, the new wireless technology is set on assessing how the “white spaces” in the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) TV can be used to deliver broadband services.

These so-called "white spaces" are the unused portions of digital TV spectrum that are becoming available as more consumers switch from analog to digital TV services.

Garfield said that while “it’s still early days but our hope is that this technology may provide an effective solution for ‘not spots’ and ‘slow spots'” Openreach is using the trial to see if white space can help homes that either can’t get wireline-based broadband service or can only get dial up speeds service due to the length of their line from the nearest telephone exchange.

Grading the top 10 wireline service providers in Q1 2011

The table below provides a quick roundup of how the top U.S. wireline service providers performed in Q1 2011 according to access line loss, broadband and video growth. It also lists ongoing activity such as mergers and acquisitions that can affect quarterly performance.

1Q 2011 Results – Tier 1-2 ILECs
Tier 1-2 ILECsRevenuesTotal Access Lines Q1Access Lines Q4Broadband AdditionsTotal Wireline BroadbandVideo 
AT&T$31.25 billion43.1 million43.4 million175,0003.2 million218,000 U-verse TVN/A
Qwest$2.85 billion 8.6 million8.85 million46,000 subscribers3.0 millionDirecTV satelliteMerger with CenturyLink completed in April
Verizon$1.44 billion25.5 million26 million207,000 FiOS & DSL subscribers8.5 million192,000 FiOS TV subscribersCompleted Terremark acquisition
CenturyLink$1.70 billion6.39 million6.5 million52,000 new DSL subscribers2.4 million (not incl. Qwest)Expanding DISH satellite & Prism IPTV*Integrating EMBARQ; completed Qwest acquisition on April 1
Frontier$1.34 billion5.61 million5.74 million10,500 (made an additional 83,000 homes broadband capable)1.7 million15,000 DirecTV subscribersIntegrating Verizon's rural lines
Windstream$1.02 billion3.3 million3.3 million29,000 DSL subscribers1.3 million DSL subscribers7,000 DISH customersCompleted Q-Comm acquisition
TDS Telecom$1.25 billion  4,100 DSL Subscribers261,000 (including CLEC business)(Does not break out IPTV or Satellite numbers) Integrating Team Companies assets
Cincinnati Bell$361 million663,000674,1002,500 Fioptics FTTH and 2,400 traditional DSL customers271,000 (includes Fioptics and DSL customers)2,500 new Fioptics entertainment customersCompleted FiberNet acquisition; divided wireless & wireline units
NTELOS$155.5 million164,644 (incl. RLEC & new CLEC lines from FiberNet)169,493 (incl. RLEC & new CLEC lines from FiberNet)DSL, FTTX subscribers33,453459 new DSL and FTTH subscribers Completed FiberNet acquisition; divided wireless, wireline units
SureWest$60.5 million102,900107,300300311,6004,600N/A
FairPoint $254.8 million1.1 million1.12 million13,600297,491Does not break out video subscribersIntegrated Verizon lines


EPB, Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs partner for smart grid via FTTH

EPB, the electric power distributor in Chattanooga, TN, that made waves last year by offering 1-Gbps services over its new GPON FTTH network, has strengthened its ties with its GPON equipment supplier, Alcatel-Lucent (Euronext Paris and NYSE: ALU). The two companies have partnered to develop smart grid energy management services using the GPON FTTH network, with the analysis of energy usage as an initial step.

A growing number of utilities see FTTH networks as a means to support their smart grid efforts (see "Fiber-enabled smart grid initiative launched on Prince Edward Island" and "Central Indiana Power deploys FTTH-based smart grid" for examples). Speaking with Lightwave at last year’s FTTH Conference in September, EPB Executive Vice President and COO David Wade and EPB Fiber Optics Vice President Katie Espeseth made no secret of their desire to leverage the GPON infrastructure for smart grid applications as well as communications services (see “Who needs 1-Gbps FTTH” from the November/December 2011 issue of Lightwave).

Thus, in addition to connecting homes, EPB also is using the GPON network as a backbone to connect sensors and control devices at locations throughout its electrical grid. This will provide EPB with a high-bandwidth platform through which it can measure, monitor, and control its electricity distribution network in real time.

"With today's power grid infrastructure model, most electric power customers pay one rate per kilowatt hour — regardless of when the power was generated. But the cost to generate power can vary from time of day, time of week, and time of year. Plus, today's electric meters can give us only limited after-the-fact information,"said Harold DePriest, president and CEO of EPB. "Our smart grid is intended to not only provide customers the ability to better manage their energy use, but also alert us, and the user, in real time to any spikes in usage, so that immediate action can be taken if there is a problem within a home or business. To do that, we need to be able to analyze the network at far greater levels of detail than has been possible before."

Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs aims to help EPB with such analysis through the development of analytical techniques and tools to better sift through the data it now can access from smart meters, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, and other sources. The hope is that EPB can leverage its GPON network to better detect and fix distribution grid anomalies before they degrade services, more efficiently manage power purchases from outside electricity suppliers such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, and offer customers energy management services of their own.

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Ovum: 1Q FTTX growth dramatic; DSL not so much

Market research and analysis firm Ovum reports that next-generation access (NGA) network upgrades led to “dramatic” growth in the FTTX and cable modem termination system (CMTS) markets during the first quarter of 2011. The news wasn’t so good for makers of DSL equipment, Ovum says in its new market share report, Market Share Alert: 1Q11 FTTx, DSL, and CMTS.

Ovum says the number of PON optical line terminal (OLT) ports for fiber to the home (FTTH) and building (FTTB) applications reached 988,889 in the first quarter of 2011. This represented an increase of 35 percent from the fourth quarter of 2010 and 182 percent versus the same quarter a year ago. Asia-Pacific accounted for 93 percent of the total, which was good news for Huawei, ZTE, and FiberHome. The three Chinese PON equipment suppliers occupied the first three places for PON OLT port shipments in the quarter, Ovum says.

Shipments also jumped in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region and in the South and Central America region to their highest levels ever,” Kamalini Ganguly, Ovum analyst and author of the new market report, added.

But DSL technology largely was left out of the upgrade activity. The market edged down 5 percent when compared to the last quarter of 2010. Ovum says it expected the decrease due to normal seasonal trends; it was consistent with the 4 percent sequential drop in the first quarter of 2010 and 2009. However, Ovum adds that DSL growth has slowed or turned negative in some countries, with DSL links replaced by FTTB or FTTH connections.

However, the news for DSL wasn’t all bad. Said Ganguly, “Despite the sequential drop in the first quarter of 2011, year-on-year shipments were higher in all regions, many supported by upgrades related to FTTN [fiber to the node] and FTTB rollouts. In fact, the first quarter of 2011 was another record quarter for VDSL2 shipments, which crested to 4.8 million ports.

According to Ovum’s market analysis, Alcatel-Lucent currently leads the VDSL/VDSL2 market with 42 percent market share, followed by Huawei with 22 percent and Ericsson with 8 percent.

Ovum's findings largely agreed with those of Infonetics Research, which released its 1Q11 figures last month (see Infonetics: 1Q11 PON sales jump while DSL plunges). Infonetics reported the total market space for all three technologies in the quarter was $1.96 billion worldwide.

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FTTH in APAC: adjust your expectations

The FTTH Asia Pacific Council recently held its sixth annual conference in Delhi, India. The theme of the conference was “Fiber to Bridge Socio-economic Divide.” While Asia-Pacific leads the world in FTTx subscribers, household penetration rates vary widely, from less than 0.01% in Bangladesh to 53% in South Korea. Bringing fiber to rural villages is challenging, but in many of Asia-Pacific’s countries, bringing fiber to urban areas is also difficult.

Successful deployments are requiring different approaches, whether network architecture, fiber ownership, business models, government support, financing, or all of the above. We need to adjust our expectations regarding subscriber growth, broadband applications, and network ownership.

First, we should not be lured into thinking that the rapid deployment of FTTx networks in Japan, Korea, and China can be replicated elsewhere. Japan has 20 million FTTx subscribers and reached this threshold in just over five years, while all of Western Europe had 2.9 million FTTx subscribers at year-end 2010. Japan, Korea, and China may become the exceptions rather than the norm.

We need to measure FTTx subscriber growth in the thousands and tens of thousands in remote villages and in the urban areas of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. While these numbers may not seem significant, the benefits of broadband to those involved are tremendous. According to the World Bank, a 10% growth in broadband services penetration is estimated to provide a 1.4% growth in GDP.

Second, we are used to hearing about triple-play services with an emphasis on bandwidth-consuming video. The applications driving FTTx to the village are livelihood-oriented, such as healthcare, education, agriculture, banking, and government. Even in selected urban areas, the goal is not video but rather consistent Internet connectivity.

For a farmer, access to information about the weather or crop diseases can save a season's plantings. On a smaller scale, access to crop-pricing information can help a farmer at harvest time. For a worried parent, a child’s illness can be diagnosed through e-medicine applications. Even in large villages where a nurse or primary physician may live, e-medicine supports access to specialists.

Third, we will see diverse FTTx network ownership and deployment models. To date, FTTx networks have been built and owned by telcos, such as Verizon and KT. Often, deployment plans are based on expected return on investment scenarios, leading to a focus on wealthier neighborhoods, for example.A frequent theme at this year’s conference was a shared or open network, whereby multiple service providers offer their respective services over the same network. The goal is to share the large capex associated with FTTx networks or to encourage faster and larger uptake of FTTx services, thereby enabling an acceptable financial return to the builder/owner of the network.

  • In Australia, the National Broadband Network (NBN Co) was established to provide a wholesale-only, open-access network with FTTP (fiber to the premises) for urban areas and wireless technologies for remote areas. NBNCo is slated to be funded by the national government, as attempts to secure private financing failed. The government hopes to be able to sell its stake in NBN Co eventually.
  • The "Fiber for Italy" project is a joint effort between several players, including Fastweb, Vodafone, and Wind.

Several start-ups that attended the conference are taking different approaches, for example:

  • Radius Infratel Private Ltd., based in New Delhi, is deploying the concept of an operator-neutral network, a network that can be used by multiple service providers but has a single, private-sector owner.
  • Fiber@Home in Bangladesh was granted a license to build a nationwide optical backbone. With financing by local investors, Fiber@Home’s neutral network is open to all access-network service operators.

The private network-ownership approach may avoid the bureaucracy of public ownership or the inherent issues from trying to cooperate with one’s competitors. However, it is much too early to assess the pros and cons of the business plans adopted by Radius and Fiber@Home.

The early lesson learned is there is no killer approach.Just as there is no killer application that guarantees a quick ROI for FTTx network builds, there is no easy and universal approach for bringing fiber to villages and even to some cities. We are going to see multiple approaches to network builds and network ownership. The common denominator is fiber's role in bridging the socioeconomic divide, whether in villages or cities, or both.

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Verizon lets customers create customized FiOS bundles

Verizon (NYSE: VZ) has realized that in order to offer a more compelling reason to move away from cable to its Fiber to the Home (FTTH)-based FiOS service, they'll need to let customers choose how they want to structure their respective bundle.

Up until now, any customer that signed up for a FiOS bundle had a small amount of options for Internet speeds and the amount of TV channels assigned to specific FiOS bundles and price points.

Existing FiOS customers will now be allowed to build a custom bundle at an additional cost of $5 to $10 a month. Likewise, new customers will be able to get service discounts if they order a triple-play bundle online.

For consumers that crave higher data speeds, they can increase their speeds from 15/5 Mbps to a symmetric 25 Mbps tier for only $5 more a month ($104.99) or a symmetrical 35 Mbps data tier with 233 TV channels more than 50 in HD for an additional $10 a month ($109.99). Before this new offering was announced, customers that signed up for the 35 Mbps symmetric package would pay about $129.00 a month.

But if customer wants a triple-play package, Verizon's pricing continues to be competitive with cable offering 35 Mbps symmetrical data and 391 TV channels for $129.99 a month.