Adtran, Alabama’s largest technology company, made a splash at the Broadband World Forum in Paris in September by unveiling what it claims will be a technical solution for the next generation of broadband demands.
The telecom industry runs hard to keep up with the rapidly growing demand for greater bandwidth. Most countries have set goals for minimum bandwidth coverage to stay economically competitive.
The bottleneck in meeting those goals has been that the only way to deliver the 100 megabytes per second (Mbps) that qualifies as broadband and meets the goals of most countries has been to run a fiber optic cable directly to the subscriber.
It’s expensive and often impractical, especially if the subscriber lives in an older neighborhood. That’s why, says Adtran’s Kevin Morgan, up to 50 percent of households have been bypassed by service providers and cable companies offering broadband.
Morgan, director of product marketing, pitched Adtran’s solution at the trade show and summarizes it here for us. It’s called Ultra Broadband Ethernet. It’s based on an old technology that Adtran is well familiar with—Ethernet, the most widely used network technology for local area networks (LANs). Adtran’s portfolio of networking products includes an array of Ethernet switches, and the company stands to sell a lot more of them if its UBE solution takes off.
Ultra Broadband Ethernet is in keeping with the national broadband plan that the FCC presented to Congress in March of 2010, calling for 100 million households to be connected with 100 Mbps of broadband by 2020. Most G20 countries have some goal of providing high bandwidth coverage in their areas, and all are close to the metric of 1 gigabyte (Gbps) of service. France has a goal of 70 percent of households; Germany half; Australia 90 percent of households served. An International Telecommunications Union study says that there is a 10 percent increase in broadband capacity demanded for every 1.3 percent increase in gross domestic product.
UBS also is an enabler for some of the new products that private communications companies are coming up with. Only six years ago, there wasn’t iTunes or Facebook or Flicker. On the upstream side, there are new industries emerging for high definition video streaming and remote backups, exciting things that are happening. Today, there is an average 4 Mbps per second of download speed, and what we’re looking for is 25 times faster. It’s a completely different user experience.
With broadband service providers, the reality is that 30 to 50 percent of households are bypassed, so we felt we needed to come on the market with something different. The 4 Mbps broadband penetration in the U.S. is just 67 percent. Economics is the difficulty: the cost of installation and how many potential customers will pay for the service. In the case of Verizon, over 16 states, 3.8 million households, have become subscribers, 50 percent. What Verizon has to do is limited deployment—trying to determine how many will take the service and then continue rolling, knowing what the payback will be. In the UK, BT Group’s broadband penetration was 40 percent 2010.
Service providers are competing with cable companies to get 100 Mbps deployed. Cable companies are offering hybrid architecture. It’s fiber up to a point and then connects to coaxial cable already in the ground. Coaxial can carry these high bandwidth signals. These are the fiber and wireline guys. They are both providing fiber to the home.
Fiber to the home is the only technology now. But we’re working with Tier 1 Operators to provide an alternative. Adtran has come along and participated in the development of an alternative by working with the standard development organizations, the SDOs, the organizations that pull the brightest ideas together and define new technology and standards—the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE), International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
And we have established good relationships with the research teams of the large carriers, and they have helped us to get into the doors in countries outside of the U.S., where Adtran is now well known. They participate in the standards development process and, all said, they like to have a very strong technical conversation with you. They’re saying, “We need to get to 100 Mbps, and to do that we need something beyond the current fiber to the home solution. What do you have for us?”
Our response to the Tier 1 providers is that the majority of traffic is using some kind of Ethernet protocol. As we approached the problem, we need to take all we know about telecom and chunk it out the window, get out of the box. Why does it always have to be fiber all the way to the home, with trucks rolling? Are battery backups always required? We said, “Let’s look at the problem statement and see how things fall out.”
What you have today in a network is, typically, a local exchange that sends signals to a cross box, which you can see as you drive through a neighborhood, either underground or overhead—above a drop wire, sometimes in a manhole, or a footway box. That’s the distribution point that finally runs to the home.
The carriers gave us some interesting measurements. Typically, they have an average final drop of 30 meters from the last distribution point to the home. Sometimes that distribution point can serve from eight to 16 homes. Right now, they are all pushing fiber in the network, and when you’re talking fiber to the home, it has to have an optical network terminal (ONT).
What if you do something different? Take individual ONTs and collapse them to the distribution point that is only 30 to 75 meters from the home—subscriber drops, we call these, simple connections that already exist today. The only thing the operator has to do is deploy fiber optical signal to the box, and then utilize existing connections to the home. In the home, you use a media adaptor, which—like a cell phone adaptor that charges a cell phone—plugs into the wall. This will provide 100 Mbps of symmetrical service from the Ethernet.
Ultra Broadband Ethernet eliminates the high cost of running fiber to the home and puts it at a logical point that distributes the signal to get 100 Mbps over a regular pair of wires to the home, converting from a standard Ethernet to a residential gateway. The media adaptor that plugs into the wall is all you need to run to the residential gateway, and that device is very simple to use, and the service provider could mail it to the subscriber, and off you go.