The need to provide less expensive optical access to smaller businesses — and even residences — is driving more companies to look at passive optical network technology, also known as PONs.
Passive optical systems divide an optical signal among multiple users or types of signals without using active electronics. Originally viewed in the early 1990s as a way to deliver video to the home, PON technology is now bringing fiber optics-based access to a wider range of business customers.
"What's driving this is that while fiber-optic technology has been used to drive up bandwidth in the backbone, and Gigabit Ethernet and other technologies have greatly increased bandwidth in the LAN [local area network], there's a disconnect be-tween the two," says Jeff Gwynne, vice president of marketing at Quan- tum Bridge Communications (www.quantumbridge.com), a start-up focusing on passive optical access.
Gwynne says that while copper-based solutions, such as Digital Subscriber Line systems and even broadband wireless technologies, may solve the access bottleneck temporarily, "the goal has to be to get fiber to these customers," and PON systems allow that to happen today.
Quantum Bridge last week unveiled its first two products for its initial customer, Comcast (www.comcast.com). And, ANDA Networks (www.andanetworks.com) and Optical Solutions (www.opticalsolutions.com) an nounced a value-added reseller deal under which Optical Solutions will develop a PON-based access card for ANDA's multiservice access system.
In addition, Ignitus Communications (www.ignitus.com), a Lucent Technologies-funded start-up, will use PON technology in its next-generation access gear.
ANDA plans to take Optical Solutions' PON approach, used primarily for fiber-to-the-home networks in Canada and some upscale U.S. neighborhoods, and apply it to the business market, according to Robert Simkavitz, ANDA's vice president of business development. "We're targeting CLECs [competitive local ex change carriers] and other service providers who want to offer fiber-based access services to small businesses and business parks," he says.
Both the Optical Solutions and the Quantum Bridge approaches capitalize on passive optical distribution widely used in the cable TV industry. Optical Solutions has been designing equipment that delivers two to six phone lines to each residence, as well as data and video using standard 6-megahertz radio frequency carriers, and Time Division Multiple Access technology to handle the upstream voice traffic.
While such deployment is only viable in very upscale neighborhoods or in new construction, it works well delivering higher-priced services to business parks, says Roger Weingarth, president and chief operating officer of Optical Solutions.
One advantage of the passive optical approach is that it lets existing network operators, including phone and cable companies, look at where fiber is deployed in their networks and tap into that fiber to deliver services to nearby customers, Gwynne says.
"We've found there is a lot of stranded fiber in today's networks," he says. A telephone company may have multiple fiber-optic cables between two different central offices and can find an existing splice point at which PON technology can be added to deliver services to a cluster of businesses, he adds.
The PON approach would also allow network operators with fiber-optic facilities to sell on both the wholesale and retail levels, Treillage Network Strategies analyst Deb Mielke says. "I think there is a real opportunity in the wholesale arena," she says. "If you look at all the companies today that are wiring multitenant buildings for higher-speed access, that represents an enormous wholesale opportunity."
Cable companies or CLECs such as RCN will benefit because they have built hybrid fiber-coax networks that pass businesses, even though the cable industry does not typically serve business customers, Mielke says.