ViewsLetter(SM) on Provisioning

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ViewsLetter on Provisioning    18 August 2003      #27
A fortnightly look at provisioning automation.


When Competitive Local Exchange Carriers (CLECs) were riding high, there was a lot of talk about packet voice (over IP) on DSL access.  Not much activity in that arena lately.  The data CLECs ignored voice services (giving up the bulk of the revenue potential);  originally, voice CLECs didn't understand data and stuck with the proven circuit switch technology.  Neither approach proved very successful.

The survivors chose a niche based on a subset of technologies, and worked it hard.  TalkingNets, among others, provides a virtual PBX based on VoIP service from a softswitch, over standard T-1 access.  Cable operators have had some success by adding packet voice to the data streams handled by cable modems.  Both approaches have made very familiar data access methods pay off for voice, in part by giving customers new control over their services via a web portal. 

To take the next step, however, requires (under the premise of the ViewsLetter) additional automation to let the subscriber order and configure NEW service, from scratch.  How can that happen?  Glad you asked.

There are two components:  access and telephony service.  Here's an example of each.

Residential data access from LECs has focused largely on DSL.  They gave up on ISDN, which turned out to be too slow after it took LECs so many years to figure out how to market it. 

LECs enjoy the home court advantage when offering DSL:  they own the copper loop and the Central Office (CO), so they can add DSL to the network for less cost than anyone else.  Still, the price point for profitability remains higher than most home owners will pay--at least for plain Internet access.  Cable modems outsell DSL. 

To cut the cost per customer for DSL, Celite Systems came up with a new approach that combines DSL transmission with a "headend" function similar to a cable system.  The headend device sends to and receives from multiple residential modems.  The traffic is controlled by polling and permissions, similar to DOCSIS or Passive Optical Networks.  There are no "collisions" to slow throughput.

Celite recognized that LECs were putting residential voice service on remote terminals (RTs, those green boxes down by the corner).  Between the RT and the CO most of the traffic is on fiber, with copper for some services that require it (like traditional DSL, T-1s, and "life line" analog phones).  In many areas, the copper is exhausted and no more DSL is available (or the house is too far from the CO for the currently deployed version of DSL). 

The solution is a "remote head end" that goes on the RT cabinet.  Because the power available at roadside may be limited or absent, the Celite device draws power from the CO battery over multiple T-l links.  Because most RT cabinets are too small to begin with, Celite bolts its product on the outside, taking no interior space. 

Between CO and RT, multiple T-1s are bonded into a single physical link carrying IP.  From the RT to the customer, the technology is VHDSL, Very High-speed DSL.  The last portion, on only a short length of copper, runs much faster than any individual's service, allowing one head-end modem at the RT to maintain communications with many customer modems--similar to DOCSIS protocols--by letting customers "take turns."

Automated provisioning is possible because the Celite head end at the RT is designed to connect to all the service drops at the time of installation.  In effect, the DSL service is provisioned all-at-once during initial deployment.  To activate a new subscription, the LEC ships a DSL modem and software to the new customer, who hooks up the modem like a new phone and runs the software to start service.  They call it "no-touch" provisioning.

Once the IP service is running, Vocal Data has the other half--the automated provisioning of telephone service.  That's done on a web portal.  Deployments so far haven't actually taken advantage of this capability:  the service providers (SPs) have given customer administrators the ability to do their own moves, adds, and changes, but SPs haven't opened the portal to new subscribers.  That will come (note firm prediction).

Taken together, here's a model for automating the deployment of voice and data services.  And with enough bandwidth on the data connection, can video be far behind?  Glad you asked.  We'll get to that later.

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 Updated: 17 July 2004 2003

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