ViewsLetter(SM) on Provisioning

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ViewsLetter on Provisioning         29 Sept 2003        #30
A fortnightly look at provisioning automation.


    William A. Flanagan, Editor and Publisher

Last time, reviewing the Federal Communications Commission's recent Order regarding the unbundled network elements (UNEs) that incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) must make available to other carriers, we noted that almost all rights to the outside plant, or local loops, will soon be in the hands of the ILECs.  The one unexpected exception that emerges from a close reading of the Order is dark fiber.

Offering dark fiber (just the glass, Mam) is something that many carriers resisted.  Leasing DF means giving up control of how much capacity the customer uses--now the lease holder can pump as much as he wants through the fiber.  Traditionally, carriers benefited from improvements like multiplexing, but on DF it's the tenant who gets to put on his own muxes to increase capacity when needed.

The cost of DF under the FCC guidelines will be based on the future cost for an efficient installation--which might actually be less than the original cost.  (ILECs have been claiming that all UNE pricing is below cost, a claim not universally acknowledged by others in the industry). 

This arrangement may not be too bad for some ILEC who installed tons of fibers but lit only a small portion of them.  Isn't it better to get something for otherwise idle property?  Not that there's a glut everywhere, but some FO cables hold over 600 fibers. 

Competitive LECs should be eager to use fibers that give access to multi-unit office buildings, campuses, apartments, and upscale suburban developments.  But then what?  How will they "provision services"?

Best bet for leased outside plant is something all-passive, such as Passive Optical Network (PON).  The big question is how many wavelengths to install from the start--might be one, could be a dozen, depending on the market.  The bit rate can be decided later, per wavelength--one of the beauties of dark fiber.

To automate the provisioning requires new Customer Premises Equipment (CPE), which must accept new firmware while on-line.  With enough processing power in the hardware, and a fast detector, a CLEC could start out at a lower transmission speed, then crank it up from OC-3 to GigEnet when there's a need for more bandwidth.  Note that the previous sentence also included a format change, something that should be available per wavelength.  For that matter, no reason a laser's bit speed can't be increased the same way. (BTW, the PON forum has links to vendors who offer some of these features today).

Besides speed, what needs to be configurable is wavelength.  Tunable lasers exist, but they are too expensive today to deploy unless needed.  But volume production (or a clever designer/manufacturer) could change that next month.  Let's assume CPE will have control of both wavelength and bit rate, configurable in software (no truck roll).

Not quite Heaven on Earth, but enough tools for flexible deployments.  For example, with the proper wave division multiplexers (WDMs) in the outside plant, a CPE could change wavelength to switch to a backup service.  Eventually, the WDMs will be configurable too, but may require electrical (or optical??) power to change configuration (nano-mirrors, non-linear effects?).

On the customer side, CPE still needs interfaces to the usual suspects:  IP over Ethernet, video, analog POTS voice, and probably circuit emulation for Storage Area Networks (SANs) and mainframes (ESCON). 

Will the ILECs survive leasing out their dark fiber?  We may see, but we may not.  What if the ILECs needed cash ("to build out our broadband infrastructure to residential areas")?  Would they sell all their fiber and lease back only what they need?  Would that put all that unused fiber in the ground out of the reach of CLECs? 

Stay tuned.

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 Updated: 17 July 2004 2003

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