Exercise First-Mile Options Wisely, Panelists Advise

Telecom service providers now have first-mile alternatives to copper-based wireline connections in technologies, such as broadband wireless, fiber, satellite and BPL. Today, a panel of industry experts will discuss the viability of these technologies as well as when and where they might best be used.

Roundtable participant Michael Britt, vice president of channel development, Fonix Telecom, brings the buyers perspective to the discussion. He says his company uses wireless broadband in metro Atlanta and is testing BPL in North Carolina.

WiMAX, an emerging standard for broadband wireless equipment that works over license and unlicensed bands, will compete increasingly with existing landline broadband technologies and, as they mature, even mobile broadband technologies, according to a September 2004 report from The Yankee Group. Providers have found a sweet spot for broadband wireless access in the rural markets and as a T1 replacement service where the revenue justifies equipment costs, says Lindsay Schroth, Yankee Group senior analyst. However, to increase mass-market appeal, costs need to come down. We dont expect to see significant price decline until 2006.

Ron Marquardt, director of product development for alternative access services for Covad Communications Co., also is looking at broadband wireless. We are currently trialing broadband wireless in San Jose and Oakland, California, to specifically look at QoS issues, compare licensed versus unlicensed spectrum, and determine how best to do pre-qualification for this technology, he says.

Covad also has used satellite services to reach customers. The downside, says Marquardt, is that satellite largely is a resale play, which is contrary to the carriers facilities-based strategy. It can be used effectively as a stop-gap measure or for certain geographies, he says.

Northern Sky Research (NSR) Jan. 25 reports satellite broadband services saw solid, incremental growth in 2004. NSRs study found subscribers to satellite broadband services increased by more than 115,000 and total revenue exceeded $2.7 billion last year. In the coming years, NSR projects 7.8 percent average annual revenue growth.

BPL is another emerging alternative to DSL and cable modems. Recent technological advances not only bring a new technology to market, but also a group of new players to the broadband market electrical power companies and municipal utility authorities. Panelist David Kelley is president and CEO at one such company, PPL Telcom, which currently is conducting market trials in select communities in Pennsylvania, providing high-speed service to residents.

In a September 2004 report, the Shpingler Group forecasts serving more than 14 million customers with BPL in the United States within 10 years.

Since 2002, BPL has progressed from a handful of trials to nearly 100 trials and early-stage commercial deployments in North America. Shpingler Group says BPL offers a competitive mix of deployment costs, service capabilities and operational benefits compared with fiber, DSL, and other media. It also is well suited for a large number of services, including smart-home services, energy management and other utility applications, as well as high-speed Internet access.

Bill Moroney, president and CEO, United Telecom Council, which represents utility companies, also will offer perspective on the viability of BPL. Of more immediate and available interest, he says, would be fiber a commodity that his membership has in large supply. UTC, in fact, is behind a new project, the UTelco Alliance (see story on page 16) that is promoting the use of utilities diverse and pervasive metro fiber facilities as alternatives to LEC networks.

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