MCI WorldCom, Compaq Computer Corp. and Dell Computer Corp.
have launched major initiatives on the digital-subscriber-line (DSL) front that add both
momentum and confusion to the rapidly evolving scenario.
Most dramatically, MCI WorldCom said its UUNet
Internet-service subsidiary will be rolling out DSL-services nationally, starting with 400
switching locations by year-end, adding 200 more by March and expanding to more than 1,000
by the end of 1999.
At the same time, Compaq and Dell said they were now
shipping PCs with embedded DSL modems, although, in Compaq's case, the units will
require software upgrades to operate at DSL speeds.
While these actions in total seem to ensure a bigger
footprint for DSL, each company's move was pegged to a different iteration of the
The upshot? Their moves could entrench system
incompatibilities in the marketplace more deeply than ever at a time when telephone
companies are trying to rally support for mass adoption of a single consumer standard.
Only Compaq was moving on the standards track, but it
remained to be seen how soon customers would be able to begin receiving high-speed
services in the "G.Lite" format. Compaq has plans to embed G.Lite-ready modems
in custom-ordered versions of its Presario 5100c line of PCs and to offer the modems for
installation in Presario 5600s.
The platform MCI WorldCom chose is the same one UUNet has
been using to deliver DSL services for the past year and a half in four major markets --
northern and southern California, New York and Boston, said Kevin Gatesman, product
manager for DSL services at UUNet.
Supplied by Copper Mountain Networks Inc., the system will
deliver consumer services at 384 kilobits per second (kbps) to 768 kbps downstream and 64
kbps to 384 kbps upstream, as well as business services symmetrically at 128 kbps to 768
kbps, UUNet officials said.
So far, the reach of the business DSL services UUNet has
been providing in the four initial launch markets has been limited to areas served by the
local facilities of MFS Communications Corp. Until the MCI acquisition, the competitive
local-exchange carrier (LEC) MFS was WorldCom's primary outlet into the local telecom
market, Gatesman noted.
Now, with the much more pervasive local presence of MCI
through its Metro unit, UUNet will have a nationwide facilities base to work from for
installing the DSLAMs (DSL access multiplexers) and connecting unbundled local loop to
reach consumers and businesses alike, he said.
But the company will also turn to other CLECs and even
incumbent LECs to lease access to their facilities where it doesn't have its own,
Gatesman added, noting that the goal is to be in more than 25 major markets by late next
This means the company will use a variety of DSL platforms
in addition to the Copper Mountain system in the interest of maximizing service coverage.
It's doubtful that any of those platforms will be
offering services pegged to the International Telecommunications Union's proposed
G.Lite standard anytime soon, Gatesman said.
G.Lite, an outgrowth of the Universal ADSL (asymmetric DSL)
Working Group initiative that was launched one year ago, is something MCI WorldCom
"definitely wants to happen" in the interest of seeing wide scale retail
distribution of modems, he added.
"We're a long ways from that," Gatesman
said. "The first step, which is what we're doing, is to offer a nationally based
service that offers our customers one-stop shopping for the local connectivity,
installation and long-haul backbone support they need."
UUNet will sell the business version of its DSL service
directly to business customers but will wholesale its service on a turnkey basis to
consumer-oriented Internet-service providers (ISP) to reach that market base, Gatesman
MCI Worldcom reported that America Online and EarthLink
have contracted to try the service, apparently with intentions to use this DSL option on a
wide scale, although officials declined to discuss details of future plans on the part of
these or other ISPs.
Robert Pittman, president and chief operating officer of
AOL, said in a prepared statement, "We believe this new technology promises to
significantly enhance our members' online experience, and we fully support MCI
WorldCom's efforts to make high-speed access more broadly available."
AOL is already working with GTE Corp. in market tests of
DSL in five undisclosed areas of the country and is looking at ways, through contracts or
regulatory fiat, to make use of cable high-speed-data links as well.
The company recently hired cable industry high-speed-data
networking veteran Mario Vecchi to serve in the newly created post of vice president of
broadband development, and is expected to launch high-speed-access services on a wide
scale next year.
UUNet will charge business customers $500 per month and up
for DSL service, depending on customer location and bandwidth, officials said. They said
end-user prices to consumers will be determined by each service provider but are expected
to be in the $40 to $60 per month range.
Along with exploiting MCI WorldCom's wide scale local
presence and its ability to establish interconnection and unbundled-use agreements with
incumbent carriers, UUNet can also tap the high-speed-data backbone it and the other
entities making up the conglomerate have put in place, Gatesman said.
"The capacity in our [data backbone] network is
growing at a rate of tenfold per year," he said.
Most recently, UUNet said it had implemented packet over
SONET capability at OC-3 rates (155 megabits per second) for high-end business users in
markets served by the company's OC-12 (622 mbps) data backbone.
These links will give providers of commercial Web services,
such as Broadcast.com, which has already contracted for the service, a means to bypass the
Internet in delivering consumer and other services to local distribution points, officials
Both companies billed their moves into DSL as part of
broadband-oriented strategies that encompass retail-oriented marketing relationships with
cable entities as well.
But the difference was that in the case of DSL, the
computer concerns were actually offering modems embedded in their PCs now rather than
waiting until later, as is the case in their cable affiliations.
Compaq is using the recently announced "WildWire"
chipset from Lucent Technologies Inc.'s Microelectronics Group, which initially will
support dial-up access at 56 kbps and later full G.Lite access at up to 1.5 mbps through
"We determined the G.Lite standard is stable enough to
build product with a programmable solution that will allow customers to upgrade the modems
when the software is ready, just as they did earlier this year when V.90 [the 56 kbps
standard] was completed," said Kevin Cone, strategic marketing manager for the
WildWire product line.
Chip and system suppliers have already been working through
interoperability issues in conjunction with the UAWG specifications for G.Lite, which were
completed last summer, Cone noted. As a result, suppliers have a head start in the push to
retail distribution, since G.Lite represents a fairly minor adjustment to the UAWG specs,
Since announcing the Compaq-WildFire deal a week ago,
Lucent has been in "around-the-clock discussions" with PC manufacturers who are
preparing to move to the G.Lite platform, said Charlie Hartley, a spokesman for
"Very active" players include Hewlett-Packard
Co., IBM Corp., Toshiba Corp. and Dell, Cone noted.
Lucent expects to be ready to offer software upgrades via
downloads from Web sites by sometime in January, Cone said. With computer companies
preparing to shift to the platform rapidly, carriers will be encouraged to adopt the
G.Lite system as well, he added.
But, as reported previously, even the most aggressive telco
members of the UAWG have indicated they will go through a period of testing G.Lite before
No telco has announced a launch date, and all continue to
proceed with expansion of services based on existing proprietary platforms, although some
of those platforms are readily upgradable to the G.Lite system because they use the same
Taking an even more cautious approach toward G.Lite, U S
West Inc. and Bell Atlantic Corp. are moving in the direction of securing computer company
support for embedded DSL modems that conform to their mutually incompatible non-G.Lite
platforms. The first step in this direction was taken by Dell two weeks ago with plans to
begin shipping built-to-order PCs with factory-installed ADSL modems from Cisco Systems,
Dell spokesman Bill Robbins said Dell was also working with
Bell Atlantic in preparations for supporting its version of ADSL in PC modems. The
manufacturer has also begun a relationship with SBC Communications Inc., which has
expanded ADSL services to most of California using the Alcatel G.Lite-ready system, which
is also in deployment in BellSouth and Ameritech Corp. territories.
SBC does not intend to make its G.Lite plans known until
June, a spokeswoman said.