A new proprietary, high-speed platform has snared its first convert. Hoping to provide a bundle of telecommunications services at dedicated data speeds as high as 40 megabits per second, overbuilder UtiliCorp Communications Services said it has agreed to deploy Advent Networks' proprietary "Ultraband" platform.
UtiliCorp, a non-regulated subsidiary of UtiliCorp United, said it will test Ultraband in Kansas City, Mo., early next year. If that deployment proves successful, the company plans to offer it in the overbuilder's other mid-U.S. territories, including Minneapolis; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Tulsa, Okla.
UtiliCorp wants to provide broadband services to about 760,000 Kansas City homes.
"We're in the process of providing broadband services to underserved markets,"
UtiliCorp vice president of business development Jeff Ingram said. "We're very close to lighting up friendlies in Kansas City, and are targeting 10,000 homes passed by the end of the year."
UtiliCorp will give Ultraband a tryout during the first quarter of next year, said Ingram, providing between 5 and 40 megabits of dedicated capacity to about 100 homes.
"We'll know quickly where we stand (with Ultraband); then it's a matter of a mass deployment," he said. UtiliCorp's network will handle an average of 150 homes passed per node.
In addition to providing faster speeds, UtiliCorp also hopes Ultraband will help it to undercut incumbent prices.
"We believe we can deliver the service at a lower price than cable-modem service," UtiliCorp vice president of technology services Ken Johnson said. "If (Ultraband) works, and we think it will, it will reduce our ongoing costs."
Advent president and CEO Geoffrey Tudor said, "Utilicorp is not just selecting Ultraband for a trial, but also planning to deploy it in many other cities, as well." Advent plans to field-try its technology in more than 2.2 million homes by early 2001.
Advent, which touts former Time Warner Cable engineering vice president David Pangrac among its founding fathers, first introduced Ultraband in May of this year. Ultraband, the Austin-based company said, provides customers with an "always-on," dedicated line of high-speed connectivity.
At 40 megabits per second, the platform provides speeds high enough to send high- definition television signals to two televisions, or to feed video and Internet-protocol telephony signals simultaneously.
Those speeds are also quick enough to download a compact disc in about two minutes, Tudor said. In comparison, a digital subscriber line or cable-modem hookup would require about 80 minutes to download a CD, according to Tudor. A standard dial-up connection would take in the neighborhood of a "mind-numbing" 3,000 minutes, he added.
Ultraband's platform, which will cost a network operator roughly $1,000 per home for the customer-premise and network edge equipment, is centered on Layer 3-switched Ethernet-over-HFC (hybrid fiber-coaxial) lines.
"An operator would invest a fragment of today's CMTS (cable-modem termination system) to offer Ultraband," Tudor said.
Essentially, Ultraband removes "last-mile" DSL distance limitations and cable's shared bandwidth restrictions by providing a dedicated channel to each user, the company claimed. That would give overbuilders and MSOs the technology-enabler needed to offer "network VCR" services and subsequently stream video content from a centralized headend location or zap it to hard drives housed in consumer set-top boxes.
"Advent doesn't market a PVR (personal video recorder) or a network VCR technology," company co-founder David Fruhling conceded, calling such functionality a "killer app" for the new broadband era.
"But what our technology does offer is a big, fat data pipe that can at least open up the opportunity for the storage of personal VCR content because of the massive amount of bandwidth Ultraband makes available. It could be done at the residence on a set-top box, or centrally at the headend."
Fruhling said Advent, whose initial busines strategy is to target new network builders with small node sizes, also has received some interest about Ultraband from "major and minor" incumbent cable operators.
"We haven't targeted them proactively, so their interest has been a surprise to us," he said, noting that Pangrac's presence has helped spark some of those discussions. "Our strategy is to really not to be very active in the (incumbent cable) market, because we thought Ultraband wouldn't be very well received because it is a non-standards technology.
"We thought it was best for new network builders that were not committed to DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) standards."
Fruhling characterized talks with MSOs as "very preliminary."
"We're still in technology assessment discussions with them at this point," he added.
Tudor said another new network builder and an incumbent MSO are close to beta-testing Ultraband.
One reason why cable operators have shown some interest in Advent's technology is because Ultraband can be deployed next to DOCSIS-based infrastructure, Fruhling said.
"MSOs have been asking future technology for them," Fruhling said. "It's very easy for Ultraband to co-exist with DOCSIS."
Although Advent's platform is proprietary, when asked whether the company is interested in adding its technology to the standardization mix at Cable Television Laboratories Inc., Tudor said the company "would like to open it up."
Cable operators moving to smaller and smaller nodes are also fueling that interest, because the systems would have additional spectrum available.
That spectrum then can be allocated for dedicated, Ultraband-based services to be used by bandwidth-hungry business customers and high-end residential subscribers who want to use their computers and televisions to stream high-quality video, Fruhling said. Cable operators could use DOCSIS channels for entry-level data users who merely want to enhance their dial-up experience, he added.
"If you look at the ability of DOCSIS to penetrate the business market, it's not a great product for that," Fruhling insisted, noting the shared nature of bandwidth that runs over DOCSIS architectures. "But the business segment is very desirable for any operator that has a network, and new network operators are interested in a technology that competes with DSL or T-1."
Fruhling said Ultraband also takes the high cost of fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) out of the equation. "There's a lot of activity in the fiber-to-the-home area, because there is a tremendous thirst for bandwidth," Fruling said. He said that approach remains too expensive for most incumbent operators.
With Ultraband, he said, cable operators can leverage their current plant investment and offer FTTH speeds without making major changes to their plant. "That's why cable operators get so excited about this," Fruhling said.
Advent isn't alone in ultra-fast, proprietary platform arena. Another company that has gained some notoriety for extremely fast data speeds is AirSwitch.
That company has already wired two small Utah communities outside of Provo-Springville and American Fork-offering downstream speeds between 10 mbps and 100 mbps. AirSwitch offers the high-end service to customers for less than $30 per month.
AirSwitch, which has maintained a low profile, has said it is in deployment discussions with a handful of unnamed overbuilders.
Fruhling said one key difference between Advent's technology and that of AirSwitch is that Ultraband does not require operators to "throw away the legacy stuff and start over again."
"Ultraband can improve existing HFC plant," Fruhling said.