Competitive local-exchange carrier ICG Communications Inc.
is blazing an aggressive trail into ADSL services that is likely to be followed by many
other CLECs as vendors make progress toward speeding deployment of the fledgling
ICG can move rapidly into high-speed
asymmetrical-digital-subscriber-line service thanks in part to the progress that Lucent
Technologies has made toward simplifying the delivery of ADSL from its switch locations,
said Sheldon Ohringer, president of ICG's telecommunications unit. ICG has voice and
data services operating in California, Colorado, the Ohio Valley and parts of the
"Today, we have 30 colocations in central offices
completed for voice, and we are now adding data connections," Ohringer said. "By
the end of the year, we will be colocated in 100 central offices for voice and data, and
we intend to add another 100 in '99."
ICG is the first CLEC to announce ADSL deployments on
anything approaching this scale. The company has been working closely with Lucent to
facilitate integration of DSL gear at the 5ESS central-office switch, including
symmetrical and very high-speed versions, as well as the asymmetrical version, officials
"Our coming into this market is based on an
understanding that integration is the key to making ADSL a mass-market service," said
Mark Irvin, manager of data-applications products for Lucent's 5ESS line.
Lucent has agreed to partner with Westell Technologies
Inc., a leading supplier of ADSL systems, in delivering hardware and software solutions
that are tightly mapped to the design of the 5ESS-2000, Lucent's top-of-the-line
digital central-office switch. By the third quarter, the companies hope to have the first
phase of this integrated product line available for deployment, Irvin said.
The first phase consists of linking the DSLAM --
digital-subscriber-line access multiplexer, a module that multiplexes ADSL onto multiple
subscriber lines -- with the switch within the switch cabinet, Irvin said. Along with
compacting ADSL into the space used by the switch, this step will reduce some of the
complexity associated with connecting POTS (plain old telephone service) line cards and
the DSLAM, he said.
By early 1999, the companies intend to offer a line-card
solution that will enable ADSL connection by simply replacing the POTS line card with one
supporting both POTS and high-speed-data access. This will greatly reduce the time that it
takes to install a customer from the central-office end, Irvin said. Further steps toward
integration will follow, he added.
The Lucent-Westell connection extends the integration
effort to many other vendors, as well, including the digital-signal-processor suppliers
that each is partnered with and parties to other alliances. These include the Universal
ADSL Working Group, created by the telecommunications industry and several computer
companies earlier this year. What it all adds up to is that CLECs and telcos alike will be
able to add ADSL features to the more than 100 million lines served by 5ESS switches by
year's end, officials said.
Other points of cooperation among competitors are taking
shape, as well, as vendors race to create a sufficiently flexible standardized platform to
meet the wide range of service requirements set by the carriers.
For example, Alcatel, Analog Devices Inc. and Texas
Instruments Inc. have begun working together to ensure interoperability of their DSPs in
the implementation of the American National Standards Institute's T1.413 Issue 2
standard. This is the foundation for the Lucent-Westell effort and for the UAWG's
approach to developing an "ADSL.Lite" standard for delivery of plug-and-play
"What we're finding is that we're all able
to make the adjustments necessary to achieve interoperability through software," said
Jurgen Lison, ADSL-program manager for Alcatel. "By sharing our ideas, we're
able to sort through the solutions that make the most sense and compromise on those
solutions, which is a much easier discussion to have than if we had to make changes in
These efforts at "front-end" ADSL compatibility
complement a wide range of licensing agreements that Alcatel has put together for the
back-end interoperability that is essential to assuring wide-scale vendor delivery of the
ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) NICs (network-interface cards) that are required to
complete the ADSL connection to the computer.
"Our announcement [with the ADSL DSP suppliers] is
only a small part of the interoperability effort," Lison said.
To speed the process, Alcatel has licensed its chip
technology to several suppliers of DSPs for customer-premises equipment, Lison said. In
addition, Hayes Microelectronics Corp. plans to begin delivering personal computer plug-in
boards compatible with Alcatel's ATM-over-ADSL solution by the end of this month, he
Another DSP supplier, Motorola Inc.'s semiconductor
unit, has been working closely on interoperability issues with a number of vendors, as
well, in some instances providing a link to the integration efforts of Lucent and Alcatel.
Partners in this effort include Ericsson, Westell and Amati Communications Inc., which is
now a unit of TI, said Rick Hall, strategic planner for xDSL systems at Motorola.
Motorola has developed a means of meeting a key
ADSL-performance target in the area of power requirements, Hall said, noting that the
firm's "Copper Gold" chips meet the total power target of 3 watts,
including the high-voltage line driver that feeds the line from the central office, as
well as the transmitter/receiver at the subscriber end.
"We've cut the typical power level that you see
in the market today in half, which means that you can install more line cards in a space
without dissipating too much heat," Hall said.
"The next step for us is to address the
interoperability issue," Hall added. "People want to be able to deploy the
full-rate T1.413 implementation in the DSLAM and then have it talk to whatever is out
there at the customer premises, whether it's ADSL.Lite or full-rate or something in
Like Alcatel, Motorola is finding that the steps needed to
achieve this scale of interoperability in its DSPs can be accomplished in
"firmware" (the software that is embedded in the chip), without requiring
hardware changes. As things now stand, Hall added, it looks like multiple vendors will be
able to meet the $500 per-line price target set by the telcos to make ADSL deployable on a
"I think that everything that we and our competitors
are doing in working with this standard demonstrates that this cost goal can be easily
met," Hall said.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle that suppliers face is finding a
universally acceptable means to eliminate the need for a splitter and a separate line at
the customer premises, which is a primary goal of the UAWG, Hall noted.
"The question is whether the solutions that people are
offering today are optimum," he said, adding that it remains to be seen whether
agreement on the splitterless solution can be reached by year's end.
ICG, while it was the first CLEC to join the UAWG, is not
gating its rollouts to the availability of a consumer-level option in the near term,
"There's huge demand in the business community,
including the work-at-home sector, for high-speed access at prices below T-1 rates, and
that's a market that we'll be able to serve right from the start," he said.