SBC Orders From High-Fiber Menu

SBC Communications Inc.'s three-year, $6 billionbroadband-upgrade plan breaks new ground for telcos using digital technology to delivervideo and voice over copper phone lines.

Confronting multiservice competitors head-on, SBC said itwould push fiber deep enough so that by the end of 2002, 80 percent of its customers willbe within reach of asymmetrical-digital-subscriber-line platforms delivering full-screenvideo and multiple lines of packetized voice service.

This translates into service at operating speeds of 1.5megabits per second or better to 80 million people, including 48 million able to tap into6-mbps service, officials said.

"We see a rapidly changing marketplace wheretraditional dialtone is still a staple service, but where millions of our customers willdemand the convenience, productivity, availability and reliability of our broadbandservice," SBC CEO Edward Whitacre Jr. said in a prepared statement.

SBC intends to extend its new service strategyout-of-territory, as well, with plans to become a competitive local-exchange carrieroffering voice and data over ADSL links in 30 major markets, managing director fortechnology and product planning Ed Reisner said.

"We'll start in mid-2000 with Boston, Miami andSeattle, and proceed at a pace of one or two additional cities per month from thenon," he added.

SBC will install the same ADSL gear everywhere and linkmarkets through a broadband backbone supplied by Williams Communications Inc. But outsideof its territory, service data rates will depend on existing copper-line deployments."We don't have any hard plans to start laying any fiber or copper out ofterritory," Reisner said.

Along with being the first incumbent LEC to break theunspoken noncompete pact among major telcos, SBC will be the first to use ADSL technologyto deliver multiple lines of voice. The company is willing to cannibalize its second-linebusiness with a cheaper multiple-line product in order to phase out copper installationand to exploit the power of packet-based communications, Reisner said.

Delivering ADSL services at data rates of 1.5 mbps orhigher requires using fiber to reduce the length of copper line carrying data into homesand businesses.

SBC currently offers ADSL services over as much as 17,500feet of copper. In those cases, the data rate falls to as low as 384 kilobits per second.

The company also offers a higher-priced ADSL service at 1.5mbps to customers within 12,000 feet of certain central offices. But at 9,000 feet, thedata rate rises to 6 mbps, Reisner said.

In SBC's Pacific Bell territory, the company isextending the reach of high-speed-data service beyond the 17,500-foot mark by hiring aCLEC to provide so-called IDSL service. IDSL is a packet-based system that operates at 144kbps in both directions over more copper than ADSL's 17,500-foot limit. PacBell hiredNorthPoint Communications Inc. to supply IDSL facilities.

SBC plans to emphasize video services as part of its ADSLofferings as the new fiber-termination points are installed, starting next year inundisclosed locations, Reisner said. "We haven't decided whether we'lloffer the video package through our ISP [Internet-service provider] or anotherentity," he added.

These video services will be Web-based content, rather thantraditional cable fare, allowing SBC to capitalize on growing broadband-enhanced content.

SBC's new video-friendly platform will benefit otherservice providers, as well, allowing ISPs to highlight entertainment, along with thealways-on and high-speed aspects of broadband.

For example, America Online Inc. -- which has deals withseveral telcos to use ADSL for a broadband service -- is working on a TV service under its"AOL TV" initiative. Version 5.0 of its operating software has modificationsthat support access to its services via new ADSL-configured set-top boxes.

SBC is also using new line cards designed to help transmitADSL service from remote terminals at the ends of digital-loop carriers. DLCs arehigh-speed lines that extend the reach of central-office switches into subdevelopmentsthat would otherwise require new switches.

Those DLC remote terminals could put SBC in a position tomove to a higher-speed platform, known as VDSL (very high-speed DSL), when that technologybecomes standardized, Reisner said. VDSL is designed to deliver data over copper fastenough to support multiple streams of cable-TV-quality digital video.

"That will not be a difficult transition for us, butwe're not going to do anything that isn't standards-based," he added.

Michael Demenchuk

Mike Demenchuk has served as content manager of Broadcasting+Cable and Multichannel News since 2016. After stints as reporter and editor at Adweek, The Bond Buyer and local papers in New Jersey, he joined the staff of Multichannel News in 1999 as assistant managing editor and has served as the cable trade publication's managing editor since 2005. He edits copy and writes headlines for both the print magazine and website, wrangles the occasional e-newsletter and reviews TV shows from time to time. He's also the guy to bother with your guest blog, Fates & Fortunes and Freeze Frame submissions.