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Telcos Strut Broadband Stuff

Chicago— Last week’s Globalcomm trade show spoke volumes about how quickly the telecom industry has shed its twisted-copper voice strategy and retuned itself to focus on broadband and video service.

With Supercomm exhibits of Class 5 “iron-horse” circuit switches a distant memory, the show floor was alight with fiber-optic technology, wireless schemes, including WiMAX and images beamed to Internet Protocol TV screens.

John Stankey, senior executive vice president and chief technology officer at AT&T Inc., illustrated the scene in his keynote to a packed attendee audience, noting that 75% of all U.S. adults use the Internet daily, 65% are wireless customers and, according to Consumer Electronics Association figures, the average American household has 26 communications devices.

To keep up, AT&T is now busy giving its backbone network a major overhaul. Upgrades planned this summer will quadruple AT&T’s capacity on major fiber-optic backbone routes with OC-769 fiber.

AT&T plans more than $8 billion in wireline network upgrades this year, Stankey said.

The new mix of communications schemes is behind Motorola Inc.’s line of MOTOwi4 wireless-broadband products. Motowi4’s combination of its homegrown Canopy fixed-wireless technology, mesh Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and broadband over powerline offers a mix and match connection package for service providers looking to reach places their wireline networks can’t, according to Thomas Grupa, senior director of wireless broadband marketing at Motorola.

While other technology vendors were grumbling about light traffic at Globalcomm, Motowi4 was a strong draw, according to Grupa. Many telecom carriers are trying to extend IP connections to more locations, “so they are looking to us saying, 'How can you help me to do that?’ ”

A short distance from Motorola’s booth, WiMAX Forum marketing director Jeffrey Orr was more than ready to talk about WiMAX’s progress.

The forum was created to shepherd the commercial entry of WiMAX. It has already created the testing criteria and certified fixed WiMAX products and is now developing tests for the mobile version.

If all goes well, the first mobile WiMAX certification testing could begin in the first quarter 2007, Orr said.

Telcos are now launching video service, so there was no shortage of IPTV displays on the show floor. Kasenna Inc. came with a new deal struck with Swedish electronics maker Ericsson Inc. to license Kasenna’s PortalTV software.

It also unveiled Living Room 2.0, the latest version of its IPTV middleware. Among other upgrades, Living Room 2.0 automates the process of taking in video and converting it into on-demand files.

“Customer feedback indicates that some of these IPTV systems are a beast to operate, so we are trying to take a lot of the opex (operational expense) out of the system,” Kasenna’s vice president of marketing Mark Crandon said.