The ADSL pace quickened last week, with
earlier-than-expected launches of service in Denver and other cities by U S West
Communications and an unveiling of national launch plans on the part of two start-up
USWC -- which, several weeks ago, said it would launch
asymmetrical digital subscriber line services in more than 40 markets by midyear --
introduced the service in its Denver and Boise, Idaho, territories last week, en route to
what it said would be launches in 24 cities by the end of May.
The carrier's "MegaBit" service, which is
already being offered in Phoenix, uses equipment supplied by Cisco Systems Inc.'s
newly acquired Netspeed unit to deliver data access at rates ranging from 256 kilobits per
second to 7 megabits per second. Monthly fees range from $40 to $840.
USWC last week also took the first step toward supplying
personal computers equipped with ADSL modems through an agreement with Dell Computer Corp.
and Cisco. Dell, the leading supplier of mail-order PCs, will equip certain models of its
Dimension XPS PCs with Cisco modems upon customers' requests, the companies said.
The USWC expansion, which is targeted to reach 5.5 million
lines by June 30, comes amid the growing involvement by competitive local-exchange
carriers in using ADSL technology, illustrated by start-ups Network Access Solutions Inc.
and Rhythm NetConnections Inc.
USWC, Pacific Bell, GTE Corp. and Ameritech Corp. have all
moved forward with large-scale ADSL deployments, ahead of the completion of a proposed
"ADSL.Lite" standard by the Universal ADSL Working Group. The latter represents
a consortium of computer companies, telcos and telecommunications vendors that has said
that it will have a draft of the proposed standard ready by sometime in June.
But all four carriers said the systems that they're
putting in place can be adjusted to add the ADSL.Lite features through software or simple
Participants in the UAWG deliberations remained confident
that the proposed standard will be completed this summer, although there might be some
slippage beyond June.
"It could go a little longer, possibly into July, but
it definitely won't slide into the September time frame," said Jurgen Lison,
manager of advanced-access products for Alcatel Telecom, which is supplying Ameritech and
As far as the CLECs are concerned, NAS has operations
starting in Washington, D.C., and Rhythms in San Diego. Both companies are targeting the
business market, using ADSL as the foundation technology for offering differentiated,
price-competitive services in competition with incumbent LECs and more traditional CLECs.
"We'll be deployed in Washington by midsummer
and, by December, we'll be in five cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia,
Pittsburgh and Richmond [Va.]," said Jon Aust, CEO of NAS.
Aust said the major barrier to getting under way has not
been the technology, but rather the difficulties of working through the interconnection
and line-provisioning issues with Bell Atlantic Corp., the incumbent LEC in NAS'
Bell Atlantic, by avoiding the use of ADSL itself, has made
it very difficult for other providers to qualify copper loop for the delivery of DSL
services. But NAS has learned that it is possible for CLECs to put the technology to use
under the most adverse local telco conditions, "if you conduct this effort through
the regulatory process, and if you are willing to be persistent and patient," Aust
In its latest move, Bell Atlantic is creating a new set of
plant records that limit DSL access to loop bundles based on anticipated future uses of
the loop for other potentially interfering applications. Aust said NAS will seek to stop
the telco through Federal Communications Commission intervention.
Aust said he "applauded" USWC and other carriers
that are moving into ADSL and making it easier for their competitors to do likewise.
Once a carrier sets qualification parameters for ADSL --
which typically interferes with other advanced services, such as T-1 and ISDN (integrated
services digital network), within the same wire bundle -- it must open those loops for
access to others under the terms of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Aust said.
Rhythms offered a contrasting view of the regulatory
process as it fired up its ADSL services in San Diego, said James Greenberg, chief network
officer at the CLEC.
"We've had no problem getting access to
copper," he said, noting that PacBell has launched DSL services commercially in the
San Francisco Bay area, and that it is about to do the same in southern California.
Rhythms, with capital funding totaling $200 million, plans
to have "dense ADSL footprints" operative in 11 cities by year's end,
Greenberg said. It is now deploying systems in San Diego, Los Angeles and the Bay area,
and it will soon be setting up operations in Chicago, which Ameritech has targeted for DSL
service by midyear.
Other cities on Rhythms' list include New York,
Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., Greenberg said, noting that the firm plans to
be in at least 30 cities within three years.
Rhythms' management team consists of executives
formerly with Sprint Corp., U S West Inc. and CompuServe.
So far, the involvement of CLECs in ADSL launches has been
largely limited to start-ups, but this is about to change, said Larry Yokell, director of
product development for USWC's MegaBit operation.
"Up to now, the high-profile CLECs have been
conspicuous by their absence, but, judging by how we're getting hit up with
CLEC-tariff issues, it looks like things are definitely heating up," he said.
Yokell, speaking at the Networld+Interop conference in Las
Vegas last week, dismissed naysaying among ADSL detractors as a myopic response to
start-up issues that affect any new data-access technology, whether it's 56-kbps
analog or high-speed cable modems.
USWC is moving ahead with a business plan that it believes
offers an appealing value proposition for end-users and a good return for itself, because
"people are screaming for this stuff," Yokell said.
While it may be Christmas of 1999 before retailers are
selling ADSL modems in great supplies nationwide, the move toward wide-scale support for
low-cost implementation of the technology is well under way, Yokell said.
He added that USWC is already offering
"splitterless" connections for the residential-level service at 256 kbps.
Customers that order ADSL service in the covered territories by calling an 888 number can
plug their Cisco modems directly into phone jacks, without adding any special wiring,
Beyond standards, a more troublesome issue concerning
ADSL's growth is the question of interference within wire bundles. In a response to
panelists at the Networld+Interop conference, Steven Powell, senior systems engineer for
distributed architecture and technology at Bank of America, strongly asserted that this
problem would ultimately defeat ADSL as a viable market option.
"It will never happen, because these technologies
simply can't coexist, and nobody has adequate records as to what's in these wire
bundles," said Powell, a former consultant with PacBell and other telcos.
Lison acknowledged that there "have been some
surprises" over some PacBell links in the Bay-area-launch phase -- which is still
considered a market trial, even though services are being offered commercially by several
CLECs, as well as by PacBell.
"The telcos have always known that ADSL would require
a thorough record of line applications, but they've been slow to build the
records," Lison said.
Nonetheless, he added, the records are being compiled, and
the prequalification of lines by computer has moved from a starting point of only about 30
percent of all lines at an ADSL-equipped central office to close to 60 percent. An
additional percentage of lines can be qualified in any given wire bundle without the use
of computers, but this must be done on a trial-and-error basis.
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