First-mile connections to multitenant office buildings will emerge as a strong growth area, with fiber-connected facilities more than doubling in 2005. The industry's services sector will reach $900 million in that time, a new study says.

Optical Access: Next Generation Technology and Services in the First Mile, from Communications Industry Researchers Inc., says optical buildings will help the optical access systems market top $2 billion in 2005, not including enterprise systems.

CIR says the number of American fiber-connected facilities will grow from 21,000 in 2001 to more than 43,000 in 2005.

Other findings, according to CIR:

* ILECs will hold their lead in the access space — beneficial to Sonet vendors, such as Cisco Systems, Fujitsu and Nortel Networks;

* Fiber-to-the-home is growing most quickly in rural America, CIR says. Rural independent telcos in Qwest Communications International's regions are "cashing in on government subsidies for fiber strands," CIR says.

* Carrier-class is becoming a catch phrase as service providers snap up enterprise-class Ethernet systems.

The study analyzed the competitive positions of 21 systems vendors and polled 15 local service providers, including ILECs, CLECs and BLECs, it says.