Copyright 2004 Network World, Inc.

Network World

October 04, 2004

A privately held Canadian company is attempting to head off more-established players in bringing next-generation broadband capabilities to North American carriers and their customers.

Critical Telecom, a 40-employee firm in Ottawa, this week will unveil an Ethernet remote DSL access multiplexer (DSLAM) designed to integrate fiber and copper anywhere in an access network. The company's Gemini remote DSLAM is intended to address carrier requirements for equipment to support the provisioning of bundled multimedia services that have different transport characteristics and can be dynamically requested or altered.

Such services will result from projects such as SBC's Fiber-to-the-Node (FTTN) buildout, in which fiber will be extended farther out to businesses or consumers for delivery of IP TV services, which will position DSLAMs more remotely from a carrier's central office and closer to subscribers.

Gemini features an integrated, two-port Gigabit Ethernet Layer 2 switch for sub-tending or backhaul, IP transport and support for 24 to 192 ADSL2+ non-blocking ports.

Gemini also features a so-called virtualization architecture that lets service providers map users, features and services together despite logical and physical changes to a network, such as outside plant topology and wiring, regulatory policy and services.

The device can be line-powered, meaning it does not require any additional power source.

Gemini is deployed at Canadian carrier Telus, the seventh-largest telco in North America. Sixty-six percent of Telus' Internet access subscribers are high-speed, so the carrier has invested $1 billion to expand its asymmetric DSL (ADSL) network to every home and workplace in 38 communities in Alberta and British Columbia.

Critical Telecom secured the contract 18 months ago for a next-generation remote Ethernet DSLAM to support Telus' extended-reach ADSL requirement.

Challenges ahead

Still, it might be tough for Critical Telecom to land another contract of that significance in North America because large carriers usually award equipment contracts to large, established and deep-pocketed vendors.

SBC, for instance, has reportedly handed its FTTN integration work to Alcatel and Lucent; and Adtran is a well-entrenched incumbent supplier of remote digital loop carriers and DSLAMs to SBC and other RBOCs.

"Adtran's been making equipment that the telephone companies know and trust for decades," says Jim Lawrence, an analyst at Stratecast Partners. Critical Telecom's "importance is more from influencing product design and potentially carrier architectures. They've got a smart little product, and it doesn't hurt at all to have a real-world deployment."

Alcatel, which is also an SBC incumbent vendor, announced its own IP DSLAM two weeks ago. Lucent is expected to partner with Pedestal for the remote DSLAM/DLC requirement at SBC.

But Critical Telecom's Gemini might give carriers pause, Lawrence says. Carriers might try to push their own vendors into developing a similar product or into acquiring the smaller company.

"As far as having demonstrated a new product architecture in this market - and also against a somewhat new DSL deployment architecture - they are coming into a space where they have a product optimized for something that few other vendors have," Lawrence says.

Pricing for Gemini was not disclosed.