SBC brings fiber to businesses, consumers

SBC Communications Inc. on Wednesday described its plan to roll out direct-fiber connections to small businesses and residential customers -- the next phase of the company's Project Pronto.

SBC intends Project Pronto to allow businesses and consumers to connect to a fiber-optic line from neighborhood hubs instead of larger central offices. Since Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and other broadband services depend on a relatively short distance to the central office for service, a neighborhood-level hub could bring faster Internet services to more people.

The company plans to use broadband passive optical networking (BPON) to make direct-fiber connections to smaller customers efficient and cost-effective, SBC said in a release. BPON combines wave division multiplexing and passive optical networking (PON). It transmits multiple wavelengths of light simultaneously through a fiber-optic line without having to use additional signal-boosting gear or intermediary electronics outside of the central office.

With a passive optical splitter, about 12 business sites or 32 residential customers can get high-speed service from a single fiber, said Ross Ireland, SBC's senior executive vice president of services and chief technical officer, during a speech at the Networld+Interop trade show in Las Vegas.

"By using wavelength multiplexing with just two wavelengths -- one for the downstream, one for the upstream -- I can now serve customers, business or consumer, with one fiber," Ireland said. "That, too, has a substantial advantage, and we are quite bullish on that."

San Antonio-based SBC began deploying the passive optical network platform this month, rolling out T1 service for small businesses in Houston off an older infrastructure. SBC projects about 1,000 installations of PON services by year's end and about 9,000 installations next year. The company will also provide direct-fiber connections to the Mission Bay community, a 303-acre residential and business development planned for the University of California at San Francisco. Plans for the community call for direct-fiber services for its 6,000 residents and commercial occupants.

SBC said Mission Bay will be a model for SBC's initial residential deployments of direct fiber, where the infrastructure can be cost-effectively implemented or the project developer takes an active role in helping to build out the broadband infrastructure.

Broadband serves about 8.4 million customers in the U.S. today and is likely to get bigger in the future, Ireland said, citing figures from research firm Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. The broadband customer base is expected to bloom to 28.9 million by 2004, he said. Already, 64 million households in the U.S, or about 60% of the country's population, have access to broadband services, largely cable or DSL service, if they choose to use them, he said.

SBC has 954,000 DSL customers today and is taking 6,000 customer orders for service daily, Ireland said.

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