Alcatel-Lucent Surpasses 300 Million DSL Ports in Its Drive to Connect the World

Erik Keith

Erik Keith

Summary Bullets:

  • Alcatel-Lucent’s 300 million-DSL port shipment benchmark highlights the company’s long-time commitment to the wireline broadband market, including multiple evolutions of DSL that have led to groundbreaking technologies such as VDSL vectoring, Vplus and G.fast.
  • While this achievement is worthy of celebration, Alcatel-Lucent will continue to leverage its extensive product R&D resources, including Bell Laboratories, to develop and deliver even more powerful, higher-speed wireline access technologies to address evolving operator service imperatives such as 4KTV.

The first quarter of 2015 saw Alcatel-Lucent surpass an important, and impressive, milestone: 300 million total DSL port shipments. But, unlike McDonalds’ ubiquitous fast food signage has highlighted for decades – now simply “billions and billions served” – Alcatel-Lucent has taken a far more humble response to achieving this benchmark.

Let’s think about this number for a second. Consider that there are still well under 1 billion total wireline broadband connections worldwide. One firm asserts that the 700 million mark was reached in October 2014; conservative estimates indicate that approximately 400 million of global wireline broadband connections are DSL.

Of course, of the 300 million DSL ports Alcatel-Lucent has shipped to date, many have been replaced by newer generations of DSL technology (not to mention FTTH). The generational progression of DSL has included multiple “flavors” of ADSL and VDSL, and most recently, vectoring-capable VDSL2 and Vplus technology, which over short copper loops, can deliver fiber-speed connectivity (100 to 250 Mbps). Nevertheless, Alcatel-Lucent’s installed DSL base is massive – at least 33% of current active ports worldwide – and the company’s incumbency in operator networks has certainly set the stage for Alcatel-Lucent to upsell both its latest-generation of ultra-broadband DSL/copper acceleration technologies and full-fiber FTTH solutions.

For at least a year, I have hounded the Alcatel-Lucent fixed access product team about the importance of reaching the 300 million mark, on the premise that this key number is worthy of high-level, high-visibility promotion. However, on further reflection, I understand why there has been reluctance to do so.

The reason is simple: Alcatel-Lucent is a company that perpetually looks forward, and never back. For the company that essentially invented DSL – one of the many technologies incubated by Bell Laboratories/Bellcore – resting on its laurels is not an option.

Alcatel-Lucent’s “forward-only” strategy on the product front is exemplified by its current and ongoing fixed access R&D. This includes an acute focus on hybrid fiber/copper solutions, which is a natural progression from what started with fiber-fed, VDSL-interfaced DSLAMs, and is now best represented by G.fast and fiber-to-the-distribution point (FTTdp) technology. G.fast delivers hundreds of megabits per second and ultimately promises up to 1 Gbps of aggregate throughput to each end user, leveraging very deep-fiber network connections (for example, GPON uplinks) in combination with copper (G.fast) subscriber interfaces over short loops.

We have seen tremendous interest in G.fast from operators in both Europe and globally, as it can provide de facto FTTH services to end users, but more cost-effectively and seamlessly than a full-fiber installation to each residence or premises. So, by delivering 1 Gbps over the existing copper plant, is G.fast the end game technology for copper?

Not for Alcatel-Lucent. In the summer of 2014, the company announced that Bell Labs had developed XG-FAST, which can support 10 Gbps over even short copper loops. And just a few weeks ago, Marcus Weldon, Alcatel-Lucent CTO and President of Bell Labs, pointed out that Bell Labs is not done on the multi-Gigabit R&D front, stating that speeds of up to 40 Gbps over copper are attainable. Like XG-FAST, these double-figure Gigabit connections will be enabled by even shorter, 30 to 50-meter copper loops, rather than the 100 meters for which G.fast is currently tailored. While the need for near-term implementations of 40 Gbps connections is limited, the growing importance of G.fast-derived technologies for business services and fixed/mobile backhaul will likely drive operators toward a 40G-over-copper future.

To be clear, Alcatel-Lucent is not a copper-only company. It is also heavily engaged in product development and mass-market deployment of fiber access solutions, including DOCSIS Provisioning of EPON (DPoE), TWDM-PON, and most recently a new Universal TWDM-PON solution launched at the 2015 FTTH Council Europe event in February. Alcatel-Lucent is also the only vendor that can claim a top-three market share in GPON in each of the major global regions.

Nor is Alcatel-Lucent the only systems vendor engaged in leading-edge fixed access R&D, and the corollary standards development and ratification process. But, in copper broadband, Alcatel-Lucent has certainly been at the forefront longer than everyone else.

So, what about that 300 million benchmark? While Alcatel-Lucent certainly acknowledges its importance, it seems more obvious than ever that Alcatel-Lucent’s forward-facing, “blinders-on” approach means it is focused on delivering the next 300 million wireline broadband connections, not the first. On that note, Alcatel-Lucent is certainly off to a good start!

DSL.Technology.Comparison.2015
Source: Alcatel-Lucent

About Erik Keith
As Principal Analyst for Fixed Access Infrastructure, Erik is responsible for tracking major technological, strategic and tactical developments in the wireline broadband access market. Erik's primary areas of coverage include FTTP/PON systems, DSLAMs, DLCs/MSAPs, cable access and head-end systems, as well as digital media infrastructure solutions.

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