Adtran focuses on multi-access economics, mobile backhaul opportunity

Adtran this week opened up the doors to its Huntsville, Ala., headquarters to press and analysts to talk about a range of topics spanning its enterprise and carrier businesses.

On the service provider side of the house, the focus was on helping carriers drive IP and Ethernet ever deeper into the network while using Adtran’s multi-access platforms to affordably serve the mix of copper and fiber and TDM and Ethernet environments that are the reality today for most carriers.

Also on the agenda: opportunities in mobile backhaul, especially moving from bundled T1s to something more flexible, affordable and Ethernet-based; thoughts on broadband stimulus, national broadband and other funding scenarios; and the potential for blurring the unified communications lines between enterprise and carrier.

Plus: a tour of its on-campus manufacturing operations — a unique resource in an industry in which most manufacturing off-shored and outsourced.
Here were some of the highlights:

Mobile Backhaul

Adtran — already a major provider of T1 backhaul solutions — made its big move in next-generation backhaul at Supercomm, adding Ethernet-over-fiber capabilities to its Total Access 5000 multiservice access platform, as well as positioning its Opti 6100 platform for backhaul applications. But backhaul economics were a huge part of the discussions this week. For Adtran, it’s all about helping carriers move to an integrated access infrastructure serving residential, business and backhaul businesses as efficiently and via as few boxes as possible. “You don’t want to build out an expensive fiber to the node network into a neighborhood and not take care of the business across the street,” said Mike Martin, Adtran’s director or product management for carrier solutions. “If you have cell tower right there, you don’t want to run a separate fiber to it but use the GPON network you already have and mix my residential and business and mobile traffic — you’ve got to make all these services work and play together, that’s what our business is all about.”

The challenge for backhaul is the timing requirements to put voice traffic on Ethernet. For that reason, many backhaul operators are keeping T1s in place to handle voice and moving Ethernet in for booming data traffic. Another option is to integrate both by running Ethernet over SONET where possible, with the synchronous nature of SONET transport mitigating those voice timing issues.

Adtran customer FiberTower is working with Adtran to move its backhaul services from TDM to Ethernet, said Vijay Lewis, FiberTower’s director of engineering. “Ethernet today has very low penetration at cell sites; the reason is very cheap T1s bought on five to seven year terms,” he said, adding however that growth in data services means “T1s are a quick fix but not the long-term solution. 2010 is shaping up to be the year of Ethernet backhaul. I said that in 2007 but I was wrong. But now is the time. Mobile service operators have to add smart capacity. [For backhaul provides], that means it’s not about adding T1s, but about having Ethernet and being able change capacity on a dime.”

TEC in the House

Adtran also brought in customer TEC, which runs six independent operating companies, two CLECs and two cable companies in Mississipi, Alabama and Tennessee. TEC’s head of network operations, Brent Fisher, said his company is using Adtran’s TA 5000 as part of its network makeover, moving to and end-to-end Ethernet core to decrease operating expenses and drive new services. Notably, Fisher said TEC is hoping for stimulus funding to come through to significantly accelerate their plans. Today, they have 3200 FTTH subscribers, he believes that quickly grow to 15,000 if funding comes through. Their overall network makeover driven by fiber, Ethernet and PON could likewise accelerate from about a five year project to just over two years if it wins funds, he said.

Unified Communications

Like many vendors, UC is an important area for Adtran, particularly on the enterprise side. In carrier markets, applications like UC are less of a focus, but down the line that could — and probably must — change, said Chris Thompson, Adtran’s senior product manager for enterprise voice solutions. “Down the road, when you talk about taking a unified communications service, virtualizing it and moving it to the cloud, then the line between the premise [adn the network] really starts to blur,” he said.

The Big Picture from Jay Wilson

Finally, some highlights from a sit-down I had with Jay Wilson, Adtran’s senior vice president and general manager of its carrier division. According to Wilson,

On IP and Ethernet:  “Efficiencies and efficiencies of scale are the primary thing providers are looking for. Even when we’re doing some things like TDM-to-IP legacy service migration, the faster we can get it to IP the happier they are. They want to push that to the edge as fast as they can. The carrier needs to move to an Ethernet core. From a carrier perspective, the biggest thing is efficiencies, not necessarily just efficiencies of scale but efficiencies of bandwidth and ease of provisioning, improved visibility.

The Multi-Service Story:  Ultimately, everybody would love to be all fiber, all Ethernet. The practicality is they are going to target the higher priority areas. It may mean mobile backhaul first, or it may mean more urban rather than suburban or rural, or it may mean large enterprise more than small and medium businesses. It seems to me that Ethernet is taking the priority; we are seeing both Ethernet over copper and Ethernet over fiber strategies happening.

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