Incumbent telephone companies are getting ready to climb higher up the bandwidth ladder with their asymmetrical digital subscriber line (ADSL) offerings.
And their new rivals -- the data-oriented competitive local exchange carriers, or data CLECs -- are preparing to match them step-for-step by offering symmetrical DSL (SDSL) at higher-than-T-1 speeds.
In what's likely to make the biggest splash, Network World has confirmed that BellSouth will announce five new flavors of DSL as early as this week. The services will include three industrial-strength multimegabit services that take ADSL out of the individual telecommuter arena and deeper into the enterprise.
BellSouth's move will come hard on the heels of an announcement last week by Bell Atlantic that it is finally offering DSL in New York City in the face of potential cable-modem competition from Time Warner and other companies. Bell Atlantic also introduced two higher-speed ADSL versions -- one with 1.6M-bit/sec and the other with 7.1M-bit/sec downloads -- initially available in four other cities.
But BellSouth's five new services will have a broader rollout: the same 28 cities where the carrier today offers a standard ADSL offering of up to 1.5M bit/sec speed downstream and up to 256K bit/sec upstream.
The three most robust of BellSouth's new service classes will provide anywhere from 1.5M- to 6M-bit/sec downloads. The RBOC will also add one new lower-speed ADSL variation, plus a symmetrical DSL service that provides 384K bit/sec both ways.
The pricing BellSouth is offering technically beats most of the carrier's T-1 dedicated access prices. One new option offering T-1 downstream and 512K to 768K bit/sec upstream is priced as low as US$195 per month. This compares with an average, though widely varying, $700 per month for regular T-1s in the BellSouth region.
But analysts and competitors caution that it's probably not wise for BellSouth users to throw out their existing T-1 lines. Laurie Falconer, a DSL analyst for consulting firm TeleChoice, believes the 1.5M/512K-bit/sec flavor, even at $195, won't cause branch offices to discard their T-1s. It may attract "small businesses that never wanted to go to a T-1," she says.
John Cahill, BellSouth's director of advanced network services, says the new DSL options running up to 6M bit/sec will likely serve new applications such as electronic commerce and videoconferencing, and could supplement existing enterprise access options.
All the BellSouth DSL services will be terminated on Alcatel 1000-series DSL access multiplexers (DSLAMs) in central offices. Cahill concedes that the higher the bandwidth available the closer that end users will need to be from the central office.
Data CLEC NorthPoint Communications thinks it has a better answer. The San Francisco-based company specializes in SDSL, so that users who pull down Web traffic and host Web servers don't have to sacrifice bandwidth in either direction.
To maintain the symmetrical nature of its offering but enter the above-T-1 market, NorthPoint this week is expected to announce "bonded DSL" capability with its DSLAM provider, Copper Mountain. This type of feature lets two unbundled copper loops offer up to 3M bit/sec of throughput both downstream and upstream via a logical linking of two ports on the DSLAM to the same end user. NorthPoint will roll out the 3M-bit/sec SDSL service in the fourth quarter, says John Stormer, NorthPoint's vice president of marketing.
NorthPoint's options will make it unnecessary for corporate DSL network managers to institute and enforce usage policies the way they might have to with telco ADSL, Stormer says.
BellSouth users may also have to be careful of technical hurdles. The telco is charging a $300 installation fee for each DSL loop on each of its five new services. That will cover most of the necessary loosening of loop coils and bridge taps in the copper infrastructure, Cahill says. However, Cahill cautions that some of this loop conditioning may not be possible if such bottlenecks are "buried under years" of copper installations.
The BellSouth and NorthPoint announcements may be just the start of DSL announcements. Network World also obtained a recent GTE tariff filing that reveals GTE is instituting a new service called ADSL Bronze Plus later this month.
The consumer or telecommuter offer provides 768K bit/sec downstream and 128K bit/sec upstream for $40 per month with a $60 installation charge. The monthly price comes down to $32.50 for users who sign a one-year contract. A GTE spokesman says the carrier will combine the one-year deal with a $17.45-per-month Internet access service for a total consumer package of $45.95 per month.