SUPERCOMM - DSL forum demonstrates interoperability

Forty-two DSL vendors are demonstrating for the first time publicly at SuperComm the "any-to-any" interoperability of their DSLAMs (asymmetric digital subscriber line access multiplexer) to their CPEs (customer premises equipment).

The companies are running their equipment at a DSL Forum-sponsored demonstration stand on the show floor where forum officials say any of the CPEs featured is able to communicate with any of the DSLAMs and vice versa using the G.dmt and G.lite standards.

DSL Forum officials say the demonstration represents a milestone for DSL, which runs over regular copper phone lines, but has distance limitations and can be affected by the quality of the copper. They also claim the DSL market is "taking off" among users who are growing tired of the limitations of the 56K-bps (bits per second) Internet connection that only a few years ago fulfilled all their connectivity dreams.

Interoperability issues have caused problems for backers of DSL, which lags behind the adoption of cable modem for high-speed Internet in the consumer market. For example, some customers who sign up for DSL service from one carrier haven't been able to take their modems with them if they moved into the service area of another carrier.

Forum officials say that problem has been eliminated by the new interoperability milestone. Beyond that, they hope the SuperComm demonstration will help build confidence in the technology and buoy DSL subscription rates.

"The demonstration is the result of industry's belief in cooperation, and that cooperation will lay the foundation for mass market adoption of DSL," Hans-Erhard Reiter chairman and president of the DSL Forum's board of directors, said yesterday at a press briefing.

Reiter said the number of DSL customers in North America recently surpassed 1 million and predicted that within a decade or so that number will reach 20 million.

Among the major companies demonstrating the interoperability of their DSL devices is 3Com, Alcatel SA, LM Ericsson Telephone, Intel, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Nortel Networks, Siemens AG, Samsung Telecommunications America and Texas Instruments.

All 42 companies taking part in the demonstration had to complete a "very stringent qualification" test at a staging lab held just prior to SuperComm to make sure any-to-any interoperability was assured, Reiter said. DSL Forum officials declined to say how many companies attempted the test and they also didn't specify the data rate minimum required to pass the test.

An industry official, however, said the entry criteria was a small fraction of the DSL data rate of 1.5M bps over the downlink and 384K bps over the uplink typically obtained with the DSLAM and the CPE placed at a distance of about three miles apart.

RadioShack Corp., CompUSA and other retailers say the interoperability test clears the way for stores to begin making a more solid pitch for DSL.

"If we are anticipating getting up to the 20 million ... you can be sure that retail will participate," said Mark Stanley, senior vice president of strategic development for RadioShack. Stanley said RadioShack believes its role will be to explain the technology directly to consumers.

"To get mass adoption, consumers will ultimately have to see, feel, touch and experience what DSL has to offer," Stanley said.

The interoperability demonstration also is significant for carriers, said Terry Riley, director of business development for broadband access products at Texas Instruments.

"Fundamentally, what it does is move it from a leased modem mode ... to retail sales," Riley said. "It takes the cost of the modem off (the carriers') books, which will improve the telco's profit margin."

The DSL Forum can be found on the Web at http://www.dslforum.org

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