AT&T: U-Verse on track - Fiber to the X

AT&T's Fiber to the X strategy is a tale of two approaches.

In its existing ‘Brownfield' markets, the ILEC has deployed a Fiber to the Node architecture with VDSL and it on track to migrate to VDSL2. Similar to its European counterpart BT, AT&T is leveraging GPON-based Fiber to the Premise (FTTP) in Greenfield markets.

A key factor in AT&T's FTTN drive obviously is data and video. As of the second quarter of 2009, AT&T reported that it had brought on 248,000 new U-Verse subscribers, a factor it attributes to the addition of its enhanced U-Verse Total Home DVR, integrated voice and broadband service.

On the video end, Matt Wallace, Executive Director of Lightspeed Infrastructure Program Management for AT&T, says it is actually ahead of schedule in building out the remainder of its Video Hub Offices (VHO) that serve video in 2009. "We only have a handful left in the plan that we'll complete in the not too distant future, and customer additions are going along nicely with the forecasts," he said.

Of course, the slowdown in the new housing market has driven AT&T to scale back its FTTP build outs.

"Since we have FTTP focused on Greenfield, and Greenfield developments are obviously down pretty low, we definitely see that in our Fiber to the Premise deployments," Wallace said. "We're not seeing as much of that as we were last year, but that continues to build out and we're making the transition to doing GPON instead of BPON technology."

Keeping its VDSL2 network upgrade transparent to the end user, the upgrade path from VDSL (or what AT&T internally calls VDSL1.5) to VDSL2 will require nothing more than software upgrade. All that AT&T has to do in the process is essentially conduct a software upgrade at the customer's residential home gateway. And while the amount of residential gateways is nearing two million across the country, AT&T is confident that it can complete the software upgrade during the next few months.

While AT&T's FTTN build out is really just a matter of managing the day-to-day blocking and tackling that goes on with any network build, a key focus is to make sure the VDSL2 upgrade transparent to the end-user. "For VDSL2 we're trying to be careful with this as it is a software upgrade and make sure that any disruption to the customer is minimized," he said. "We also want to make sure we're getting the VDSL performance gains that we should be getting out of that so we spent time doing some careful field studies before we started the upgrades."

And as it moves forward with its copper-based FTTN approach, AT&T is closely watching new advancements that can squeeze even more life out the telco's ubiquitous medium. Looking beyond VDSL2, Wallace is keen on other emerging technologies, including Dynamic Spectrum Management (DSM), including the ratification of the G.Vector standard, which both enhances the rate and reach of copper.

"That looks like a real promising technology and we have seen some real early prototypes with real results from real equipment versus computer simulations that look really promising," Wallace said.

AT&T: U-Verse on track - Fiber to the X