Firm seeks DSL stretch

Ottawa-based Critical Telecom Corp. recently began a stronger push of its flagship product, Full Rate Extended DSL (FRED), a technology designed to allow carriers to offer DSL services up to 25 kilometres from a central office.

DSL typically begins losing its signal about 9,000 feet from a central office, and isn’t effective beyond 18,000 feet, making businesses and teleworkers beyond that range difficult to reach. Many carriers reach users beyond 18,000 feet by deploying remote DSL access multiplexers (DSLAMs), connected by fibre back to the nearest central office.

While deploying remote DSLAMs is effective, it’s also expensive, noted Mark Labbe, Critical Telecom’s chief technology officer.

Most of the cost in deploying remote DSLAMs – 67 per cent – is tied to the building of environmentally friendly remote cabinets for the DSLAMs, he noted. Critical Telecom’s FRED makes it cheaper for carriers to reach remote users, Labbe explained, because it doesn’t require the building of such cabinets.

Instead, Critical Telecom relies on an environmentally hardened splitter, located with existing neighbourhood cross connect boxes, to split the voice signal from the broadband data signal. A multiplexer, also located with the neighbourhood cross-connect, then digitizes the broadband signal and sends it back to the central office DSLAM over fibre. With the digital signal travelling over fibre, it doesn’t degrade like it would over copper.

Essentially, Critical Telecom’s gear is designed to be a “dumb” extension, allowing carriers to keep all the electronics and network smarts back in the central office.

FRED operates like an overlay to the network, so it doesn’t add complexity, Labbe said.

“What carriers like about this technology is that it’s not like deploying a new vendor on your network, because it’s transparent,” he explained.

Also, because the broadband signal is travelling digitally over fibre, carriers can get full-rate DSL all the way out to 25 kilometres.

“With FRED, you can provide not only high-speed access, but tiered high-speed services,” Labbe said.

FRED is already deployed in Canada by Telus, SaskTel and an unnamed Canadian carrier, said Dan Bryan, vice-president of business development for Critical Telecom. The company is trying to grow its business by formally launching FRED into the U.S. market, where Bryan estimates there are 75 million lines that could benefit from FRED deployment.

Reaching more customers is a major issue for telecom providers, because they’re getting increased competition from cable companies, who are going after the core telecom business of offering voice services, Bryan said.

Brian Sharwood, a principal for telecom consultancy SeaBoard Group in Toronto, noted that serving remote users with broadband is still an issue for carriers. About 15 per cent of the North American market has no access to cable or DSL broadband, he said.

“What’s surprising is none of the major DSLAM vendors have addressed this issue properly with their products,” he said. “The question is whether equipment from someone like Critical Telecom can make it economical for the carriers to go after that market.”