Vendors form DSL interoperability group

Several equipment vendors and service providers last week launched a program aimed at achieving full interoperability among DSL gear, an effort that could ultimately lead to lower equipment pricing and speedier service rollouts.

However, one leading DSL vendor – Copper Mountain Networks Inc. – questioned the objectivity of the program, noting that Cisco is the only major DSL access multiplexer (DSLAM) vendor involved.

DSLAM equipment is located within service provider central offices to aggregate DSL subscriber lines.

The new program, known as the OpenDSL initiative, has the backing of DSL equipment and chip manufacturers, systems integrators and service providers. The program also has the backing of the DSL Forum, an industry group that promotes the usage of standards-based DSL.

OpenDSL’s main goal is to ease the DSL installation burden most service providers must currently bear, said Enzo Signore, director of marketing for Cisco Systems Inc.’s DSL business unit. Customers can wait up to six weeks before their DSL orders are fullfilled, Signore said, because service providers must often send personnel out to customer sites to complete the configuration of DSL equipment that is not interoperable out of the box.

If all DSL customer premise equipment (CPE) and all DSLAMs become completely compatible with one another, Signore says, end users could pick up a DSL modem from any retail outlet, plug it in and be up and running in minutes with all configuration handled from a central service provider site. This scenario would also see DSL CPE prices drop, Signore notes, because the equipment would become a commodity, rather than a specialty item sold only by the service providers.

OpenDSL members are working to establish a certification and testing program with a third-party lab. OpenDSL certification should start as early as the beginning of next year, Signore says.

Keith Higgins, an assistant vice-president for DSLAM maker Copper Mountain said the company would investigate the objectivity of the third-party lab before deciding whether to join the initiative. He questioned whether OpenDSL is truly an open group, or a Cisco-driven initiative.

“Any time you see an announcement advertised as ‘open’ and you’re a market leader and weren’t invited, you wonder what’s going on,” he said.

Higgins noted Copper Mountain, Lucent Technologies Inc. and Alcatel SA- all major DSLAM vendors – have had their DSL interoperability programs in place for some time.

Kathie Hackler, principal analyst with Dataquest Inc., believes OpenDSL is an open initiative and should help move the DSL market forward.

“It certainly can’t hurt,” she said. “Some of the DSLAM providers, most notably Copper Mountain, tried to create their own minicompatibility programs. The whole idea was to reassure the service providers that might buy their equipment that they’d have a broad range of [CPE] equipment to choose from.”

That hasn’t really happened though, Hackler noted. Once service providers select a DSLAM vendor, they tend to go with the CPE the service providers believe will work best with their particular DSLAM brands.

Some service providers, such as SBC Communications Inc., Qwest Communications Inc. and Earthlink Network Inc., have already started DSL programs where end users install their own equipment, Hackler said. She believes more interoperability is needed if DSL CPE is to become a true commodity.