The “”golden age”” of broadband is here, according to Jim Hjartarson, chief executive officer of Catena Networks Inc. Hjartarson says he is surprised at the number of business customers who are interested in digital subcriber line (DSL) services, which use existing copper phone lines.
Ont.-based Catena makes equipment designed to let telecommunications carriers offer DSL services capable of carrying voice, video and data traffic. Most of its business comes from American carriers offering DSL in suburban areas.
Hjartarson, who co-founded Catena five years ago and was appointed CEO last April, worked at Nortel Networks Corp. for 16 years. He recently shared his views on broadband access with C&N.
C&N: Do you see any competition from some of the other technologies, such as fixed wireless?
JH: Not in our target areas. We are specifically a DSL solution for the suburban digital loop carrier market. Getting displaced by fixed wireless solutions is not that likely. That said, fixed wireless is going to find a place in the network — there’s no doubt in my mind — and one of the best places is, where you’ve got really distributed customers which are only reachable in any economic way by using wireless — the outer suburbs or even the rural kinds of areas.
C&N: How do you see the business takeup of DSL?
JH: We’re selling a significant amount of product in the United States, and one of our customers caught me completely by surprise. They’re just expanding into one state right now, and a significant percentage of that expansion is actually targetted at businesses, shopping malls and things of that nature. There seems to be a fairly healthy uptake of ADSL service into commercial applications.
C&N: A few years ago, there were some carriers providing voice over DSL services. Do you think more carriers will offer it?
JH: A couple of years ago, it was the competitive carriers who were allowed the high frequency spectrum on the loop. They were putting DSL service on the loop and they were trying to stuff every service imaginable on to that DSL line. Today, we’re seeing voice in small and medium-sized business applications. I think we’re going to see a lot more of that because it’s just such a great way of carrying voice while minimizing the amount of copper and equipment necessary for carrying it. I think voice is an application that didn’t die with the CLECs, and I think we’re going to see a lot more of it in the future.
C&N: Are there any particular technical issues that users should watch for when they’re using voice over DSL or data on DSL?
JH: You need to ensure the DSL equipment supports the necessary quality of service guarantees, which ours does. I think a lot of the older DSL equipment is kind of iffy. You need to make sure you have one of the latest CPEs that does the QoS properly and does the encoding properly. Of course the whole back end network, the ATM switches and the gateways into the voice network have to be done properly. Any competent provider will take care of those things.
C&N: Based on your experience with Nortel and all the other companies you’ve worked for, is there anything in the telecom industry that has take you by surprise?
JH: I was in sort of a strange part of the world. I was in Bell Northern Research, and we were sort of the forward-thinking part of Nortel, and many of the things that we were working on in the early ’90s are now starting to see the light of day. ADSL is a great example. Voice over IP and voice over ATM are other examples. I haven’t really seen any core idea that just hasn’t happened, with the possible exception of ISDN. I think there was some great hopes for that technology. Back in the mid to late 80s (the perception was) the world was going to be ruled by ISDN and that didn’t really happen. In terms of the broadband vision that I saw back in the early 90s, it’s just sort of starting to happen right now. We’re starting to see fibre to the premise. It’s the next big thing in broadband over the next 10 to 15 years.
C&N: Do you think we’ll see a big uptake in fibre to the premise in Canada as well?
JH: Compared to the United States, we’re really wired here. We’ve got a lot of cable modems, we’ve got a lot of DSL. I think we’re going to see increasing use of the existing installed base of broadband services to provide some of the more advanced services that the carriers in the U.S. are planning on doing on their fibre. There’s an interesting technical intersection question here and it’s all around video. At what point are we going to start seeing very high quality video in the speed range of 1 to 1.5 Mbps? Bandwidth is going up with time and the bandwidth needed to carry good quality video is going down with time, and once those two things intersect, if they happen to intersect in the 1 to 1.5 Mbps range, we may find that a lot of the fibre applications that people are talking about don’t really need fibre. That’s my instinct. We’ll see that happen and we’ll see people in Canada take video on demand over DSL over existing copper. I think the golden age of broadband is just about to kick off.