China shifting from GEPON towards GPON

Lynn Hutcheson/Ovum
09 Jul 2009

After years of faithfully deploying GEPON technology, China Telecom is making a move towards higher-capacity GPON. On 8 June 2009, Alcatel-Lucent announced it has signed an agreement with China Telecom to deploy its GPON products. The contracts with China Telecom were secured with Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell.

China Telecom to conduct GPON trials

In July 2007 at the Asia-Pacific FTTH council meeting in Beijing, Shen Chengbin from China Telecom said that "GPON is about 18-24 months behind GEPON and speeding up; GPON development is very important." At that time, GPON equipment was about 30% more expensive than GEPON. Wei Leping, CTO of China Telecom, reiterated in his presentation that China Telecom had a strong desire to deploy GPON technology but the cost was too high. Leping said that China Telecom would continue to deploy GEPON until GPON was at cost parity with GEPON. Here we are, 23 months on from that meeting, and now China Telecom is looking to conduct field trials with Alcatel-Lucent's (ALU) GPON equipment.

The comfort level of Chinese operators with GEPON was growing and there had been a lot of speculation that they may never deploy GPON and that when they needed to upgrade to higher capacity they would go with 10GEPON. According to Alcatel-Lucent's press release, China Telecom will be conducting 12 field trials and five of those trials will be conducted with ALU's 7342 Intelligent Services Access Manager Fiber-to-the-User (ISAM FTTU) GPON platform.

While it is too early to say what impact these trials will have or how far the Chinese carriers will go beyond the field trials, it is fair to say that they are impressed with what they have seen. In December 2008, ALU's GPON product was awarded the People's P&T Publishing Company's 'Jury Recommended Solution', which is a selection made by a group of chief engineers from China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile.

An interesting take on this comes from the fact that the preferred vendors for FTTP equipment for China Telecom and China Unicom have been ZTE, FiberHome and Huawei. Now they are reaching out to a non-traditional Chinese vendor. We do know that Huawei has been aggressively pushing GPON with China Telecom in the last year. Additionally, Huawei has made numerous announcements in recent months with service providers in Europe and Eastern Europe for deploying its GPON products, but so far no announcements in China.

GPON advocates should not count their chickens just yet

It is clear that the Chinese service providers are still debating the merits of GPON over GEPON, with each technology having its internal advocates. In spite of the fact that two years ago China Telecom's official position indicated a preference for GPON, it had appeared that China Telecom's support for the higher-capacity technology was waning. Obviously that is not the case, as five field trials shows more than passing interest.

Asia-Pacific has traditionally been GEPON centric, with approximately 13 million subscribers on GEPON equipment. In the last six to twelve months there has been movement towards GPON, with most operators wanting to provide a minimum of 100Mbps to each customer. It is difficult to do that with GEPON.

North America, Europe and Eastern Europe are largely going GPON. South Korea\'s Hanaro Telecom announced about a year ago that it is moving to GPON.

Singapore, with its Intelligent Nation 2015, is GPON, as are Taiwan and Hong Kong. With China now taking a hard look at GPON, we may see a significant shift. However, GPON advocates should not start counting their chickens just yet as China Telecom has a reputation for very thorough evaluation before making major decisions like this. Who knows, it may find that GPON does not meet its requirements.

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