RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Are the days of ubiquitous fiber network access at hand?

Could be.

Making fiber access safer, cheaper, available at slower speeds, and not requiring customers to add a lot of new equipment are among the lofty goals outlined by BellSouth on Monday at SuperComm in Atlanta.

“Customers can choose one provider, with less complexity and at lower costs,” Mark Kaish, vice president of data sales product management, tells Local Tech Wire by phone from SuperComm. “You also can mix and match service and equipment. We are access agnostic. You can use DSL, frame relay, private line, then you can use metro Ethernet to inter-network those sites.”

BellSouth, which recently became the first regional Bell operating company to convert its network to be Internet Protocol based through so-called multi-protocol label switching, will work with Cisco and Lucent to put in place what it describes as the next-generation SONET fiber infrastructure. These products enable multi-service provisioning, an area consulting firm IDC has forecast for growth despite the economic downturn.

“You can have 20 DSL locations, five frame relay connections, two metro Ethernet and all can be inter-networked,” Kaish says. “These locations can be linked intra-LATA or inter-LATA without changing equipment. That’s one of the beauties of this offering. We’re not asking people to change anything.”

Metro Ethernet services also will be available at much different increments in speed — and price. Instead of offering just 10 meg, 100 met or 1 gig speed, BellSouth can offer 20 meg, 50 meg, 250 meg and 500 meg choices, according to Kaish.

Across the southeast

Because BellSouth’s new services are “information services”, not strictly voice, the regional Bell operating company can connect customers across so-called LATA boundaries without having to get another carrier involved. That means nine states of connectivity.

Connecting to fiber networks has been an expensive proposition — from the equipment required to the bandwidth delivered over fiber rings and networks. But Kaish says the Cisco and Lucent hardware allows multi-service provisioning — in other words, a greater choice of products and speeds and ability to support different pieces of equipment.

Giving BellSouth further flexibility is its IP backbone, which means the ability to offer Voice Over Internet Protocol and other multimedia services plus traditional IP data.

“We should be announcing shortly our VoIP initiative,” Kaish says. “Today we actually already have people using VoIP if they have Cisco AVVID hardware for IP. You certainly can use it for point-to-point voice.”

According to Kaish, BellSouth’s move means that future fiber rings will be constructed with the Lucent and Cisco equipment. BellSouth’s thousands of existing rings will be upgraded to support MSPP based on customer demand, he adds.

Among the advantages for BellSouth, he explains, is that the new hardware requires less space, less power and is “much more functional,” he adds.

Making fiber backbones and rings more flexible is obviously a part of BellSouth’s long-term strategy to get more people and businesses to use its network for high-speed services.

Don’t forget – BellSouth, SBC and Verizon announced last week a joint set of standards for fiber network hardware. Expecting further guidance from the FCC on high-speed connectivity to individual homes and businesses, the telcos are preparing to take the information highway to the desktop.

BellSouth: www.bellsouth.com

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.