The End Game at AFC - The BPON RFP

In July 2003, three RBOCs turned out an RFP for a BPON Access Network. This was exactly what AFC was waiting for. We had heard rumors of it but we were not sure of the timing. If you recall, we had concluded that we were not going to win the DLC war head on and we were looking for a change in technology. Here it was.  As a reminder of this strategy, take a look at http://wp.me/p3XVhG-3c

It had been a long time since Alcatel had lost a Tier 1 bid. When Alcatel had bought DSC they had taken over the number 1 DLC manufacturer. In 96, Alcatel won the JPC RFP for DSL and became the number 1 DSLAM and in the early days DSL Modem Vendor. From our standpoint at AFC, it had been a very long time since anyone had taken Alcatel on and won. We knew that they considered us as a unsubstantial competitor but we had given them trouble in the past. As a thought on this topic, here is a posting from Light Reading about a USB handicapping of the competitors:  http://www.lightreading.com/ethernet-ip/ubs-alcatel-could-win-pon-rfp/d/d-id/593317  Note the dates on the original posts were lost when Light Reading redid its message boards and that is why they are listed as being done in December 2012.

For those of you that have never been through one of these exercises, responding to an RFP from a Tier 1 carrier is a major undertaking. Doing it for 3 is a huge amount of work. You receive notice that the request is coming and then you get a document and a schedule. There will be at least one call with questions for clarification. There will be a date for RFP submission and an outline of a schedule for lab testing and deployment. The document (and in this case it was more than 1) contains technical requirements and business requirements. We had over 1,000 questions to answer. Inside of AFC, this meant formation of an RFP response team. Once we had concluded what we were going to bid, the team would be assigned RFP questions to provide answers. We had answered many of the questions before and had a database of pre-done answers. Given that this was a new technology, there were plenty of questions that were going to be answered for the first time.

But before we could begin, we had to decide what we were going to bid and what we expected to win. We had to handicap our own chances in the RFP and decide the best way to answer the questions. This was a lot like a business planning process. You build a vision of what you want and build your plan through the RFP response to get it. We started with handicapping our chances with the three carriers. The easiest was with BellSouth. We had not a hope in hell of getting any business from them. I will detail this more when I get to the Marconi deal, but let it just be for now that we knew that. We thought our best chance was with SBC. We knew lots of folks there. We had met the person running the RFP from their team and I had personally spent a lot of time with their technical leader. We had a history with SBC through Project Pronto and we thought they knew us pretty well. Verizon was the wildcard. We had a long history on the GTE side of the business, but had lost an RFP there in 1998. The last DLC RFP was actually a Bell Atlantic one that got canceled when they formed Verizon. We had a site visit from them that had gone poorly to say the least. But the field history of the UMC was very positive. So, from our standpoint - SBC, Verizon, and BellSouth in that order.

Now came the big fight inside AFC. I suspect those who were there still remember me loudly (and I was very loud) stating my viewpoint. This was that we HAD to bid the UMC. The Marketing Team wanted to bid Teliant as it was a bigger platform. My view was very simple. The RFP requested a lab demo in October. Given that it was July, there was no way to have a Teliant BPON ready in October. We were not working on it and it would take longer than that to have a prototype ready. This became the winning argument and we decided to bid the UMC. One of the big discussions was around backplane bandwidth. We were working on an FPGA that would unlock the full capacity of the backplane. There was little faith in it in most of the company. But we had shown an OC-48c (2.5 Gigabit Optical Interface) at Supercomm along with the PON and I was much more positive about it.

Let me end today on that, with a note about why I knew it would work. The reason was simple: Paul Ripy. Paul ran our ASIC team and I had recruited him to AFC in 2000. He and I had muddled our way through putting the original ATM ASIC (CBGA) into production. I remember Sunday evening phone calls where he would tell me: "Sell your stock and get your resume out, this is NEVER going to work." Yet between the two of us we found a way through. I am not sure that the rest of AFC Management knew how close a thing it was to the original ATM switch ASIC not working. Given that Paul had willed CBGA to work and I knew what he had done with the OC-48c, I was confident that we could get 2.5 Gb/s out of the UMC. This is something that leaders need to understand. That some people like Paul are simply irreplaceable. His genius and persistence made it happen. Without him, we might have failed. He has passed on now, but I will never forget my friend.

Well, now that we know what we are bidding in this RFP - we have to make our bid. That is next and really we will discuss the business side of the RFP response tomorrow. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Remember the Sales Training link below. Also, let me know if you want in on the Brian Tracy Leadership call!

 

Jim Sackman
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