Wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) offers the potential to transport very high bit rates in access systems serving residential and small business customers. We describe the options for WDM access systems, and evaluate them on the basis of an international standard that is emerging for passive optical networks (PON's) that use wavelength-independent power splitting. The greatest impediment to meeting the high-bandwidth potential of WDM for downstream (i.e., from the central office to the home) transmission is the need for a moderately priced multiple-wavelength light source. Implementing WDM in the upstream (home to central office) direction presents greater hurdles than in the downstream. The technical aspects of overcoming these hurdles can all be met. The real challenge will be in finding technical solutions that can meet the very stringent cost requirements of access systems. Systems that use WDM in the downstream direction only, while using wavelength-independent power-combining in a PON configuration for upstream, may prove economical before full WDM systems. WDM may also prove valuable if upgrades are needed in the future for power-splitting PON's.
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