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Inside the numbers

October 23, 2007

Posted by Stephen Hardy

If you subscribe to the excellent newsletter from or are a regular visitor to Telephony's website, you're probably aware of the controversy surrounding the most recent North American FTTH subscriber numbers the North American FTTH Council released early this month at its conference in Orlando.

For those new to the story, Principal Analyst Teresa Mastrangelo broke with the usual market research rules of decorum by calling the 21.4 million FTTH subscriber number derived by RVA LLC "too aggressive" and suggesting that RVA and/or its council client "continue to be evasive as to the actual data that makes up these numbers." (The statements were contained in's October 18 newsletter, which you can find here.)

As I point out in my editorial for the upcoming November issue of Lightwave, the implication that something slippery is going on is incendiary because of RVA's relationship with the North American arm of the FTTH Council, which uses the company as its primary source of market data. The council has repeatedly released studies conducted by RVA as if they were official FTTH Council data; as you'll notice, Mastrangelo attributed to the council a figure that she printed in her newsletter that I would guess RVA created.

Clearly the potential controversy surrounding these market figures doesn't do the FTTH Council any good, since it implies that the council is promoting data that over-hypes the FTTH market. Certainly the last thing the optical communications space needs is another round of market hyperbole -- and the council doesn't need to have its credibility questioned, particularly as it tries to lobby Congress for more fiber-friendly policies.

Mastrangelo caps her commentary by challenging the council and RVA to "show me the data" that backs up the 2.14 million number. And, lo and behold, Mike Render, the "R" in "RVA," has stepped up to the task. In a letter to Telephony (see it here), Render outlines how he derived his figures and why his numbers might not match those collected by Mastrangelo and others.

I applaud Render for speaking up -- not only was his credibility called into question, but so was that of his client, the FTTH Council. One can debate Render's assumptions, but the spotlight is now squarely on him and off the council.

The FTTH Council is lucky Render stepped up. This episode points to an important aspect of using market research to advance your aims: Regardless of where research numbers come from, once data appears in public next to your name, those numbers are yours. Know where those numbers came from and how they were derived, and be prepared to discuss these points.

Market research is opinion -- and everyone has a different opinion.

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The Lightwave editorial staff uses The Lightwave Blog to share their thoughts on optical communications and whatever else might be the current topic of conversation from cubicle to cubicle. Feel free to add your own opinions.

Stephen Hardy is editorial director and associate publisher of Lightwave, which makes him responsible for the editorial aspects of the Lightwave franchise. A technology journalist since 1982, he once had his job duties described as "gets paid to tick off advertisers ".

Meghan Fuller is senior editor of Lightwave. She has degrees from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, and the University of Delaware and is a card-carrying member of Red Sox Nation.