Bell Canada to test system for interconnecting multiple WANs

Bell Canada to test system for interconnecting multiple WANs

By ROBERT PEASE

Bell Canada (Montreal) is evaluating a new family of products designed to seamlessly connect enterprises to metropolitan and backbone networks supporting Internet access and local area network (LAN) extension. The tests are part of an ongoing strategy to take advantage of the broadband capability of Internet protocol (IP) infrastructure for voice, data, or video applications.

Bell Canada`s vice president of networks and technology, Bao Le, says the prototype equipment is a perfect fit for Bell`s evolving network. "We have a very aggressive plan for fiber in our network," says Le. "We`ll use optical technology extensively to manage the metropolitan networks in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, London, and Quebec City."

The new equipment, introduced by Nortel Networks (Brampton, ON, Canada) as the interWAN suite of systems at Networld+Interop last October, is designed to allow business customers to transmit multimedia data and Internet traffic directly from desktop to desktop over backbone networks via direct connections.

The interWAN equipment is currently being tested in the Toronto metropolitan area, where Bell Canada has an existing network. The Toronto area, says Le, has seen tremendous growth over the last three years, and with the network continuously building out, it offered a logical test-bed for the new equipment. "We still hope to build new rings and fiber out to new development areas [in Toronto] to position some of our enterprise areas to use these new capabilities," says Le.

The interWAN system is designed to provide a transparent LAN service, connecting different buildings and LANs within the customer`s environment, giving the appearance of one physical location when, in reality, they may be many miles apart.

"We`re trying to put the same simplicities you see in a LAN environment into a WAN [wide area network] space," says Mike Langlois, vice president of local transport networks at Nortel`s optical networks division. "We`re providing a data interface that`s directly on the transport system, using Ethernet because of its universal availability and dominance in LAN systems."

An added feature that may make interWAN an attractive package for network providers is the financial benefits it offers, including making improvements without displacing existing infrastructure. "Besides operability with its existing network, Bell Canada would experience both capital and operational savings," says Nortel`s Langlois. "By connecting directly to the transport through a single interface, you eliminate the need for expensive port cards in the routers. Sharing bandwidth inside the interWAN ring would create a second round of savings. On the operational side, only one stream of data needs to be monitored, instead of having to monitor capacity loads on multiple single lengths."

Bell Canada is evaluating the capabilities of the equipment through performance tests on a segment of the network that currently has no live customer traffic. According to Le, Bell Canada is providing performance information to Nortel that will enable the telecommunications equipment manufacturer to make upgrades and modifications to the prototype equipment along the way. Once tests are completed, probably in a few more months, deployment into the live network will be addressed.

Future upgrades

Meanwhile, Bell Canada is growing its network by investigating the latest in telecommunications technologies to improve and futureproof its long-haul infrastructure. Le says the company is currently looking at dense wavelength-division multiplexing technologies, including upgrades as high as OC-192 (10 Gbits/sec). But that, he says, isn`t going to provide the capability to manage a specific customer requirement.

"We also need the optical add/drop multiplexing and optical crossconnect capabilities, and we`re doing a number of assessments with a number of vendors," says Le.

For now, though, Le believes Nortel`s product and development plan is a good match for some of Bell Canada`s requirements, although he intends to remain flexible and work with whichever vendors can best meet Bell Canada`s technological needs. "Nortel is one vendor we`d like to work with, but not necessarily the only one and not necessarily over the long term," he explains.

Testing systems like the interWAN suite in the early stages of their development offers several advantages to Bell Canada. Not only do the interWAN tests allow Bell Canada to collaborate with Nortel in defining system and network requirements, it also enables the carrier to ensure the product has the network-management capabilities Bell Canada will need to take advantage of the technology.

"The key is not whether the technology works," says Le. "It usually does. But the question is how can we efficiently manage it? That`s where Bell Canada`s priority is. We want to be able to take advantage of the technology to serve multiple customers on the same wavelength and provide bandwidth on demand and other such services."

If the Toronto trial is successful, Bell Canada would directly connect its Ethernet switches to the transport network without using an Asynchronous Transfer Mode layer.

"I think Nortel has a number of new initiatives for the WAN areas, but the one we`re interested in using is a protocol-independent optical type of capability," says Le. "They don`t have all of those yet, but right now, they can provide capability to manage a number of WANs linking back to a central management facility."

That`s an alternative that improves upon Bell Canada`s existing infrastructure, and one that Bell Canada intends to seriously explore for use in its rapidly expanding fiber-optic network. q

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