Emergia first to complete Latin American undersea ring

NETWORKS

By KATHLEEN RICHARDS

Telefónica S.A. subsidiary Emergia Holding N.V. recently became the first private cable operator to complete a subsea fiber ring around most of South and Central America. The ring connects Latin America with major cities in the United States. The 4-fiber-pair ring formerly known as SAm-1 is based on SDH 10-Gbit/sec technology and provides a total initial capacity of 40 Gbits/sec, with expansion potential to 1.92 Tbits/sec.

The network will serve as the backbone for Telefónica's operations in several countries-the United States, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Brazil, and Argentina on the eastern half of the ring, and Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Guatemala on the western half. It also will serve as the backbone for the company's Internet service provider, Terra, and enable Telefónica to offer wholesale capacity to other carriers through holding company Emergia (Montevideo, Uruguay). Emergia is emphasizing its city-to-city connectivity.

The 23,000-km undersea cable plant uses Tycom's High Performance Optical Equipment (HPOE) terminals and about 400 optical amplifiers based on 980-nm pump lasers (Tycom's Terawave 900-nm repeaters) every 80 to 100 km on average. The network has two terrestrial crossings, a 2,300-km run in the Andes between Chile and Argentina and a shorter link across Guatemala. Nortel Networks provides the SDH-based equipment and WDM transport across the terrestrial links. The cable is laid out in a festoon configuration with the only branching units (two fiber pairs) in Rio de Janerio and Salvadore in Brazil. The cable system is capable of multiplexing up to 48 wavelengths at 10 Gbits/sec per fiber pair for a total of 1.92 Tbits/sec when it is operating at total capacity.

The network has about 12 cable systems where the network adds and drops traffic. The network will be able to add or drop 40 Gbits/sec at every node, especially at cable stations such as the one in Boca Raton, FL. The backhaul networks are based on 10-Gbit/sec DWDM technology.

"Besides the SDH, we have access to the optical layer through an optical coupler or combiner at every single node at any cable station, which will allow us to implement IP directly over the optical layer," says Eduardo Saravia, director of products and services at Emergia (Miami). This capability could be active before the end of the year, depending on customer requests.

"We have learned a lot in the decades of running systems in Latin America at the Telefónica group," Saravia explains. "The traffic pattern, especially in the case of IP, is very unbalanced between the Pacific and the Atlantic; it's not symmetrical. There is a lot of traffic going from Argentina, Brazil, to the U.S. and then much less from the Pacific side to the U.S., between Santiago, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and so on.

"If Buenos Aires is the pivoting point, the path in the Pacific to Boca Raton is pretty much the same length as it is in the Atlantic fiberwise," explains Saravia. "We plan to send most of the traffic from Buenos Aires through the Pacific, and that way we balance 50-50 with the traffic going from Brazil to the U.S."

Such balance is a critical issue in Emergia's network planning, particularly its use of multiplexing equipment. The Boca Raton node will have 20 Gbits/sec from the east side and another 20 Gbits/sec from the west to efficiently utilize the capacity of the add/drop multiplexer.

Undersea activity in Latin America heated up in 1999 as growing Internet traffic and liberalization in key telecommunications markets, especially Argentina and Brazil, fueled competition and set several submarine operators in motion.

Emergia's major competitor in the region to date is Global Crossing, which is also developing a 4-fiber-pair undersea cable ring around Latin America with connection to the United States that will be initially capable of 40-Gbit/sec transmission at 10 Gbits/sec per fiber. The city-to-city connectivity is provided through a partnership with IMPSAT Fiber Networks (Argentina), an operator building terrestrial networks throughout South America. The company's South America Crossing (SAC) network is scheduled to be completed this month when the Santiago-to-Panama phase is finished. The network is expected to be more than 16,000 km. Global Crossing will also operate a 2-fiber-pair system, the Pan American Crossing (PAC), to link the United States, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.

Other operators close to completing an undersea ring include 360networks, which acquired GlobeNet Communications Group Ltd., the developer of the Atlantica-1.

In addition to the undersea competition on the horizon, the Emergia network may be handicapped because of Telefónica's dominant position in the Latin American market, says Kurt Ruderman, editor of market researcher KMI's Fiberoptics Marketing Intelligence. "If I were going to buy capacity, I would be a little nervous about buying from my direct competitor," he says, adding, "But then if you want to get to Sao Paulo, or you want to get to Santiago, Chile, right now, they have the most complete network in Latin America. They're up and running."

According to Saravia, things have changed in the market. "Our main competitor, Global Crossing, is engaged in retail services, and the same thing is happening in Europe and Japan. It turns into an advantage when you drop traffic in a given city and can connect to local networks based on our relationship with Telefónica and its companies as well as with other providers.

"Two things will happen if we copy the North Atlantic model," says Saravia. "The prices for long-distance service will dramatically drop, and we are seeing that. The other situation is, as long as the systems are in place, they are going to be used; the infrastructure, the technology is driving the market. Not at the speed that we would like to see it as providers, but it's going to happen-we'll fill the pipes. There will be enough demand based on the bandwidth that we offer for video and direct TV that now is mostly offered via satellite to these countries."

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