51° completes London metro fiber-optic rings


The metro market has attracted many vendors, service providers, and investors, all hoping to cash in on the concentration of sophisticated, high-demand end users. But the metro space has proven to be much more difficult to crack than originally anticipated, resulting in the bankruptcies of many would-be players. So is the metro market an opportunity or illusion? One carrier is determined to find out.

In an 11th-hour rush into the European metro market, 51° (Fifty-one Degrees) has announced the completion of four key sites to manage its London network. As a new telecommunications infrastructure business in London set up recently by London Electricity Group plc (LE Group), 51° has developed points of presence (PoPs) at Finsbury Market in the heart of the city, West Ham, Marylebone, and Camberwell, to provide operational control across its network.

The new sites are housed in existing LE Group properties and therefore benefit from secure, managed locations. Following the installation of fiber-optic infrastructure equipment, these sites now monitor and power the 85 route-km of optical backbone that 51° has developed over an 18-month period.

The installed technology includes SDH add/drop multiplex equipment, fully resilient power and climate control units, fiber trays, access control and closed-circuit TV, remote SCADA management of building services as well as optical distribution frames. In addition, space within each of these PoPs has been made available for potential customers to collocate their own telecom equipment. These PoPs are supported by approximately 90 access points around the 51° backbone network to facilitate additional network infrastructure development and connection to customers.

The 85-km backbone network consists of a loop of about 60 km that stretches from Docklands in the east to Hyde Park in the west and from Brixton in the south to Euston in the north. This loop has an additional 25 km of spurs reaching into some of London's busiest districts. The telecom network has the ability to reach from Willesden in the northwest to Barking in the east and, with 10 major river crossings, could reach from Wimbledon in the southwest and across to Dartford in the southeast. Further network construction in 2002 will focus on the development of access infrastructure beyond the existing backbone to provide bespoke customer services.

"We have spent the last 18 months developing our backbone network and are delighted with progress to date," says Craig Lucas, engineering and operations director at 51°, commenting on the completion of the four new sites. "We can now be proud of a state-of-the-art fiber-optic network that reaches across London and into its busiest areas. We also offer access to an extensive property portfolio and unrivaled proximity to the local loop, thanks to our parent company's existing network infrastructure."

Cisco Systems and 51° have partnered to deliver last-mile connectivity with Gigabit Ethernet services in the British capital. That means companies within the M25 ring are now being offered broadband access at speeds ranging from 10 to 100 Mbits/sec into a MAN core network.

The 51° backbone network became fully operational in July, and a range of telecom-related services will be offered to both fixed and wireless telecommunications companies. Additionally, systems integrators and other organizations with similar London requirements will benefit from access to the local loop 51° can provide, thanks to the 30,000 km of existing infrastructure that supports LE Group's electricity networks across the capital.

"There has been a lot of excitement around the metro market," observes Nick Maynard, senior analyst for the telecom strategies research practice at the Yankee Group. "But if carriers are going to succeed, they will need to be cautious and choose their infrastructure deployment building-by-building." A recent Yankee Group report draws on cost-of-services-sold and return-on-investment models to underscore its thesis that successful metro competitors must focus on controlling capital expenditures, offering a range of services, and deeply penetrating each target building.

Keith Humphreys, an analyst at Eurolan Research, indicates there are strong growth opportunities in the MAN market and that, although most carriers sell direct, there are openings for resellers to sell equipment alongside.

"We have even seen carriers using sewage systems for their networks," he says. "With new communication carriers arriving on the scene at regular intervals, the channel has a role to play in being aware of what is available to its customers."

For the success of this project, it is most important that LE Group share its investment's vision of how to develop high-capacity SDH-based city networks to improve their services to UK-based global accounts. "My major doubt about this venture," summarizes Rob Pritchard, Benchmark-IT analyst, "is the ability of 51° to really cooperate closely with two partners, Cisco and Alcatel, that have limited MAN deployment success in London. Finally, the key issue is how will these network fiber-optic rings really help to give better end-to-end network access to business users with high-speed broadband links into the long-haul world."

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