The worldwide web of fiber

Oct. 1, 1997

The worldwide web of fiber

Stephen M. Hardy

Editor in Chief

[email protected]

Several recent events have confirmed the central role that fiber optics will play in meeting the Internet`s seemingly insatiable appetite for bandwidth--as well as which companies will correctly position themselves to feed that hunger.

The first--and certainly most amusing--of these is the posturing between Sprint and mci over Internet backbone speed. As you`ll read on page 13 of this issue, Sprint recently announced its intention to provide what it touts as "the world`s first OC-12 packet-over-Sonet Internet network." This use of advanced fiber-optic technology will "dramatically boost the speed and bandwidth on its Internet backbone."

The key to this increase in capability is the use of Cisco Systems` Gigabit Switch Router, which will not only enhance speed and bandwidth but also provide such potentially important service differentiation as increased fault tolerance and eventual quality-of-service and multicasting capabilities. And how did a company known for its wide area network products get its foot into the door of a much larger network structure? By buying a chip manufacturer that could create a Sonet interface--for Cisco realized that to play in the larger Internet infrastructure arena, the ability to work with fiber was essential (see Lightwave, August 1997, page 1).

The hissing between Sprint and its telecommunications competitor underscored just how important full exploitation of fiber for the Internet is perceived to be. Sprint added a dollop of frosting to its new cake by saying, "Although past speeds on other [Internet service provider] backbones may have reached OC-12 levels, they were constricted to OC-3 speeds at network interfaces." Unlike these "other" backbones, Sprint says, its new capabilities will provide "seamless upgrade capabilities" from OC-3 to OC-12.

Them was fighting words to mci. In a statement released the same day as Sprint`s announcement, an mci spokesman "welcomed" his competitor to the world of OC-12--after all, said the spokesman, mci upgraded its Internet backbone to OC-12 back in 1996. In fact, the company is now upgrading its backbone with dual OC-12 links, a process that should be completed this month.

Oh, and mci also is using packet over Sonet---with an atm layer thrown in to boot. So there.

Meanwhile, another company is quietly assembling fiber capacity to make its own play for Internet business. WorldCom, which previously announced its intentions to complement its already significant fiber-based infrastructure in the United States by building a similar network in Europe, is nearing completion of the Gemini transatlantic cable with its partner, Cable & Wireless (see the story on page 1 of this issue). With this link between its two continental fiber structures in place, the company will be well positioned to take full advantage of its pair of recent acquisitions--the networking divisions of both CompuServe and America Online. And since the Gemini cable shares a landing site with the Fiber-optic Link Around the Globe project, the Middle East and Asia will be within easy Internet reach--again, all via fiber.

Such Internet-driven expansion of fiber capacity promises to continue. According to a recent survey on Internet infrastructure conducted by Info World, 71% of the respondents said that part of their networks were based on fiber optics. Of these, 82% planned to upgrade their networks over the next 18 months. Each of these companies, said the survey, will require an average of 3055 mi of fiber-optic cable to complete these enhancements.

Sounds like the Internet infrastructure`s search engine will be calling up fiber for some time to come.

This month, Lightwave welcomes a new voice to the publication. Grace F. Murphy joins us as assistant editor, with a focus on news. Grace comes to us with more than five years of journalism experience, including her most recent job as a beat reporter for the Nashua Telegraph. You`ll find Grace`s byline on a wide variety of stories in the coming months, and you can expect to see her at trade shows and other media events.

You can also expect I`ll look a little less harried `round the office. q

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