Nordic operators create international multiservice ATM fiber network
A group of telecommunications operators serving Norway, Denmark and Sweden has launched Nordicom Services, believed to be the world`s first commercially available international Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) fiber-based network service. The group includes Telenor, the Norwegian state telecommunications operator; TeleDanmark, the Danish state telecommunications operator; and Telenordia -- an alliance of Telenor, TeleDanmark and British Telecom that is going after the Swedish market.
Coverage is planned for approximately 25 cities in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland by the end of this year (see figure). Although the number of actual fiber-miles being deployed in this ATM service is not available from Nordicom, the number is significant because Nordicom is the first to operate a commercial ATM-fiber service covering multiple countries.
Essentially, Nordicom is an agreement among the operating partners to offer services. Because the organization will not lay fiber, access in each country is the responsibility of the partner in that country; for example, in Norway, Telenor is using its own fiber. When more fiber is needed, Telenor will obtain it by laying more fiber itself, or when the time comes for liberalization, it could purchase access from other providers.
In Denmark and Norway, Nordicom partners are state-owned telephone companies, so they are using their own fiber access. However, fiber access has been a competitive business in Sweden since 1993, when Telia, the state operator, was no longer in charge of regulation.
However, because there are many fiber players in Sweden, it is difficult to get reliable figures on how much fiber access is currently available. Nevertheless, Mikael Sandberg, a senior consultant with Analysys in Cambridge, UK, estimates that 40,000 km of fiber-optic cable are in the trunk of the telecommunications network in Sweden.
Sandberg says 75% of that figure belongs to Telia and the balance comes from other infrastructure players such as Swedish Rail Track, MFS Communications, Stokab (owned by the Stockholm City Council) and Tele2. As the Swedish Nordicom partner, Telenordia is free to purchase access from any of these providers.
The three Nordicom operators have selected Newbridge Networks Corp. in Newport, Wales, as their ATM platform provider. Initial Nordicom services, which run over redundant high-speed, fiber-optic ATM links, include LAN interconnect, frame relay, ATM, high-speed Internet access and managed bandwidth. These services are managed end-to-end, seamlessly across international borders.
Nils Petter Brokstad, Telenor`s Nordicom project manager, explains the Newbridge choice. "With a single multiservice platform deployed internationally, we can provide a seamless quality of service across the network, migrate customers between services and provide mixed services to meet different customer applications. Nordicom is an economical, flexible and manageable `services factory.` "
Many private companies are already using ATM to operate their private networks between countries, and many telecommunication operators are using ATM either within their own countries or on an experimental basis between countries.
This service has been slow in coming because the ATM scene in Europe is still heavily dominated by the national European operators that will not lose their monopoly status until 1998. This condition makes for a patchwork of ATM systems and platforms across Europe.
Even within the same country, interconnecting ATM services running on different platforms has proved a challenge. In the case of Nordicom, however, all the players decided to unite on a single platform.
Peer management responsibility
According to Mike Wilkinson, Newbridge`s ATM networks product marketing manager for Europe, "Each of the partners can, with its own network and with a firewalled partition, go through its partners` networks to any point and do exactly what it would want to do from its own perspective--basically have a `peer management` responsibility. We call that capability Multinetwork Service Manager, which is part of the MainStreet Management Executive.
"Operators can do service management end-to-end for each customer [regardless] of the ownership of the networking technology," Wilkinson explains. He also notes that with the MainStreet solution, the group could get up and running quickly, getting a jump on any potential competition.
The network is scalable for future requirements. Initial ATM services are being offered at 34 Mbits/sec over a Plesiochro-nous Digital Hierarchy infrastructure. To meet customer demand, TeleDanmark is already moving to 155-Mbit/sec links over a Synchronous Digital Hierarchy infrastructure using the STM-1 transmission standard--equivalent to the 155-Mbit/sec OC-3 protocol. Telenor may follow suit, pending decisions by several key potential customers.
Access to Finland
The Nordicom group is also providing 2-Mbit/sec access to Finland. However, Brokstad indicates that this is expected to be upgraded upon customer demand. Such a connection is more important between Finland and Sweden than it is between Finland and Norway because there is more commerce between Finland and Sweden.
The regulatory landscape has determined which fiber-access providers the partners have chosen, notes Brokstad. In the past few years, Telenor has replaced many of its radio links with fiber, particularly on the coast, over mountains and in metropolitan areas. Because it still has a monopoly on telecommunications, Telenor plans to use its own fiber-access lines, a solution that Brokstad considers expensive even though it is in line with normal national rates. However, in cities such as Oslo, where the electric company is among the access aspirants laying down fiber, Nordicom could potentially use access from other providers when the regulatory situation changes at the end of this year.
In Denmark, Nordicom is currently buying access from TeleDanmark, which has been active in linking its cities with fiber. Deregulation opens up the field to other fiber players, such as the railways.
Sweden has been a competitive market for some time, so fiber optics players and providers abound. While Telenordia can buy 34-Mbit/sec fiber access from Telia, it has also been buying 155-Mbit/sec fiber access from many sources, including city subways, electric companies and MFS Communications.
Overall, deployment of Nordicom services is most advanced in Denmark, where there are currently 10 cities with ATM nodes. TeleDanmark was the first to deploy the national part of the network, beginning last fall. It was also standardized on the Newbridge solution prior to the inception of Nordicom, and Brokstad notes that the Danish telephone company`s satisfaction with Newbridge was a key in clinching the deal for the group.
Norway is somewhat a special situation. Before joining the group, Telenor was running three ATM networks on three different platforms: a research network, an intercity network and an experimental network launched under a Memorandum of Understanding of various member states of the European Union.
"But when we began talking with the other Nordicom partners, the need for a single platform became clear," says Brokstad. "We did a thorough evaluation and decided that Newbridge was the best solution." Initially, this meant changing nodes and related equipment in four cities, with further rollout expected on demand.
In Sweden, the group has launched initial services in Stockholm, with two other cities targeted for roll-out this summer.
Demand is potentially high throughout Scandinavia, driven in part by oil drilling in the North Sea, which can be data intensive, especially with the large graphics files generated by geophysical information (seismic data) systems. Increasing bandwidth needs are also being driven by higher-education research networks and the expansion of a number of high-speed metropolitan access networks in several Scandinavian cities serving a broad section of business. q
Adele Hars writes from Paris.