Carriers carrier to expand fiber network

Carrier`s carrier to expand fiber network

PAUL PALUMBO

Interexchange carrier IXC Communications, based in Austin, TX, has a $600 million, two-year expansion plan underway that will add 6800 miles of fiber-optic cable to its coast-to-coast backbone network by the end of 1997.

The build is expected to result in more than 9000 route miles of fiber-optic-cabled networks. In 1978, most of IXC`s network was analog microwave; it was upgraded to digital microwave in the mid-1980s. The company is laying additional fiber in its rebuild plan because it is convinced that fiber-optic networks are cost-competitive with copper-based networks when electronics, equipment and construction costs are considered.

The company`s Carrier Communications Group provides wholesale DS-3 services at rates of 44.736 megabits per second and DS-1 services at 1.544 Mbits/sec to other long-distance carriers, telephone companies, corporate clients, Internet access providers and the federal government.

According to Tony Robertson, a telecommunications analyst with Robertson Stephens & Co. in San Francisco, the market for interexchange carrier services has been, and will likely remain, robust because "major carriers have concentrated more on establishing coast-to-coast retail operations than on building a comprehensive national fiber-optic backbone that reaches into every market."

Strategies developed by companies such as Wiltel in Houston and IXC have focused on establishing market position as a "carrier`s carrier" and leasing parts of their fiber-optic backbone networks on an ongoing basis.

Even though OC-192, at rates of 10 gigabits per second, is emerging (see Lightwave, December 1995, page 1), Ken Hinther, senior vice president and chief operating officer at IXC says the company is evaluating the protocol and "if IXC is comfortable with the next level of [synchronous optical network, or] Sonet, it plans to deploy it immediately."

In 1993, IXC deployed OC-48 at rates of 2.5 Gbits/sec and two years later, installed optical amplifiers with wavelength-division multiplexing, or WDM, capabilities. The company is expanding its network capacity because it believes that the continued rapid growth in interexchange digital communications will be fueled by the recent interest in the Internet and multimedia network applications. To position the company to meet that potential increase in demand, the network is being equipped with the latest optical line amplifiers and narrowband wavelength-division multiplexers to support high-density OC-192 systems in the future.

Currently, IXC is designing the network to support 10 OC-192 systems on a single fiber pair, resulting in a total fiber pair capacity of almost 100 Gbits/sec. According to the company, economically supporting such large-transmission capacities requires deployment of recently developed non-zero dispersion-shifted fiber.

Researchers at AT&T and Corning have designed this fiber specifically for high-capacity long-haul transmission systems; it offers significant advances in overcoming signal-transmission loss over older singlemode fiber and traditional dispersion-shifted fiber. IXC spent considerable time evaluating both companies` products and eventually selected Corning`s.

According to Hinther, IXC is "approximately six months away from lighting up the first fiber and is still in the process of selecting equipment vendors." The list includes Northern Telecom, Alcatel, AT&T and Ciena for Sonet and optical line amplifier equipment. IXC is expected to make its vendor selections within the next 60 days.

The company`s commitment to next-generation fiber, coupled with OC-192 and WDM, is expected to increase network capacity to a point where it can carry 1.3 million conversations on one fiber-optic pair.

Phase one expansion

Phase one of IXC`s build has begun in Dallas and will run along portions of the company`s newly acquired fiber routes to Los Angeles. These routes were selected because they diverge from existing carrier routes. IXC is simultaneously building from Dallas to Chicago, and then east to Detroit and New York. Building will continue from New England down through Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta, and on to southern Florida. From Atlanta, the build will go back to Dallas, looping into a "ring" topology. Wherever required, the company will continue to lease fiber from other carriers to provide a ring topology.

If the build remains on schedule, phase one should be completed by the end of 1996 and phase two by the end of 1997.

According to John A. Colucci, vice president for sales and marketing, the company`s strategy is to diverge from existing fiber routes and to provide true route diversity to existing carrier networks. The company will also expand its more than 100 point-of-presence sites, where terminal equipment and rack space will be set up to integrate users with fiber. These sites are essentially switch and access points to the fiber backbone.

Colucci says that most companies route fiber through El Paso and into the valley leading into Arizona and New Mexico. IXC Communications is going to detour around that mountain pass. Colucci says, "If there is a [network stoppage because of a cut cable] in those standard routes that everybody else is in, then IXC would be in a good strategic position for that period."

IXC`s service set is tailored to providing backbone transport. The company is well-established in Texas, where the network started, and has extensive coverage in its "mutual signal network" located in Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland and the Ohio Valley. q

Paul Palumbo writes from Seaside, CA.

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