Metro networks mesh from all angles

Metro networks mesh from all angles

Stephen M. Hardy

Editor in Chief

stephenh@pennwell.com

By now you`re probably aware that the metropolitan area has been declared the next great target of opportunity for fiber-optic technology. Thus, both incumbent and emerging local carriers can expect to hear all they`ll want and more about the relative merits of dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) versus high-speed Synchronous Optical Network (SONET) rings, as well as the pot of gold at the end of the all-optical rainbow. Only time will tell whether local carriers share the same view of the future as the fiber-optic community. But you can be sure that they`ll get plenty of opportunity to come around.

However, vendors are not the only party interested in how local carriers react to fiber optics. As I discovered while researching an article for the inaugural issue of our new Fiber Exchange supplement, what happens in the metro space has ramifications for other market niches as well. For example, the folks at Qwest Communications International are extremely interested in the question of metropolitan DWDM--and not because the company plans to extend its fiber network into your neighborhood (at least not tomorrow). According to George Vinall, a consultant who numbers the long-distance carrier among his client roster, Qwest is faced with a problem that has both emerging and incumbent long-haul providers scratching their head. Linking major markets with big fat DWDM pipes operating at channel speeds ranging from OC-48 to OC-192 is a fine idea--but what do you do with those pipes when they reach their destination?

The capacity equation has turned upside down, says Vinall. Five years ago, there was plenty of local infrastructure and few networked long-distance pipes available to the outside world. "Now there`s lots of long-haul transmission, but there isn`t enough metropolitan area interconnections for that long haul," he explains. "So that being the case, what Qwest is trying to do is instead of trying to create its own metropolitan area networks and stick its own retail customers only on its own network, it wants to figure out a way to interconnect...with all the different metropolitan providers."

And that is much easier said than done, Qwest is discovering. Naturally, the most elegant method would entail connections directly at the optical level. Unfortunately, that presupposes that all the metropolitan providers have optical networks and that companies such as Qwest can get access to them. Neither of these suppositions holds true in every market. And even if they did, there would be the small problem of multivendor equipment compatibility (and if you think the compatibility bugs are just getting worked out of SONET, just try throwing DWDM equipment and transponders from multiple vendors into the equation).

The question of connecting networks, particularly in the metropolitan area, is at the crux of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, says Vinall. The competition envisioned in the act will only occur when everyone has the same external cost structures and the ability to exchange traffic in a fair and equitable manner. Optical interconnection between metro networks will prove the linchpin to such a competitive environment, says Vinall--and if it takes action from Congress or the Federal Communications Commission to create such a scenario, so be it.

And speaking of Fiber Exchange, a targeted portion of our readership will find the inaugural edition of our new quarterly nestled within the pages of this month`s Special Report section. As its tag line proclaims, Fiber Exchange will cover business strategies for fiber-optic network capacity--the building, buying, selling, and co-venturing that surrounds the current race to create the optical infrastructure of tomorrow. The focus will be on the bottom line, on how to develop, maintain, and expand optical network capacity efficiently and profitably. Fiber Exchange will benefit senior management at communications service providers, carriers` carriers, and other organizations that provide capacity, require it, or bring buyer and seller together. If you somehow missed out on your copy, we`d be happy to provide you with one.

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