WorldPort nears completion of global fiber-optic network via leasing strategy

Oct. 1, 1998

WorldPort nears completion of global fiber-optic network via leasing strategy

By ROBERT PEASE

WorldPort Communications Inc., a next-generation carrier`s carrier based in Atlanta, GA, is constructing a global fiber-optic network using Internet protocol (IP) as the primary transmission protocol between points of presence in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. One aspect that makes this project unique is that the network is being built almost entirely on purchased bandwidth capacity--with WorldPort deploying little of its own new fiber.

Most of the fiber used in the WorldPort network has been purchased through indefeasible rights of usage (IRU), which involve a one-time cost for what is usually a 25-year lease on capacity. Thus, for the effective life of the fiber, WorldPort will own the purchased bandwidth.

"Traditionally, there hasn`t been enough fiber to meet demand," says Jim Hendrickson, vice president of technology and strategic planning at WorldPort. "That has made it possible for traditional fiber owners to maximize their earning potential. But with the new private cable providers, it`s a more business-driven function that has freed up additional capacity. However, I don`t ever see anybody having any fiber `glut.` There`s nothing to indicate an imminent `fire sale` on bandwidth."

WorldPort began putting its network together in March 1998 and intends to have circuit and IP switches interconnected with large bandwidth capacities in New York and the West Coast, south Florida, London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt, Sydney, Singapore, and Tokyo. Additional opportunities could add more points in South America, Spain, Italy, and the Middle East.

"We`re constantly looking for more fiber," says Hendrickson. "The likelihood is that we`ll probably purchase IRU and participate in Project Oxygen [see Lightwave, July 1998, page 1], although nothing is definitive on that yet."

What is definitive is that WorldPort has made significant purchases on Global Crossing`s worldwide undersea network (see Lightwave, February 1998, page 1). WorldPort also intends to use Global Crossing from a landings perspective, using terrestrial fiber cable at certain points in the world as opposed to the submarine links.

Currently, there are two important elements installed in the WorldPort system. One is the bandwidth capabilities in the Netherlands, achieved through the April 1998 acquisition of EnerTel NV, a major provider of local and long-distance services in that region. The second element is Global Crossing`s Atlantic Crossing (AC-1) link from New York to London. The balance of that ring is scheduled for activation by year-end. That ring will include points in the Netherlands and Germany, as well as the United States and United Kingdom.

"That link is a key to our network," says Hendrickson. "We also have commitments on other Global Crossing segments, including Mid-Atlantic Crossing, Pan-American Crossing, and Pacific Crossing. We`re not necessarily bound so much by how much bandwidth we turn on where, but by the aggregate amount. We may end up having even more bandwidth on AC-1."

Equipment deployed for WorldPort`s network includes Nortel`s circuit switches and Lucent Technologies` IP switches. Nortel will provide the DMS-Global Switching Platform. Lucent will design, deploy, and maintain a turnkey IP network solution, featuring its PacketStar 6400 IP switch, a layer 3/layer 4 wide area network switch designed to be compatible with today`s installed base of traditional routers.

"The objective is to make all of the backbone IP over the next three years," says Hendrickson. "We`ll eventually migrate as much traffic as possible to voice-over-IP, using the Lucent switches. Even though voice-over-IP is growing at a tremendous rate and has great potential, it still takes a long time to convert people. Therefore, we`ll continue to use the standard circuit switches in the environment wherever it is appropriate."

The idea, according to WorldPort, is to install the circuit switches to carry as much traffic as possible and use those assets as long as necessary while bringing new capabilities online. Eventually, WorldPort intends to migrate into full IP capabilities for all traffic over the backbone.

Trials are currently being run with Lucent to test the capabilities of voice-over-IP. The consensus is that the technology still has a lot of maturing to do before it can be used effectively for corporate-type services, such as virtual private networking. Although voice-over-IP is not yet available, Hendrickson and WorldPort believe that high-level sets of services and functionality are not too far out. "My personal belief is that over the next 18 months to two years, voice-over-IP will become more available," says Hendrickson.

Through acquisitions and IRUs, WorldPort appears to be "connecting the dots" pretty well toward a global IP network. "The uniqueness of our network lies in its scope," says Hendrickson. "Carriers such as Qwest, Level 3, and others have announced very similar plans on the U.S. domestic level. We`re focusing on taking that to an international level. We really believe that IP will explode, and we want to be in a position to deliver IP on a global basis. Our focus is on emerging or deregulating markets. We don`t want to go to battle with those guys in the United States. We want to be the provider for overseas." In this context, Hendrickson sees WorldCom Inc. as his company`s principal competitor.

As its network expands, WorldPort will continue to base its transmission protocols as much as possible on global standards, thus reducing the complexity of local-level interfacing. For example, backbone speeds are based on STM-1 (155 Mbits/sec) and STM-16 (2.5 Gbits/sec). WorldPort intends to be flexible enough to adapt to local facilities and customer needs, particularly in areas where communications systems may not be state-of-the-art. The only problems thus far have come from regional regulatory issues, which have slowed progress occasionally. Nevertheless, the WorldPort network continues to grow mile by mile with the acquisition of each additional piece of bandwidth. q

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