IMPSAT expands broadband network into major Latin American cities

The ambitious vision of one Latin American telecommunications provider will provide business customers in several major South American countries with much-needed fiber-optic broadband-network services by the end of 2000. IMPSAT Corp. (Buenos Aires), with the help of major suppliers like Nortel Networks (Brampton, ON, Canada), Corning Inc. (Corning, NY), and Lucent Technologies (Murray Hill, NJ), is at work on the first phase of its broadband network.

The initial segment of IMPSAT's broadband network, announced in September 1998, involved the deployment of a 700-km fiber-optic transport network in Colombia that connected the cities of Bogota, Cali, and Medellin. This latest phase will be the development of a 3500-km long-haul fiber network connecting major cities in Argentina and Brazil, as well as a local-access broadband network for all the cities served. Those cities include La Plata, Buenos Aires, Rosario, Santa Fe, Cordoba, San Luis, and Mendoza in Argentina, and Sau Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, and Belo Horizonte in Brazil. To date, the IMPSAT undertaking represents the largest broadband-network plan for South America.

Along with the major cities and urban areas, more than 40 intermediate cities will have access to the network in Argentina and Brazil. The local-access networks will cover 1600 blocks and 1000 sq-km through a combination of fiber-optic ring architectures and 10-GHz and 38-GHz wireless systems.

"The wireless loops will work in combination with the fiber through the network switches," says Alejandro Suarez del Cerro, senior vice president and chief technology officer at IMPSAT. "We are planning to install ATM [Asynchronous Transfer Mode] and IP [Internet-protocol] switches in the network. We'll install them in a hierarchical structure, meaning we'll have huge core switches in the major cities of Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires, and we'll put edge switches in the rest of the cities. These switches will act as the interfaces between the metro rings, the transport network, and the wireless world. We will also install telephony switches in Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo. Nortel is supplying the switches for the network."

That's not all Nortel is supplying. The company netted an estimated $244-million contract to develop, construct, and finance a turnkey platform for this latest phase of IMPSAT's Latin American broadband network. The network will use a variety of products from the Nortel portfolio, including dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) technology, ATM backbone equipment, broadband wireless-access equipment, and local and long-distance switching systems.

"The process of selecting vendors took some months," says Suarez del Cerro. "We worked with several vendors trying to understand their capabilities to see what technologies they could bring to the table. We dealt with some of the largest suppliers in the industry before choosing Nortel. The fiber-optic cable contracts went to Corning and Lucent. IMPSAT is basing its network on the latest nonzero dispersion-shifted fiber cable, made up of 72 fibers and optimized for DWDM technology. Initial capacity will be 20 Gbits/sec scalable up to 11 Tbits/sec. IMPSAT's broadband network is utilizing ATM-IP as its core technology. Corning is supplying its fiber for use in the Brazil portion of the long-distance network as well as the fiber for the metropolitan networks in Brazil and Argentina. Lucent is supplying the fiber cable for the long-haul segment in Argentina.

"The reason we chose both companies is because after running an entire week of testing in each of their respective labs, both fibers were excellent," says Suarez del Cerro. "The decision to split the supply was in order to retain flexibility in the negotiation of quantities for additional projects."

The first segments of the intercity transport networks and the last-mile distribution rings are expected to be in service within nine months of the start date. The estimated completion date for this latest phase of IMPSAT's network is November 2000.

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