The tide rises in the East

While the newspaper editor Horace Greeley earned fame here in the U.S. for being credited with the proclamation, “Go West, young man” (historians now say the phrase originated elsewhere), those interested in the future of high-bandwidth communications might be better served by turning their attention in the opposite direction. Two recent announcements out of Asia underline how quickly broadband services could ramp up bandwidth requirements and warn us that the future could arrive too quickly for some carriers if they don’t prepare themselves now.

Both harbingers of things to come emanated from the IEC’s Broadband World Forum Asia last month. In the first of these, Cisco Systems announced that Yahoo! BB, the Japanese broadband company, has deployed the system vendor’s 40-Gbit/sec OC-768c/STM256c optical interface card in at least one fielded CRS-1 router, and plans to deploy more nationwide. The second announcement came from Huawei, which unveiled its initial GPON offering; the Chinese system vendor says it provides up to 1 Tbit of switching capacity.

The Cisco/Yahoo! BB announcement holds the greater significance, I think. The most recent prevailing theory for the advent of 40-Gbit/sec communications holds that such data rates would only become necessary once carriers saw a need to turn up the full power of today’s high-end routers, of which the CRS-1 represents the most salient example. Last year Deutsche Telekom bought DWDM equipment with 40-Gbit/sec capabilities in order to interface with such routers, but Yahoo! BB may become the first carrier to deploy this technology widely, based on last month’s announcement.

What’s interesting is that observers may finally have the answer to the question of what service mix would drive the necessity for such high-speed interfaces. According to the Japanese service provider, it’s IP video, including video-on-demand. Yahoo! BB currently provides broadband service to more than 5 million ADSL subscribers. Granted, Japanese companies have a well-earned reputation for planning ahead; still, the fact that a carrier offering services over ADSL-not VDSL2 or FTTH, but ADSL-believes the time to install 40-Gbit/sec networking is now indicates the size of the bandwidth tide the carrier expects to crest through its network in the foreseeable future.

Huawei’s announcement carries a bit less impact in my mind because it is unclear what stage of development the product is in, whether it represents size for size’s sake, and how much, if any, customer traction the company already has with it. For the moment I’ll resist the temptation to speculate on the significance of the fact that Huawei has decided to announce a product based on GPON specifications. (Huawei certainly operates globally, but do we really think the company would develop and market a GPON offering if it didn’t think it could sell it at home? Perhaps the GPON versus GEPON battle for supremacy in the Chinese market is about to be joined in earnest.) Instead, let’s take at face value Huawei’s sentiment that “[o]nly a GPON system realizing terabit nonblocking switching can fully implement the high-bandwidth characteristics of fibers,” which the systems supplier expressed in the press release that announced the product.

Again, the impetus for such horsepower was described as “IPTV and triple play,” as well as “future services.” One could foresee many future services having a video component; gaming and home and business security (including closed-circuit cameras) come to mind immediately. Such services will likely grow from the ingenuity of the service-provider community. But we can’t ignore the creativity of customers themselves. Several European city-network offerings are designed to give customers an onramp to the network, enabling them to create offerings and content specific to the interests of the community or of the individual subscriber who might create his or her own network of like-minded bandwidth users. Even without such European-style catalysts, users around the world will likely find new ways to consume bandwidth using video as a basic component.

Of course, even some of the carrier-inspired services discussed here won’t be introduced tomorrow-particularly in the United States, where IPTV is just getting its feet wet. However, carriers here and around the world should take the announcements coming out of Asia as a catalyst to examine their plans for handling the wave of packets that IP-based video is likely to create. With telephone companies and cable MSOs alike jumping into triple-play service provision, competitors cannot afford to allow infrastructure limitations to hamper the introduction of new services or dampen user experience with existing offerings. The tidal wave of packets is coming-it’s just a question of whether each carrier will be ready for it when it arrives.

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