Korea jumpstarts metro networks with optical gear

Dec. 1, 2000



As an example of how the Asia-Pacific metropolitan telecommunications market is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years, Korea Telecom is deploying seven metropolitan fiber rings throughout South Korea, including the capital city of Seoul. Ciena Corp. (Linthicum, MD) netted the contract for its MultiWave metro equipment.

According to Ciena, both companies realized a mutual interest in rapid deployment of a major metropolitan DWDM network in Seoul and throughout the country.

South Korea has the second-highest number of DWDM-equipment installations in Asia, behind only Japan. The growth rate for Internet users in South Korea is reportedly the highest in the region, including Japan.

"That combination, plus the explosion of last-mile technologies such as DSL and cable modems, has put a real strain on the Korean PTT [postal, telegraph, and telephone] backbones," says Min-Soo Kim, program manager for TNS Technologies, a fiber-optic equipment distributor in Seoul. "In addition, because there are now more cellular phone connections than there are landing connections in Korea, we're starting to see more and more people connect to the Internet via their cellular phones. All of these factors place additional strain on each PTT's respective backbone."

Because of these and other factors, optical transport systems are playing a very significant role in the growth and development of the information infrastructure in the Korean metropolitan market. The services currently being offered, including private-network deployments, mandate the features inherent to optical networks, such as reliability, high transmission capacity, and flexibility.

Similar growth is occurring in other markets, including Hong Kong, Australia, China, and Japan. Concerns over fiber exhaustion, population density, and the enormous growth in Internet usage are necessitating a means of rapidly scaling the transport infrastructure.

"I believe the Korea metropolitan will leap-frog the U.S. in terms of deployment," says Mike Cuthrell, senior technical systems engineer for emerging markets and business development at Ciena. "What I mean is that if we consider, for example, this first metro deployment by Korea Telecom, they have installed from day one several metro rings that are equivalent to second- or third-year rings in the U.S. Korea Telecom is also looking very seriously at the future capabilities of metro DWDM products. Finally, they have firmly adapted Gigabit Ethernet as a key part of the backbone transmission architecture."

Even where Korea cannot compare to the U.S. in terms of sheer number of deployments, Kim believes a comparison can still be made in terms of user density when compared to total population. Outside of Korea Telecom, various competitive local-exchange carriers have already announced plans to incorporate metropolitan networks similar to what Korea Telecom has already installed within the next six months.

All across Asia, the growth of fiber-optic technology is on the fast track. The region has lagged behind the U.S. and Europe for several reasons, particularly due to a geography that requires undersea cables to link the various countries. But many of those subsea systems are already under development by global builders such as Global Crossing, Teleglobe, TyCom, and a host of others. For Korea in particular, telecommunications growth is occurring exponentially-and some believe the country is only at the beginning of that growth curve.

Deployment in Korea presents other challenges, as well. For example, the distance requirements for the metropolitan rings and the initial channel requirements encountered by Ciena in designing Korea Telecom's fiber rings were not typical of most U.S. deployments. Ciena found that the tail circuit requirements-defined as intermediate-reach optical gear between the metro equipment and client equipment-were not the same as for U.S. rings. There are other obstacles that may be more obvious.

"As you might expect, language is definitely a barrier when working in Korea, but it's usually handled by having the right personnel in place to handle language issues," says Kim. "It is also necessary for U.S. engineers to be aware that things that seem trivial can have particular significances for a Korean engineer."

In general, says Kim, there are not too many unusual circumstances. In the case of Korea Telecom, all the branch offices are built according to the same blueprint. That standardization within the PTT allows for a reduction of potential pitfalls between U.S. and Korean companies in terms of how things are accomplished.

But despite any barriers to coexisting, the importance of U.S. vendors and manufacturers establishing a presence in Korea and other Asian markets cannot be understated. As the Asia-Pacific region rapidly grows its telecommunications infrastructure, huge opportunities exist for U.S. companies to "peddle their wares."

However, the reverse is also true. Cuthrell, who was the key engineer for the Ciena/Korea Telecom deal, points out that some countries consider it important to have U.S. and North American-based vendors supplying fiber communications systems in order to show the world they, too, are deploying the latest, most innovative technologies. Korea is no exception.

"It is very important to Korea to have U.S. vendors supplying fiber communications systems from the standpoint of keeping up with other countries as they make similar advances," says Kim. "It is more important from a Korean perspective, however, for the PTTs, engineers, and decision-makers to have this exposure. In order for Korean PTTs to provide superior services and technologies, the technical support staff, operators, and other engineers must have this exposure to maintain the status quo with other service providers throughout the world."

Ciena, for one, views the Asian market as a growth engine. Claude Achcar, the company's vice president for the region, says this first deal with Korea Telecom, believed to be the largest Asian deployment of DWDM in the metropolitan area, is very important. "Other Korean and, undoubtedly, Asian service providers will follow Korea Telecom's lead in building intelligent optical transport systems," says Achcar. Cuthrell agrees it is commonplace for secondary and tertiary service providers to follow the lead of prime carriers in specific market regions. He already sees evidence of several other carriers evaluating what Korea Telecom has done. As a result, an increase in activity and growth in the optical-networking domain in Korea is expected-not to mention in other Asian markets.

It is expected that other North American vendors will follow Ciena's lead. TNS Technologies' Kim believes the successful companies will realize the importance of preparation for entrance into the telecommunications environment of another region. Educating oneself on the peculiarities of another culture may enhance successful opportunities for vendors.

"Korea is a booming market, as are Taiwan, Singapore, and China," says Kim. "These are large potential markets, but lack of preparation will hurt more here than it would in the U.S. market, simply due to time and cultural differences."

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