RBOC aggressively expands Sonet links

May 1, 1996

RBOC aggressively expands Sonet links

Ben Harrison

One of the most innovative regional Bell operating companies, Philadelphia-based Bell Atlantic, is rapidly expanding its fiber-optic Synchronous Optical Network (Sonet) communications networks in West Virginia and Delaware.

The company laid more than 12,000 circuit-miles of high-speed fiber-optic cable in West Virginia in 1995 and is installing fiber-optic Sonet rings around the state`s major cities. These installations increase the company`s fiber deployment to more than 110,000 circuit-miles in that state.

And in nearby Delaware, Bell Atlantic continues to invest heavily in the state`s telecommunications network and has exceeded its commitments under Delaware`s Telecommunications Technology Investment Act (TTIA) for the second consecutive year.

According to Bill Magill, senior analyst at Ryan Hankin Kent in San Francisco, "Bell Atlantic has been an aggressive adopter of Sonet technology. It will trail only BellSouth in total Sonet spending by a regional Bell operating company through the year 2000. With more than 500 Sonet rings installed in its region, the company has already covered many of its major metropolitan areas with Sonet-based survivability."

Additional investment in unidirectional and bidirectional rings will represent most of Bell Atlantic`s spending from this point forward, Magill believes. "However, the company is also expected to invest in point-to-point high-capacity networks, most likely based on [10-gigabit-per-second] OC-192 systems, to support interactive video services beginning in 1997 or 1998," he adds.

In West Virginia, Bell Atlantic`s switching systems are fully digital and its interoffice networks are completely fiber-optic (see figure). The company designs its networks around survivable rings, including Sonet, within metropolitan areas of West Virginia, including Charleston, Huntington and Clarksburg-Morgantown. Also, Bell Atlantic has invested more than $88 million in its West Virginia network in 1995 and more than $1.2 billion since1984.

As with all telecommunications organizations, Bell Atlantic faces increasing competition. With the Telecommunications Act of 1996, all communications markets, local and long-distance phone services, as well as cable-TV services, are in a free-for-all marketing environment (see Lightwave, April 1996, page 1).

According to Dennis Bone, president and chief executive of Bell Atlantic-West Virginia Inc., "Bell Atlantic is working hard to meet the new law`s requirement that we open up our local telecommunications for competition. Doing this allows us to offer consumers a full menu of local and long-distance services."

For example, Bell Atlantic is using fiber-optic communications to link the state`s kindergarten through 12th grade schools to the Internet as part of the Bell Atlantic World School program. With nearly 200 schools now online, the company intends to make World School available to all K-12 public schools in its West Virginia service area by the end of this year.

In the viewpoint of an academic researcher at West Virginia University in Morgantown, Bell Atlantic`s fiber-optic communications moves are good for the state. George Hammond, research assistant professor at the Center for Economic Research at the University, says Bell Atlantic`s fiber-optic communications investments spur economic development. "Consequently, employment is increasing, and this communications growth positively affects other industries," Hammond says. He notes overall growth for the state is on the upswing, and Bell Atlantic is a major contributor.

Ronald O. Brown, an information technology and enterprise network management consultant in Melrose, MA, says, "The West Virginia Sonet ring coupled with 100% digital central offices puts Bell Atlantic in an excellent competitive position."

Ahead of projections

Under Delaware`s TTIA, Bell Atlantic has committed to spending a minimum of $250 million over five years to build a digital fiber-optic telecommunications network in the state. According to Carolyn S. Burger, president and chief executive of Bell Atlantic-Delaware, the company is running well ahead of projections in deploying advanced technology to improve the state`s economy and educational opportunities. She also reports a Bell Atlantic commitment to providing training in distance-learning technology for at least 20 public school teachers.

"In our first two years under TTIA, Bell Atlantic has invested $128 million in the public network," Burger says. "That`s 28% more than we anticipated at this stage. Consequently, Delaware is a leader in telecommunications technology.

"Our citizens benefit from having access to quality-of-life enhancements such as distance learning and [Integrated Services Digital Network]. The fiber network provides high-speed access to the Internet and online services and allows customers who work at home with personal computers to quickly and easily access their files at the office," Burger explains.

She says the state has a public policy environment that fosters economic development and stable rates for communications services. In her viewpoint, Delaware encourages cooperation among private and public sectors to achieve shared goals. "With the enactment of the landmark federal telecommunications legislation, it is particularly important to strengthen cooperation so all consumers benefit from more choices and full and fair competition," Burger says.

During its second year of operation under TTIA in Delaware, Bell Atlantic has doubled the Sonet rings installed in the state since 1995. While the number of Sonet rings deployed in Delaware is considered proprietary information by Bell Atlantic, Ells Edwards, a company spokesman, says it is significant for a small state.

The company has also installed 15,870 miles of fiber-optic cable in Delaware during the past two years--an increase of 75%. Furthermore, it has made fiber available to 36 of 40 Delaware secondary public schools and to 100 of 110 educational, medical and state office locations, 91% of Bell Atlantic`s five-year commitment under TTIA.

Setting the pace

In the viewpoint of several industry analysts, Bell Atlantic is clearly an industry pace-setter. Bryan Van Dussen, research director for telecommunications in the Yankee Group, based in Boston, says, "Bell Atlantic has made some mistakes and errors in judgment. The TCI deal and ADSL moves are such examples. However, leaders take their lumps, and the Bell Atlantic management team is solid.

"The company is deploying fiber aggressively and is one of the first to take long-distance service out of its region. I think Bell Atlantic is on the edge and leveraging its resources effectively," Van Dussen says.

And Vern Mackall, senior analyst with Northern Business Information in New York City, notes, "By building Sonet fiber-optic rings in its major cities, Bell Atlantic is trying to fend off new competitors who will be trying to lure away its key business customers. Competitive access providers have been `cream skimming` highly profitable business customers by building their own Sonet fiber rings through metropolitan districts. With the passage of the Telecom Reform Act of 1996, the competitive access providers as well as major interexchange carriers AT&T and MCI are accelerating this trend." Mackall adds, "Bell Atlantic is trying to keep its cream from getting skimmed."

According to Nancy Barnes, an analyst with Boston Technology in Wakefield, MA, whose company sells its communications platform to Bell Atlantic, "It is the most technologically advanced of the seven regional Bells and also the most aggressive." She cites Bell Atlantic`s T-Mail Service in Maryland, which allows anyone with a touchtone phone to send voice messages to any other Bell Atlantic customer in Montgomery County, MD. q

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