by Meghan Fuller
The Independent operating companies (IOCs) have been early adopters of fiber-to-the-X (FTTX) technology for the rollout of the video services necessary to compete with incumbent telcos and cable multiple-system operators (MSOs). But now they need to aggregate that triple-play traffic, which is largely based on Ethernet, onto metro networks. In many cases, their existing SONET rings aren’t sufficient. Today, a growing number of IOCs are deploying WDM technology and reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexers (ROADMs) in particular to increase capacity and improve overall operational efficiency.
While IOCs can be more nimble and aggressive when it comes to new service rollouts like IPTV, they also must be conservative about resource allocation; IOCs are looking to leverage their legacy infrastructures to support next-generation services, notes Dawn Hogh, vice president of marketing and development for OpVista (www.opvista.com). “A lot of the IOCs are not going to go from a 2.5G SONET ring to an 800-gig-capable DWDM system,” she says. “They may start out [with] some point-to-point needs or even a ring need. They’ll start with small deployments. But they have the same concerns and issues about rapidly escalating bandwidth demands and how they are going to evolve whatever network they initially deploy. So they are looking [to satisfy] their near-term bandwidth needs but balancing that with a growth path that doesn’t require forklift upgrades down the road,” Hogh maintains.
That balancing act often involves the deployment of ROADM technology. Like the ILECs, the IOC community is interested in ROADMs, though for slightly different reasons. Multidegree ROADMs are ideal for interconnecting multiple rings in a large-scale topology, but many IOCs have single SONET rings, or two or three rings maximum. For them, ROADM technology represents an opportunity to automate services and streamline operational expenses.
ROADMs enable IOCs “to remotely provision and remotely configure their entire network,” says Mike O’Malley, group marketing manager at Tellabs (www.tellabs.com). “They don’t have the same kind of staff as some of the larger providers, and operational expense, therefore, becomes even more of a concern for them.”
Andy McCormick, product marketing manager at Ciena Corp. (www.ciena.com), agrees and adds “automatic power balancing” to the list of ROADM features most prized by the IOCs. “These aren’t large organizations; they are somewhat resource constrained. They don’t want to be sending techs out into their field every time they need to tune an amplifier or [adjust] dispersion compensation every time they have to turn up a new wavelength,” he says. “It’s those features of ROADM, more than the ability to connect four degrees, that are attractive to the IOCs.”
McCormick also reports that Ciena’s IOC customers are “very keen” on tunable laser technology. They are embracing “tunable 10G optics for the ability to just put it in when they turn up a wavelength,” he says. “They don’t have to make sure they have the specific channel they need; with tunables, they can tune to any channel they need to turn up.”
The vendors interviewed for this story agree that the IOCs are migrating from pure-play SONET infrastructures to next-generation architectures that support Ethernet-based services-but the shift is so recent, many of the deployments have not yet been made public. That said, it would appear from the handful of contracts that are public that it doesn’t matter what protocol or architecture is deployed; for IOCs, it’s all about network simplification and operational savings.
Tellabs says its IOC customers are building out Carrier Ethernet architectures using one of two methods: MPLS or Ethernet over WDM. According to Matt Hallam, senior director of new business development at Tellabs, IOCs are deploying MPLS because it provides the requisite functionality to deliver IPTV, which many of them are currently offering. “To deploy IPTV, you need a router in your network, but you also need a way to transport from location to location,” he says. “One thing that MPLS and our multiservice router, the 8800, bring is protection on the transport side with MPLS, but also the routing capabilities coming off the 8800, which they will hand off to their access networks. So one thing we see is simplification within their networks, being able to manage the solution with fewer pieces of equipment in the network.
“Today, they want to deploy a 10-gig transport, so we see MPLS and our 8800 being a sweet spot on 10 gig,” adds Hallam. “Then, as they grow to multiple 10 gigs, they’ll need to go more into ROADM and DWDM services.”
An example of the latter is Grande Communications (www.grandecom.com), an IOC in the south central US that is using Tellabs’ 7100 optical transport system to increase capacity for the delivery of Ethernet-based video. The IOC boosts a service bundle dubbed “Texas Triple Play,” which it delivers via a 3,000-route-mile SONET ring that extends from Dallas to the Rio Grande Valley, with connections to Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and international terminations to Mexico. The Tellabs 7100 system supports 44 channels, a tenfold increase in capacity over Grande Communications’ existing network. Moreover, the integrated ROADM technology enables Grande to provision wavelength services from OC-3 to 10 Gbits/sec.
Ciena, meanwhile, says that it is successfully selling IOCs on the benefits of the ITU’s G.709 Optical Transport Network (OTN) standard, which to date has largely been deployed in Europe. McCormick asserts that Ciena’s CN 4200 has enjoyed particular success in this market. “The OTN basis of that platform is very SONET-like in terms of its OAM [operations, administrative, and maintenance] capabilities and fault isolation,” he says. “To the extent that Ciena can extend that capability from SONET to a WDM platform, that message resonates with them very well.”
Ciena has two announced IOC customers for the CN 4200 platform, Hargray Communications (www.hargray.com) in Hilton Head, SC, and Star Telephone (www.stmc.net), an IOC in southeastern North Carolina. As McCormick notes, “The customer wins that we have had are really based on the movement of these companies toward Ethernet.”
He reports that IOCs like Hargray Communications and Star Telephone are capping their ATM DSLAM deployments and growing new deployments based on Ethernet to support the rollout of broadcast video services today and video-on-demand (VoD) in the near future. “They are finding that SONET is just not as efficient at handling Ethernet services as WDM and OTN in particular,” he says. “They don’t have to do a lot of ring aggregation, but they are overlaying their existing SONET rings with WDM.”
“At Ciena, we have what we call a wrap-around filter,” he adds. “It’s a WDM filter that has a 1,310[-nm] port on it, so the SONET signal can plug right into that 1,310[-nm] port and be carried on the same fiber as WDM. They don’t have to light new fibers, and they can just overlay the WDM signals on top of the SONET ring,” he says. “Any new growth is going to go out to WDM.”
For this reason, the IOCs are now high on the system vendors’ list of target customers. OpVista’s Hogh reports that her company is in the process of replying to several RFPs, and Ciena’s McCormick confirms that his company is “meeting more and more frequently with them-and with more of them.”
And the folks at Tellabs say their big push at this month’s NXTcomm Conference will be an IPTV interoperability demo aimed at the IOCs. “It is where the market is going,” says O’Malley. “This is certainly something we’re putting a lot of emphasis on, and we’re seeing that payback.”