Cox Communications offers DWDM choice

Feb. 1, 2005

Like many multiple systems operators (MSO), Cox Communications (Atlanta) has launched an aggressive campaign to provide broadband communications services to the residential and business markets. To offer such services-and to handle the resultant traffic once those offerings became successful-Cox issued an RFP last spring for reconfigurable DWDM equipment. OpVista (Irvine, CA) topped more than a dozen competitors to win a multiyear contract to supply its MetroVista system. However, OpVista’s days of competing for a place in the Cox network are just beginning, thanks to a procurement strategy that lets individual Cox markets choose their equipment from a list of approved vendors.

Prior to the most recent procurement competition, Cox had installed metro DWDM systems from Sorrento Networks (now part of Zhone Technologies) and Ciena. “We had exhausted some of our metro rings with the existing generation,” says Dan Estes, engineering manager at Cox. “As we were getting ready to deploy new equipment in these markets, we wanted to put in the latest and greatest that had the features we wanted.”

Those features included wavelength density and reconfigurability. Some carriers say they want reconfigurability, but don’t make it a meaningful part of their proposal evaluation, according to Ron Foster, OpVista president, and Brian Drachman, the company’s director of product marketing. “Cox really stepped up, and they were really looking for a next generation DWDM platform that would carry them forward into the future. And reconfigurability to them did play in the evaluation criteria,” Drachman says.

“This was very well researched by them. I was really surprised at the quality and the insightfulness of the RFP that they put out. It was very clear that these guys know what they’re talking about,” Foster adds.

Estes estimates that 16 systems vendors made what he called “serious” responses to the RFP. These responses were evaluated in consultation with representatives of several of their markets. Particularly in the case of OpVista, which uses a proprietary “Ultra DWDM” technology, interoperability testing with the existing Ciena and Sorrento/Zhone equipment served as part of the evaluation process. Ultra DWDM technology enables OpVista to fit eight 2.5-Gbit/sec wavelengths in the bandwidth most companies use for just one. Signals that enter the MetroVista system at 10 Gbits/sec are broken up into multiple 2.5-Gbit/sec components, which enables them to travel farther without regeneration than normal 10-Gbit/sec wavelengths. Such signals also can travel over fiber that can’t accommodate full 10-Gbit/sec speeds, OpVista asserts.

But while the manufacturer says that Ultra DWDM wavelengths are fully compatible with the ITU grid, Cox wanted to be sure. The MSO ran Ultra DWDM signals through 16 cascaded incumbent systems, say Foster and Drachman, and found no significant degradation in the signals.

Once Cox technicians put the various systems through their paces, Cox invited a short list of finalists to present the evaluation team with an overview of their abilities to aid Cox in the areas of operations, installation, and ongoing support. As a result of both phases of the procurement, Cox chose OpVista.

“OpVista had the highest wavelength density of any of the vendors that we looked at,” Estes says. “Their optical broadcast-and-select function was what we were really thinking would be a benefit to us as far as the reconfigurability of our network. And then their business proposal to us was very attractive. OpVista was willing to step up to some of our needs from an operational standpoint as far as element management and installation and support. They put the best proposal on the table for us.”

“They were focusing on capacity without pain,” says Foster, in describing what Cox wanted and what the main evaluation criteria turned out to be. “They were focusing on the ability to really manage the network-and manage it at the macro and micro level-to keep their opex down and to allow them to do proactive maintenance and corrections as needed, rather than waiting for something to go wrong and then running out and trying to fix it.”

Having been approved for use in the Cox network, OpVista will now find itself in a series of smaller competitions as each of the MSO’s markets decides whether or not to use the new system. “Each market is responsible for the profit and loss of their area,” Estes explains. “So they have the responsibility to choose wisely as far as their unique needs and bandwidth requirements. Cox has a pool of approved products from a national contract standpoint, and these markets can take advantage of the national buying power to get the volume discounts that are available through that contract.”

Estes estimates that Cox has 33 major markets within its footprint, 13 of which currently use some form of metro DWDM. The potential demand for the OpVista equipment within the Cox system should be strong. “All of our existing markets that have DWDM equipment are looking to expand the number of nodes in their market,” Estes says. Of the other markets, “I’m aware of some four or five markets right now that have solicited quotes from current DWDM suppliers,” he adds.

While markets that have the Sorrento/Zhone systems in place will be able to continue to purchase them if they’d prefer, the other markets will choose between OpVista and Ciena. The OpVista executives like their chances. In an emailed response to follow-up questions after the original interview quoted here, they wrote: “MSOs always have multiple suppliers-sometimes with long-term contracts in place like with Cox, other times with no long-term contracts. This is the norm. In the Cox case, the competition is severely limited to Cox’s previous supplier(s), which is a huge benefit for OpVista. OpVista was the only company selected for ‘next generation’ DWDM equipment. We believe this places us in a very strong position as we address the needs in each market.”

Fortunately, the fact that the various Cox markets were part of the original evaluation process means that OpVista won’t have to resell the benefits of its system each time a portion of the Cox network wants DWDM equipment. “We feel confident that OpVista’s products will consistently come out ahead when compared with our competition,” the vendor’s representatives wrote. In fact, the company has already delivered systems for use in the field.

Stephen Hardyis the editorial director and associate publisher of Lightwave.

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