Carriers shop for long-haul optical equipment

July 1, 2000

By Stephen Hardy


Three of the most aggressive carriers in terms of fiber-optic equipment deployment, Qwest Communications, Williams Communications, and Broadwing Communica tions, have added the latest generation of ultra-long-haul optical-networking equipment to their technology inventories. Besides furthering these carriers' infrastructure objectives, the orders may validate these new offerings in the market.

Qwest's orders follow its previously announced all-optical strategy (see Lightwave, January 2000, page 1), which the company hopes will not only lower costs but eventually enable flexible bandwidth provision on demand. The carrier established the groundwork for this initiative by signing a multimillion-dollar agreement with Nortel Network's Qtera subsidiary (Boca Raton, FL) for delivery of the ULTRA photonic networking system. The system will transport multiplexed 10-Gbit/sec signals as far as 2,500 mi without regeneration through a combination of forward error correction, Raman amplification, and the use of soliton pulses.

In an interview late last year when Qwest first announced its all-optical strategy, Vab Goel, then Qwest's vice president of emerging technologies (and now a venture partner at venture capitalist Norwest Venture Partners), said he could foresee saving as much as 70% over conventional architectures through the use of ultra-long-haul technology because of the lessened requirement for regenerators.

In addition to the Qtera equipment, Qwest has evaluated similar systems from Corvis Corp. (Columbia, MD). "We're looking at the whole suite of products-the DWDM and the wavelength routers," said Goel at the time. "Both [Qtera and Corvis] have a different way of doing the service."

Goel also said that Qwest is interested in pursuing a multivendor strategy for its new initiative. The carrier followed this path by pairing its order from Qtera with a multiyear supply agreement with Ciena Corp. (Linthicum, MD). The agreement covers the MultiWave CoreStream and MultiWave Metro optical transport systems and the MultiWave CoreDirector optical-core switch, all part of Ciena's LightWorks product line. As the equipment names imply, the Ciena gear will find its way into Qwest's metropolitan area networks as well as the carrier's long-haul backbone. Ciena expects the deal to be worth multiple hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 18 to 24 months.

If Corvis needed a boost after losing the first round to Qtera in the battle for entry into Qwest's network, the company got it when Williams signed a deal worth a potential $200 million. The agreement calls for Corvis to supply its suite of all-optical-networking equipment for the Williams Multi-Service Broadband Network, pending the successful completion of a field trial along Williams's Dallas-to-New York route. The carrier has completed laboratory testing of the equipment in its Network Development Lab; Williams expects to complete the field trials this month.

Williams believes the new equipment will enable its planned 33,000-route-mi network to scale to 2.4 Tbits/sec. Shyam Jha, vice president of marketing at Corvis, predicts deployment in the Williams network will be in full swing by next year. Corvis claims its equipment can support transmission distances of up to 3,200 km between regenerators at speeds as high as 10 Gbits/sec. Raman amplification also is a component of the company's long-distance approach, says Jha, who declines to discuss further details of the technology.

The Corvis product family includes a switching platform scalable to as many as 960 wavelengths. A bandwidth-management system, called Wave Planner, ties the equipment together, enabling wavelength planning and provisioning, path restoration, and protection management.

While Williams was among the first carriers said to be interested in the Corvis product line when it was first unveiled, Williams will not be the first user. Broadwing Communications, the company created via the merger of Cincinnati Bell and IXC Communications, has already begun to deploy the Corvis all-optical suite to support a national mesh topology. Like the Williams deal, the value of the contract with Broadwing could total as much as $200 million.

Broadwing plans to use the equipment to enable rapid and economical capacity expansion on its 16,888-route-mi fiber-optic network. According to Melissa Jackson in Broadwing's media relations department, the carrier expects to complete installation of its new all-optical gear by the end of this year.