Multimedia Internet backbone uses acquired fiber plant

Nov. 1, 1997

Multimedia Internet backbone uses acquired fiber plant

By PAUL PALUMBO

Atmlink Inc., Rancho Cucamonga, CA, has finished negotiating the purchase of 8700 mi of singlemode fiber that will form the physical foundation of a planned multimedia Inter-net backbone designed for multicasting video over the Web. The network plant`s purchase price includes electronics capable of delivering OC-12 (622-Mbit/sec) data transport speeds, but existing facilities can be multi- plexed up to Synchronous Optical Network (Sonet) OC-48 (2.5 Gbits/sec) and OC-192 (10 Gbits/sec), according to company president Don Armstrong.

atmlink is currently installing Thomson-csf Asynchronous Transfer Mode (atm) switches throughout the system. According to analysts, the "need for backbone speed" is driven by business and consumer demand for greater video applications over the Internet. "We`re finding out how deep the appetite is for video, and video-rich content," says Gary Arlen, president of Arlen Communications, Bethesda, MD. He says atmlink`s efforts and many other network upgrade initiatives could lead to "greater simultaneous visual distribution."

The company was able to secure financing to buy the facilities via an unrevealed international venture capital firm committed to backing a decade-long development plan. The network will cost billions of dollars and go through major North American cities, into Europe, and around the Pacific Rim. Parts of the network will go "live" during the first quarter of next year, and Armstrong says plans are in place to illuminate the Seattle, WA, Las Vegas, NV, San Diego, CA, Phoenix, AZ, and Honolulu, HI, connections by January or February. atmlink is also establishing peering locations with Digital Equipment Corp. at the Palo Alto, CA, Internet exchange.

atmlink is using dec Alpha servers as its atm network routers, a topology that Armstrong maintains will increase quality of service and guarantee real-time multimedia video for its corporate and entertainment partners.

atmlink`s Network Operations Center, in Rancho Cucamonga, is all atm-based. Facilities moving out from the center are all atm, with data routing accomplished via servers, not routers. The entire backbone uses Thomson-CSF atm switches on top of Nortel`s atm Sonet multiplexers.

"Using atm switching and atm server routing is tens of thousands of times faster than routers. This is going to be a huge change in the Internet," according to Armstrong. He says that several Internet service providers (isps) have signed up for backbone peering with atmlink, but none of those agreements has yet been made public.

atmlink has been a Digital partner for 16 years and has integrated Digital servers with its networking business over that period. Armstrong says Alpha servers are the fastest available and the most scalable on the market. One Alpha server can handle hundreds of simultaneous video streams on one OC-3 (155 Mbits/sec). atmlink is building the network to handle up to 8000 simultaneous video streams. But when the video streams are shipped out to propagation servers, the actual audience viewing an event could grow exponentially. "We`ll take those 8000 streams and multicast them over atm and reach hundreds of thousands of users," he says.

atmlink chose Bay Networks` edge routers and remote access equipment because they can handle K56 Flex or X2 U.S. Robotics dial-up modem access in the same chassis. Armstrong claims the collocation centers will be second to none and fully self-contained with generator backups. Each will have a minimum of 10,000 sq. ft. for computer facilities that can host anyone`s video server or other equipment.

atm is here to stay

Armstrong says the network`s design will enable consumers to receive better quality of content because atm solutions offer a guaranteed "quality of service" at committed bit rate and variable bit rate through the Thomson switches. "We can guarantee that type of delivery down to the isp. The isp can then give a better quality of service guarantee to residential customers."

Joel Maloff, president of the telecommunications consultancy Maloff Group International, Dexter, MI, comments, "They are optimizing their ability to carry information on their network. atm is here to stay and IP [Internet protocol] transport can ride on top of that protocol, but the catch is that users have to be on the network or peer directly with it. atm makes sense if a company owns the facilities and can afford to pay for the servers. It`s expensive."

He agrees that atmlink could offer guarantees of service with atm for originators and terminators on the network, but once data packets or cells go outside of facilities (i.gif., to an isp or other network) they lose that control. The economics are favorable for providers when putting together a backbone to buy plant because there isn`t a monthly lease charge, which implies lower operating overhead. In addition, companies that own plant can better control upgrade frequency and not wait for another party to commit to an infrastructure upgrade.

atmlink is working with customers in the entertainment industry, isps, large networks (national and regional), banks, the military, and the U.S. government. Internet broadcaster AudioNet and Microsoft are collocating servers at atmlink centers. Both those companies are using Microsoft`s Netshow video streaming technology. "Companies have been waiting for the opportunity to multicast or broadcast video over the Internet, and this it," says an enthusiastic Armstrong.q

Paul Palumbo writes from Seaside, CA.

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