Electric Lightwave invests $150 million for dense WDM

Dec. 1, 1998

Electric Lightwave invests $150 million for dense WDM


Electric Lightwave Inc. (ELI--Vancouver, WA), an integrated telecommunications provider, is substantially upgrading the capacity of its western U.S. fiber-optic backbone network to the tune of about $150 million. Using Nortel Networks` dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) system, the S/DMS Transport Node OC-192 (10-Gbit/sec) platform, ELI will be a lead customer for Nortel in becoming one of the first networks to achieve a 32-wavelength architecture that supports OC-192.

The DWDM installation will be complemented by Nortel Network`s Integrated Network Management platform that will allow ELI to manage the entire network from its network operations center in Vancouver, WA. Under the purchase agreement, Nortel Networks will be involved with the installation, and completion is expected in the third quarter of 1999.

Nortel Network`s DWDM solution is a 4-fiber bidirectional line-switched ring Synchronous Optical Network (SONET) platform that will enable multiple OC-192 capability with capacity for transmitting more than two million calls per fiber strand. With 32 wavelengths all capable of OC-192, the ELI network will have a total capacity of 320 Gbits/sec. This capacity enables ELI to support voice and data traffic at OC-12 (622-Mbit/sec), OC-48 (2.5-Gbit/sec), or OC-192 speeds throughout the backbone network. For now, ELI is concentrating on its western long-haul routes; the national footprint announced last September is not planned for DWDM deployment at this stage.

ELI`s western long-haul fiber-optic backbone, covering about 4250 route-mi, is designed in a ring topology for maximum redundancy. The network`s long-haul routes also follow many rights-of-way that were negotiated with utility companies, rather than following traditional railroad routes. ELI believes this arrangement is an additional strength in terms of survivability that other carriers may lack.

"We consider ourselves an integrated communications provider," says Baksheesh Ghuman, senior product manager for emerging technologies and SONET services at ELI. "Our SONET network is fully capable of carrying integrated voice, video, and data. We also offer a platform that is scaleable, so if the customer wants to go from an OC-12 to an OC-48, we can do it quickly and smoothly."

ELI`s western backbone ring is a "work-in-progress" that currently serves major metropolitan areas in the seven westernmost U.S. states. The routes that are currently complete and ready for DWDM deployment include Las Vegas to Phoenix; Seattle to Portland, OR; Portland to Spokane, WA; and Portland to Eugene, OR. Other network routes, adding cities such as Sacramento and Los Angeles, are scheduled for completion by the second quarter of 1999.

According to Vivian Hudson, Nortel Networks` vice president of high-capacity optical networks, ELI was seeking several key values in determining what was important to its network upgrade. The obvious element was increased capacity.

"ELI had their own traffic projections that said traffic was going to blow the tops off all the houses in that area," says Hudson. "Because they anticipate tremendous traffic growth, they feel the need for tremendously high capacity. A 10-Gbit footprint is the right starting point and allows them to build on that with the multiple wavelengths."

A second element was scaleability for the future, when going beyond 10 Gbits/sec becomes necessary. ELI designed a footprint to achieve tremendous capacity with the ability to grow the network as demand dictates. Another important criterion was reliability, which prompted ELI to build the 4-fiber ring architecture in the first place.

Running a network in and around the Rocky Mountains is no easy task, but trying to locate a problem area in such terrain was one headache ELI wanted to avoid. The carrier expects the network`s full-fault sectionalization and diagnostics will enable rapid problem resolution.

Cost-effectiveness is critical to upgrading a network, and ELI saw potential savings in some of the features Nortel Networks offered. For example, the network will deploy a multiwavelength optical repeater that is bidirectional in nature, providing the ability to transmit the same capacity over half the fiber required by unidirectional amplifiers, thus providing fiber savings and efficiencies.

"The other capability of the multiwavelength optical repeater is the optical add/drop capability," says Hudson. "ELI plans to sell wavelengths. So to be able to drop wavelengths at various city locations they serve without having to put in add/drop multiplexers is an important requirement."

Finally, manageability was critical to the system, and the Integrated Network Management will enable ELI to provide network-management workstations to its customers, allowing them to look at their own network in real time as it performs.

The growing data and Internet market has not been overlooked at ELI, either. By boosting the capacity of its network, ELI is paving the way to service this emerging industry. Now is the time to start building to accommodate the data surge, Ghuman points out. Once a company is blindsided by sudden demand, it will be too late.

"I think we`re using considerable foresight in building our network to meet the growing data demand," says Ghuman. "We`ve developed a two-prong strategy where we have the western presence designed to capture the traditional telecom revenues. Overlaying on top of that, we`ve got this data piece with ATM [Asynchronous Transfer Mode], frame relay, and Internet connectivity that`s ready to capture this data market. We`re starting early so when the demand hits, we`ll be ready for it."

To be competitive, says Ghuman, a company has to drive its costs down while still marketing a product that will provide a full suite of services. With 32 wavelengths capable of OC-192 speed, it appears that bandwidth capacity will not be a problem for the ELI network`s immediate future on the West Coast.

"We`ve got 20 customers who have this system in the ground for 8 and 16 wavelengths," says Nortel Networks` Hudson. "ELI is going to be one of our lead customers for 32 wavelengths. It`s a total network, completely built off a set of technologies, because it includes some optical technologies, some time-division multiplexing technologies, and some network-management platform technologies as well." q

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