New equipment, opposing perspectives heat metro DWDM market

New equipment, opposing perspectives heat metro DWDM market

By STEPHEN HARDY

The flood of dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) equipment designed for metropolitan-area network applications rose in the first quarter of this year, with several companies announcing new systems. But while both incumbent and competitive local-exchange carriers now have plenty of options from which to choose--and some have embarked on equipment trials--a few observers have already begun to question whether a market for metro DWDM exists at all.

The most visible new entry to the field came from Lucent Technologies (Holmdel, NJ), which introduced its WaveStar AllMetro family of dense WDM systems at the recent OFC `99 show in San Diego, CA. The family comprises systems capable of transmitting four, eight, 20, or 40 channels of OC-48 (2.5-Gbit/sec) traffic, with the promise of OC-192 (10 Gbits/sec) in the future. The most salient feature of the equipment series is the ability to mix and match systems of different channel capacity on the same network, which can be designed in point-to-point, chain, or ring configurations. This characteristic allows carriers to configure each node in the network with exactly the capacity required, Lucent says. (This decision should be made with care, however, as the individual boxes cannot be directly upgraded to the next capacity level in the series. For example, if changing customer demands require a node with a 4-channel system to provide eight channels, a new system will have to be put in place.) The carrier also can configure these nodes for either flexible or fixed add/drop capabilities.

Kathy Szelag, optical networking vice president at Lucent, reports that "more than one" regional Bell operating company (RBOC) is looking at the product line. But she expects that competitive local-exchange carriers will provide the first groundswell of support for the systems. Szelag says the WaveStar AllMetro will begin lab trials this summer, and examples of the product family will be displayed at supercomm in June. However, the systems won`t be ready for production until the end of the year.

Meanwhile, ADVA Optical Networking, a company founded in Munich, Germany, and with offices in Ramsey, NJ, recently introduced a WDM product aimed at what it considers a fairly unique niche in the metro space. The company began its foray into WDM with an enterprise-targeted system primarily for Fortune 100 banks, financial institutions, insurance companies, and governments that needed to transmit potentially hundreds of channels of Escon traffic between data centers over networks they had constructed with dark fiber provided by their local carrier.

However, two factors convinced the company to approach the market in a new way, says Brian McCann, president of ADVA in the United States. The first was that the company achieved several of its sales when end users dragged them to their local carrier with the aim of jury-rigging a carrier-based data-transmission service. The second factor, related to the first, was that these shotgun weddings were necessary because private networks were becoming increasingly difficult for end users to construct themselves.

"The key issue, particularly in the United States, is dark fiber is not nearly as available as it needs to be to service the enterprise applications," McCann explains. "So the whole premise behind our [new] solution is to allow enterprises to access high-speed data services using WDM as a platform, but getting it now through the carriers as opposed to their own dark fiber."

Thus, ADVA has introduced its Fiber Service Platform, designed to enable carriers to provide such high-capacity data networking services over metro networks without swamping existing Synchronous Optical Network (SONET) infrastructures. The product comes in two versions, one primarily for enterprise applications that may not need WDM right away, the other for carrier networks where DWDM makes the most sense--particularly considering the high capacity requirements data centers present. "We`re really talking about gigabytes and terabytes, where normal, traditional wide-area networking technologies such as ATM and SONET really have a problem," says Ralph Humberg, marketing director for ADVA in Germany.

The business case for such applications, which could run from the Escon speed of 200 Mbits/sec to the Fibre Channel rate of 1.06 Gbits/sec, is very attractive, according to McCann. He claims carriers can achieve a complete return on investment within six months.

These new products join several offerings already on the market, from Osicom`s GigaMux Metro line to the Nortel Networks (nee Cambrian Systems) OPTera. Having christened its entire DWDM product line OPTera, Nortel Networks (Brampton, ON, Canada) is emphasizing the protocol-independent nature of the metro version, which the company has engineered to service Gigabit Ethernet, sonet/sdh, Escon, Fibre Channel, and digital video via a scalable platform. The company touts the system as the first one available that can support a protected optical ring.

The general message from metro DWDM companies emphasizes flexibility, scalability, and low cost in a manageable way. For example, Steve Cortez, manager of product marketing at NEC America (Herndon, VA), believes the true key to metro DWDM will be the provision of optical add/drop multiplexing, robust wavelength management capabilities, and protection options for a variety of network architectures. He reports that NEC America will demonstrate optical-ring technology, including wavelength-based path switching, via its SpectralWave system at supercomm.

Carriers have started to respond to vendor overtures by accepting products for field trials and, in rarer instances, deployment. Bell Canada, for example, has agreed to run the OPTera metro system through its paces, while Tellium (Oceanport, NJ) is believed to be near a deal with an RBOC to supply its WDM transport gear. Osicom has succeeded in landing at least three contracts with competitive local-exchange carriers, including TU Communications Inc. Other announced customers for the GigaMux include the Tangshan Cable Television Network in China as well as several European concerns.

Meanwhile, CIENA continues to watch over a pair of field trials of its metro offering. CIENA`s Jose Leon agrees with the general consensus that the competitive local-exchange carriers will be the earliest adopters of metro DWDM, in large part because of the cumbersome qualification procedures necessary to add equipment to RBOC networks. Metro applications generally will start at the OC-3 (155-Mbit/sec) or OC-12 (622-Mbit/sec) level, he believes; 10 Gbits/sec in a metro environment will be a long time coming. While the company has reduced the cost of its metro product through the incorporation of directly modulated lasers and proprietary filtering technology, he admits that CIENA has yet to achieve the price parity with SONET-based solutions he feels is necessary to kick start the metro DWDM market. He claims that the cost battle has been won for OC-12 applications, but OC-3 remains elusive.

Is something wrong here?

However, some view the current array of product offerings, and the relatively small number of carriers who have announced field trials of the technology, and conclude that the entire concept of metro DWDM is misguided. Just as startup companies like Monterey Networks, Lightera, and others are attempting to reimagine long-haul networks (see related story on page 34), some entrepreneurs say DWDM-based solutions miss the point of the metro environment entirely.

"There is no metro DWDM market," states Hugh Martin, president and chief executive of Optical Networks (San Jose, CA), a startup that has targeted the metro space with a combination of optical transport and data-networking savvy. While metro networks will need to be engineered to provide the applications that customers require, Martin says the applications should drive the network technology, not the other way around--and forcing technology onto applications is what he insists DWDM vendors are attempting to do. According to Optical Networks, metro users will require networks that are data-centric and provide dynamic provisioning of capacity and routes, manageability, low initial cost, survivability with 50-msec restoration, scalability, service transparency through a single interface for all services, and capacity. A network that focuses on DWDM only addresses some of these requirements--principally capacity, Martin states. The company plans to back up its bravado next month with the introduction of its new optical networking product set.

Such disclaimers aside, the prevailing attitude is that at least some of the new generation of metro WDM products will find a home in carrier networks. "I think that everyone is pretty much in agreement that [metro DWDM has] been elusive in part because the performance objectives of setting up optical networking with SONET functionality have been very difficult to achieve," concludes McCann. "The other piece is the tradeoff with cost. So what happened in 1998 was a migration toward OC-192 instead of taking that step for WDM. But we are a strong believer in the metro market; there is clearly a need, both from high-speed enterprise applications as well as metro carriers, particularly to service the WAN interface--what do you do for high-speed IP [Internet protocol] out to the WAN?"

Outside sources appear to agree. Pioneer Consulting estimates the metro DWDM market will grow from about $200 million in 1998 to $1 billion by 2003. Despite what some may see as a slow start, that`s one billion good reasons for the current crop of vendors to maintain hope. q

More in Network Design