Undistracted, MCI ­continues ULH stretch

May 1, 2005

Amid the clamor Verizon and Qwest created in their pursuit of MCI, people like Jack Wimmer, vice president of network architecture and advanced technology of the suddenly popular carrier, have done their best to maintain a business-as-usual approach to improving MCI’s network. This task includes the deployment of ultra-long-haul (ULH) DWDM technology, an initiative the carrier began early last year. Wimmer remains confident that when the dust settles after the acquisition, the new owners will keep the ULH program going because of the benefits the next generation network will provide.

The ULH initiative resulted from the merger of MCI and WorldCom-and a pair of networks that frequently had duplicate paths between major hubs, sometimes over or near the same rights of way. “There is incremental capacity that’s coming onboard,” Wimmer says. “But the business case for MCI for this is much broader than that. It’s a network simplification and cost-reduction strategy. It allows us to add capacity at a much lower unit cost and in much shorter intervals, so we can manage our business more from a just in time inventory basis, if you think of bandwidth as basic inventory in our business. And it lays the groundwork for doing things like wavelength services in a much more affordable way for our customers.”

Wimmer says MCI already has seen many of the cost benefits usually associated with ULH technology, particularly a reduction in the number of network elements (because of the reduced need for regenerators) and the resultant simplification of the network. “The thing that makes the strategy work is we’re able to use the consolidation and simplification as a basis for putting out the infrastructure,” he explains. “And then the incremental growth becomes very easy to justify.”

The new equipment, which includes CoreStream from Ciena (Linthicum, MD) and the SURPASS hiT 7500 from Siemens (Munich), also makes provisioning easier and quicker. MCI would require nine months to add a channel with its old infrastructure. “In this environment, once I get the infrastructure in place, I literally ship the transponders to the two end points, plug them in, and I’m done,” Wimmer says.

Since consolidation is one of the program’s goals, much of the ULH routes involve existing singlemode fiber, which Wimmer describes as adequate for MCI’s current requirements in most cases. But on routes that have suffered multiple breaks or that display high polarization-mode dispersion (PMD), the carrier will install medium-dispersion TrueWave Reach fiber from OFS (Norcross, GA). The fiber, which Wimmer describes as “probably the first real next generation fiber to come along since singlemode was commercialized back in the 1980s,” offers low dispersion slope and PMD and high Raman gain efficiency.

These characteristics should become important as MCI increases network speeds beyond 10 Gbits/sec, although Wimmer points out that new fiber isn’t essential for 40-Gbit/sec operation. The carrier has already demonstrated 40-Gbit/sec transmission with Ciena and its subsystem partner, Mintera (Lowell, MA). The demonstration went well, in Wimmer’s view. “We would be using it today if we had the economics at the right point,” he says. “The issue is that 40-gig equipment is not yet fully integrated, and the cost is still a little bit high.”

Wavelength services represent a better short-term bet. “Wavelength services are a market that’s been much talked about and everyone’s been waiting for it to arrive. We think it actually has arrived and will be a significant piece of business over the next couple of years,” Wimmer says. MCI hasn’t officially announced a wavelength services offering. “We are bidding very aggressively for those services,” Wimmer reveals, “and it would not surprise me if there were some product announcements later in the year.”

A boom in wavelength services customers might quicken the rollout of new equipment, Wimmer says. However, the enhancements have already developed their own momentum, with 3,129 mi of infrastructure on sections of the carrier’s east/west routes upgraded by the end of last year. “The message is that we’re very much on track and entirely consistent with what we said a year ago,” he reports in response to those who may have doubted MCI’s resolve when the network upgrades were first announced. “And the plan is still very much what it was when we announced it a year ago.”

Wimmer says the program was both envisioned and funded as a three- to five-year project. While the battle for ownership had not been decided at the time of his comments, Wimmer expects that time scale to remain in place regardless of the identity of his new boss, concluding, “Any of the mergers that are being discussed are highly synergy-driven, and there are a lot of economic advantages to what we are doing.”

Stephen Hardy is the editorial director and associate publisher of Lightwave.

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