The 100G race is on—later

Most of the pieces for an active 100-Gbps market have fallen into place. Alcatel-Lucent has finally given Ciena a bit of competition with the announcement of 100G capabilities on the 1830 Photonic Service Switch. Shortly thereafter, the IEEE ratified 802.3ba, its standard for 40 and 100 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE). As if to underscore the importance of these two events, Verizon announced it has trialed Alcatel-Lucent’s 7450 ESS loaded with 100GbE cards (the existence of which Alcatel-Lucent asserts is an industry first).

The system provider’s vice president, marketing for optical, Alberto Valsecchi, told me that he has “tens” of carriers with trials of the new 100G optical transport capabilities already on their dance cards. So it would seem that all we need now is for the Optical Internetworking Forum to finish its long-haul DWDM Implementation Agreements and a mammoth wave of 100-Gbps deployments will soon wash over long-haul networks.

But I wouldn’t start waxing your 100G surf boards just yet. There are at least two factors that should remind us that while commercial 100G is here, it hasn’t yet “arrived.”

First, just because the technology is available doesn’t mean it meets every carrier’s needs—or that a lot of carriers need it. As always, first-generation technology is expensive, so we’re likely to see near-term deployments only where bandwidth requirements force a carrier’s hand. For example, while Verizon’s deployment of Nortel’s 100G gear made a big splash, we haven’t heard that the carrier has deployed it anywhere else.

Second, two technology sources are better than one, but carriers likely will require three or four before they’re comfortable that there’s a near-term path to cost reduction and an adequate level of equipment choice. At some point they’ll also begin to care about interoperability, which certainly can’t be demonstrated at this time—or anytime soon, for that matter.

For these two reasons alone, the consensus among analysts that the market won’t start to boil until at least 2012 appears accurate. That gives plenty of time for a variety of important milestones to occur that will help negate these market obstacles:

  • other vendors enter the market,
  • module and subsystem vendors offer technology roughly comparable to what the Tier 1 OEMs have developed in-house,
  • 100GbE interfaces appear on core routers,
  • a round of cost reduction begins,
  • and carriers develop deployment strategies.

And while all this is going on, even more economical 10-Gbps technology will reach the field. This may help 100G (and 40G, which will continue to see deployments) by providing more opportunities for high-speed aggregation; however, it may hurt high-speed technology by making its price tag look even larger by comparison.

Investors, planners, and other observers, therefore, would do well to remember that the only thing likely to be fast about 100G deployments is the resulting transmission rate.

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