Comnet 96 proclaims radiant outlook for fiber-optic communications

Comnet `96 proclaims radiant outlook for fiber-optic communications

BEN HARRIS0N

Comnet, the first data communications exposition and conference of the year, serves as a weathervane for future events and an indicator of the vitality of the communications industry. If the conference`s predictions for fiber-optics communications are valid, the forecast is bright.

Comnet `96 attracted 45,108 attendees and featured more than 500 companies exhibiting networking and communications tools, technologies and services. More than 350 new communications products were introduced during the show, which also issued more than 700 press passes for editors covering the exposition.

Held in Washington, DC, in January, the exposition provided a range of data communications technology and information, including broadband applications from telephone companies, data communications companies, and network and infrastructure suppliers.

Among fiber-related news developments, AT&T in Atlanta said it has launched service on its Global Olympic Network, the first official Olympic long-distance telecommunications network. It uses approximately 2000 miles of fiber-optic cable in the Olympic infrastructure from AT&T Network Systems to link 29 Olympic venues and administrative offices. At the Olympic Stadium alone, more than 150 miles of Systimax Structured Cabling System cable and 190 miles of connecting cable will be available to carry signals.

In addition, there are more than 17,000 cable-TV outlets served by AT&T`s Olympic network. Earlier Olympic Games had no unified network. Combinations of international private lines were often patched together through negotiation with several providers, and advanced applications were expensive. Now the Games will have an official "virtual private network" with one-stop provisioning, centralized management and connectivity to high-technology applications.

In other news developments, Bell Communications Research in Morristown, NJ, presented a Certification Mark program to manufacturers and suppliers of telecommunications equipment. Mary Ward-Callan, Bellcore`s segment manager of supplier certification and conformance testing, described the program as a "natural extension of Bellcore`s technical auditing program, which has been the industry benchmark for more than a decade." She says the program was created to fill the need of manufacturers and their customers for objective, vendor-neutral, third-party verification of a product`s performance with a defined set of criteria.

Mike Farabelli, Bellcore vice president of marketing, noted that "they are seeing a great deal of interest from manufacturers who view Bellcore certification as a way to improve their competitiveness in the marketplace."

Other speakers addressed different aspects of converging and emerging technologies and their impact on communications. For example, the keynote address by Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory, was titled "A World Without Communication Boundaries: What to Expect in a Period of Radical Change." His informal talk focused on the ways people access and use information. He examined emerging digital solutions that are fundamentally changing telecommunications and computing infrastructures that comprise today`s networks.

Negroponte also focused on security and privacy issues. "The digital world has become less secure than the real world. Cyberlaw is a global law with no precedence. You`re going to want three kinds of security--you`ll want to know who is sending you a message, that no one`s listening in and that no one`s taking information from you while you`re online." Putting security into perspective, he added, "I`m amused when a person says, `I`ll never type my Visa number into the Internet,` but he will hand his card to a waiter, and you don`t know what he is doing with it."

The number of people who can access digital information is growing. Negroponte said approximately 70% of all personal computers in the United States are in homes. He also noted that the number of Internet users has doubled from a year ago, World Wide Web sites are doubling every 50 days, and a new home page is being added every five seconds.

The growth of the Internet, however, did not come from a centralized model. As an analogy, he cited ducks that fly in a V- formation for the winter. "Some people believe that the front duck in the V is leading the rest. But if you shoot the front duck, another one will assume its place. It`s not appointed; it`s not the vice president duck."

Negroponte also noted the profile of Internet users might surprise some people. "There is no American under the age of 16 who is digitally illiterate. People who are at least 55 years old represent the highest percentage per capita of those going online. What they have in common with kids is time," he said. "And standing on the side of the information superhighway are the `digital homeless,` who are rich, middle-aged and middle-class Americans," he added.

Besides Negroponte`s keynote talk, there were more than 140 educational conference sessions, tutorials, keynotes and plenaries organized into nine categories and 13 technology tracks. Comnet covered network evolution in the public and private domain, new network service options, collaborative computing, multimedia and deployment of specific technologies through technical and hands-on sessions.

One of the conference`s highlights was the Livenet on-site network, which is modeled after a corporate enterprise network. Demonstrations provided attendees with benefits and limitations of local and wide area asynchronous mode transfer, fiber distribution data interface, frame relay, switched multimegabit data service, switched Ethernet, switched token ring, and 100-megabit-per-second Ethernet. This on-site network also included tutorial sessions on fiber-optic installation.

Fiber U tutorial

The tutorials were conducted by the Boston-based Fiber Optic Association Inc. Jim Hayes, president of Fotec Inc. in Medford, MA, and cofounder of the association, was the lead instructor. In his Fiber U tutorial, Hayes cited cable-TV companies as being similar to wildcatters in the oil and gas industry. "Cable-TV operators, like wildcatters, grab the low bid, do it as cheaply as possible, and then figure out how to make money," he said. He contrasted this operating style with that of the telephone companies, which are "best known for dealing with the federal government and purchasing organizations."

Hayes also described cable-TV operators as "most innovative" and said they are installing vast amounts of fiber in schools and universities for Internet access. This is the first time that Fiber U has been part of the Comnet exposition.

Product demonstrations

Comnet `96 fiber-optic communications product demonstrations included those by Telco Systems Inc., Pairgain Technologies, Positron Fiber Systems, Emulex and 3Com.

Norwood, MA-based Telco Systems and Pairgain Technologies in Tustin, CA, plan to offer integrated fiber-optic delivery systems for high-speed voice and data services, including integrated services digital network and frame relay. The combined product offerings provide low error rates of fiber transport on an end-to-end basis. According to Anand Parikh, vice president for marketing and business development at Telco Systems, "Telephone companies can no longer afford to go through a six-week planning cycle before system installation." The company plans to combine its Microfox fiber-optic extension system with a Higain shelf to provide a low-capacity, integrated T1 fiber and high-bit-rate digital subscriber line distribution solution. Pairgain Technologies plans to combine high-capacity Higain products with Telco Systems` Hyperspan 828 series of fiber-optic multiplexers to provide solutions for OC-3 and DS-3 hubbing via fiber, and then onto customer premises via copper. Service providers can combine multiple high-bit-rate digital subscriber lines on a single high-speed backbone w with speeds up to the synchronous optical network, or Sonet, OC-3 rate of 155 Mbits/sec.

Positron FibeSystems Inc. in Mt. Laurel, NJ, demonstrated its management and control software for Sonet broadband access products. Known as Osiris-vue-2.0, the software provides users with a comprehensive system for network configurations. The Windows-based graphical i nterface runs on any personal computer platform. According to Andrew Knott, Positron`s vice president for marketing and sales, "Typically, installing and maintaining Sonet multiplexers requires users to master complicated line-by-line command interfaces resort to expensive Unix-based management platforms. What we have is simple Sonet technology." He notes the company`s software system simplifies installation and maintenance procedures while using a low-cost PC.

For example, its graphical interface allows nonexperts to install and configure Osiris` broadband access networks, as well as find faults within these networks, using its point-and-click interface. "This system significantly reduces training time and cost because every network node and plug-in module is represented graphically," Knott says.

Emulex Corp. in Costa Mesa, CA, demonstrated a Fibre Channel hub designed to simplify management of Fibre Channel arbitrated hub networks. The company`s Lightpulse fiber hub allows for full-speed Fibre Channel throughput at 1.062 gigabits per second at less than $300 per port. According to Paul Folino, president and chief executive, "This product offers users network connectivity without the high cost of a switch." He adds that the hub drives down the entry price point for the technology so information technology managers can examine Fibre Channel as an upgrade option for their existing network backbone.

A fiber hub can connect 10 separate network devices, including workstations, servers and disk drives. Multiple 10-port hubs can be interconnected to support larger configurations, including 126 network devices on a Fibre Channel arbitrated loop network. Scott Ruple, director of product management for Emulex, said, "Along with our adapter, we have lowered the total per-port connection cost of full-gigabit Fibre Channel networks to below $2500." He foresees a boom in Fibre Channel technology during 1996.

Santa Clara, CA-based 3Com Corp. demonstrated Fast Ethernet modules for its LANplex switches. A $1795 fiber model plans to ship in the second quarter of 1996. In addition, Trimedia Fast Ethernet modules for the LANplex 6000 are also available in $20,000 fiber versions scheduled to ship in April. q

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