Vendors prepare ultra-long-haul systems for expected market boom

SYSTEMS

By ROBERT PEASE

The primary focus of most optical telecommunications carriers has shifted into the metropolitan and access areas with the recent market downturn. The result is a marked slowdown in ultra-long-haul (ULH) buildouts-making it difficult for vendors of ULH systems to steal the limelight with new announcements of more channels, faster speeds, and longer distances.

However, although time may be on the side of carriers for now, eventually the tremendous growth in the Internet, coupled with more high-bandwidth applications, should pressure carriers to upgrade their networks to handle the in creased traffic flows. When the demand calls for action, ULH equipment vendors must be ready with proven products to address the needs of service providers.

"With the capacity currently built, service providers may try to delay purchase of a new transport system for the network core as long as possible, investing elsewhere to focus on service creation and time-to-market issues, conserving capital as long as possible while taking advantage of the latest technology available when the long-haul investment can no longer be put off," says Dave Dunphy, a market analyst with Current Analysis (Sterling, VA). "When service providers do take the plunge, they will want a platform that can scale to support their needs long enough to be paid off with service revenues."

"Service providers are being pressured to upgrade their network more frequently than CFOs [chief financial officers] would like. Carriers need to implement a platform that gives them the confidence of serving their needs over a minimum five-year planning window, despite the fact that technology innovations now occur in a much shorter timeframe," adds Dunphy.

With this thought in mind, ULH equipment manufacturers are rallying to ensure that when the time is right for customers, their offerings will meet the demand.

Corvis Corp. (Columbia, MD) announced the latest addition to its all-optical CorWave family of products last March during the 2001 Optical Fiber Conference in Anaheim, CA. The product uses the C- and L-bands, soliton transmission, and Raman amplification to provide high-capacity DWDM transport capable of 3.2 Tbits/sec. The CorWave LR can transport 320 OC-192 (10-Gbit/sec) wavelengths up to 800 km without regeneration, or 160 OC-192s at distances up to 2,000 km.

The use of soliton technology in one of its ULH products finally answers the questions surrounding Corvis's earlier decision to acquire Algety Telecom, a company with many years of research into the application of solitons in telecommunications. The CorWave LR is scheduled for general availability this year.

"The key benefits of our solution include O-E-O [optical-electrical-optical] port minimization regarding both switching and regeneration," says Bob Wohlford, senior vice president of marketing at Corvis. "We also reduce the overall footprint, enhance service velocity, simplify fiber management, and reduce power consumption."

On the heels of the Corvis announcement, two more ULH players announced products or enhancements at June's 2001 SuperComm in Atlanta. Marconi plc (London) upped its competitive ante in the ULH space with the announcement of a system capable of transporting 160 OC-192 channels over distances of up to 3,000 km. The SmartPhotoniX UPLx160 also uses Marconi's own soliton technology from its SOLSTIS unit.

Although a relatively new entrant into the ULH space, Marconi hopes to gain a foothold by demonstrating its technical capabilities in the UPLx160. The product combines the forward error control (FEC) and Raman amplification technologies embraced by many competitors with new soliton capabilities to boost Marconi into the ULH race. The system also provides an add/drop capability.

"Amplification is provided by hybrid Raman and EDFA, using Raman only in either long, high-loss links or where extreme reach is required," says Nick Doran, vice president and chief technology officer for Marconi's ULH photonics division. "Shorter distances have greater margins, allowing, for example, EDFA-only solutions."

Marconi's platform will be released for general availability in October. The system is completing laboratory tests this month.

With a serious enhancement to its AMN 6100 product, Hitachi Telecom (USA) Inc. (Norcross, GA) announced the availability of a 128-channel DWDM system able to carry optical traffic up to 8,000 km at 10 Gbits/sec without regeneration. The AMN 6100 is available in three configurations to match carriers' route spans and type of fiber used: a long-haul, a ULH (to 1,100 km), and a super ULH (up to 8,000 km).

"A unique feature of our product is its ability to work on any architecture and fiber type, including many older fiber types," says David Foote, director of optical products and technology at Hitachi. "Although other vendors have endorsed the virtues of Raman amplification, we believe it has inherent limitations, such as its use on some fiber types, on some route-span conditions, and on some DWDM bands. This may result in a reduction of available channel count."

At press time, that was the industry-leading distance for an available terrestrial product. By adding ULH capabilities to an already-proven and deployed product, Hitachi adds some credibility to its capabilities-enough to gain the attention of an important long-haul player, Global Crossing Ltd. (Hamilton, Bermuda), which will deploy the AMN 6100 ULH system in its North American Crossing Network overbuild.

"Up to now, Hitachi's existing AMN 6100 transport product supported distances of up to about 1,000 km, which does not address the 'sweet spot' of many long-haul spans of 1,200 to 2,000 km," says analyst Grier Hansen of Current Analysis. "Nor would it handle any of the ultra-long-haul capabilities that competitors are beginning to offer. Hitachi has made a major leap, going from shortened long-haul transport to 8,000 km, which is the strongest support of any available solutions-although most vendors in the ULH are working hard toward achieving these types of distances."

Those other vendors include Nortel Networks (Brampton, Ontario), Lucent Technologies (Murray Hill, NJ), CIENA Corp. (Linthicum, MD), and Fujitsu (Tokyo), all having announced ULH systems. Optisphere Networks Inc. (Reston, VA) has announced support for 10,000 km.

As solutions emerge for current problems in the metropolitan and access markets, the long-haul and ULH markets appear ready to rise to the occasion. The capability to transport huge amounts of traffic across many miles will become a focus for service providers. The only question remaining will be who can transport how much, how far, how fast-and how much will it cost?

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