Fiber turns provincial in New Brunswick

June 1, 1997

Fiber turns provincial in New Brunswick

n STEPHEN M. HARDY

New Brunswick has a reputation as a peaceful Canadian province of forests, fields, and quiet fishing villages. However, communications companies such as New Brunswick Telephone and Fundy Telecom may soon add another item to this tranquil tableau of the imagination: fiber-optic networks.

"As a supplier, we have seen for some time an unusually high need for high-bit-rate, highly survivable equipment for the markets in New Brunswick," says Tim Krause, director of product marketing and business development at Alcatel`s Lightwave and Optical Networks Business Unit, Richardson, TX.

What may appear a quixotic quest for fiber derives from more than just a need to tell a lot of fishing stories, says Gary Lund, general manager of future services at New Brunswick Telephone, Saint John, NB, Canada. Despite its small population--753,000 residents occupy an area roughly the size of Maine--the province plays an important role in Canadian communications. Much of the telecommunications traffic streaming from the eastern Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario to the Maritime provinces travels through New Brunswick. Because New Brunswick is Canada`s only official bilingual province, it is also a natural location for telemarketing call centers.

To meet these two demands, as well as the requirements of residential users, New Brunswick Telephone made a commitment to fiber as early as 1986, Lund explains. That first fiber installation provided twelve DS-3 channels operating at 44.736 Mbits/sec. "Now we have OC-48 [2.5 Gbits/sec] as our backbone fiber route, and we`re experimenting with [10-Gbit/sec] OC-192," says Lund. The company also has its eye on the potential benefits of wavelength-division multiplexing, he says.

New Brunswick Telephone has decided to supplement its OC-48 backbone with more than 15 Synchronous Optical Network (Sonet) sub-rings. The relatively large number of sub-rings derives from the company`s deployment strategy for switching capacity. "Back in the 1980s, when we went to digital switching, we kept the host switch as small as possible and put remotes in," Lund explains. "So we took a piece of the centralized switch and put it in the residential area or the industrial park, and we fiber-fed those. So we probably have more fiber in the [local] access [area] than most telephone companies. In fact, perhaps 75% of all our residential and business customers are within 3 kilometers of a fiber-fed remote or hub. So we`re down almost to the last mile--or getting close."

New Brunswick Telephone uses dms switches supplied by Nortel. The remotes are outside-plant modules that are part of the dms family. Nortel also supplies the fiber cable, using fiber from companies such as Siecor Corp. and Corning Inc. The new Sonet sub-rings use Alcatel 1603/12 SM multiplexers in both add/drop and terminal configurations. These multiplexers provide simultaneous grooming of virtual tributary, synchronous transport signal and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (atm) circuits. They operate at both 155- and 622-Mbit/sec line rates as part of path-switched unidirectional rings. "The path-switched unidirectional ring is the most efficient, cost-effective technology to use" in such an application, comments Alcatel`s Krause.

The extensive use of fiber enables New Brunswick Telephone to manage its traffic loads efficiently across both the backbone and the sub-rings. "We have eight host switches around the province, and we`ve balanced them out so they run fairly hot," Lund says. "We try to maximize the utilization of those switches, because that means one software load, one memory upgrade, and so on, covers all." Taking advantage of the ability to spread software around the network quickly, the company has developed what Lund called "universal loads" of software, which enable the provision of such telephony features as call forwarding and three-way calling to subscribers across the province as needed.

The next step, according to Lund, will bring more broadband capabilities to network users. "We are taking atm to the home by using our fiber deployment," he says. "We`ve got fiber deployed far into the access network today; we may have to enhance that somewhat. We`re doing some work with hybrid fiber/coaxial cable, and we`re experimenting in several areas around Saint John, taking 10 Mbits/sec to the home--two-way, switched--with an atm fabric right to the home [see figure]."

New Brunswick Telephone has been successful in marketing the advantages of its advanced infrastructure, Lund reports. For example, approximately 40 call centers have been established in the province. The company has also begun to market interactive and video services using its network and expects to add a provision for cable TV next year.

Competition rings in

New Brunswick Telephone is not the only company to recognize the potential the province holds--or to attempt to unlock it with fiber. Fundy Cable Ltd./Lte. recently completed a $30 million, 2.4-Gbit/sec Sonet backbone that also rings the province.

While Fundy Telecom, Fundy Cable`s communications services division, could not be reached for comment by press time, the company also has contracted with Alcatel for equipment. According to Krause, Fundy`s new network features a 4-fiber, bidirectional line-switched ring architecture, which provides both high capacity and greater reliability.

"In New Brunswick, they are concerned about circuit availability and the reliability of the data that they`re passing for their customers," says Krause. "And the 4-fiber line-switched ring in some cases--depending on the nuances of the network--can have as much as an order of magnitude higher circuit availability. And the reason is that in addition to line-switched ring protection, it also has a second protection algorithm: span switching. So if there is a failure of an individual fiber or an individual circuit pack on the high-speed electronics, the system only makes a switch on the affected span in the ring, and all the rest of the nodes are unaffected."

The ring will feature Alcatel`s 1648 SM Sonet add/drop multiplexers and regenerators as well as 1610 OA optical amplifiers. Thirteen nodes will feed traffic to the ring, which can terminate more than 129,000 equivalent voice circuits at each node, according to Alcatel.

Fundy Telecom plans to use the fiber network to provide new features such as Internet services and enhance the provision of the company`s already existing voice, data, and video communications services. q

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