Sonet, optical networks shine at supercomm 97

July 1, 1997

Sonet, optical networks shine at supercomm `97

STEPHEN HARDY

Fiber-optic vendors experimented with their own recipe for gumbo at last month`s supercomm `97 show in New Orleans, LA. Synchronous Optical Network (Sonet) offerings and such optical network products as crossconnects and wavelength-division multi plexers served as the principal ingredients.

The Sonet Interoperability Forum (sif) provided what was arguably the keynote demonstration for fiber optics. The sif is a collection of equipment vendors, sponsored by the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, seeking to work together to overcome the technical hurdles to rapid deployment of Sonet technology. The forum linked seven pieces of Sonet gear from seven different vendors into a single OC-3 (155-Mbit/sec) unidirectional path-switched ring. To further highlight the applicability of Sonet to multivendor environments, five different network management systems demonstrated their abilities to oversee all or part of the ring using information transmitted via Sonet`s data-communications channels. While only one of the five systems kept tabs on all the equipment in the ring, a spokesman in the forum`s booth said this limitation had more to do with the failure to secure the necessary proprietary and nondisclosure agreements among vendors than with technological shortcomings.

Bellcore served as project manager for the demonstration. According to Bellcore`s Simon Leopold, principal project manager, professional services, several factors have emerged which demand that Sonet deliver on its promise as a multivendor medium. These include the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which forces the regional Bell operating companies to provide equal access to their facilities to potential competitors who may not be using the same equipment; the growing use of Sonet in multivendor enterprise networks; and the increasing number of mergers in the telecommunications arena, which will require the melding of what were once competing networks.

From a vendor perspective, the demonstration was hailed as a major step forward for Sonet in general, and for smaller companies with limited product lines in particular. Demonstrated interoperability will make it easier for such companies to sell pieces of a Sonet network, such as multiplexers, into existing networks dominated by systems from one of the major vendors.

Several vendors announced additions to their Sonet lines directed at the new applications this burgeoning interoperability should promote. For example, Positron Fiber Systems, Mt. Laurel, NJ, announced an integrated 100-Mbit/sec Ethernet interface card for the company`s osiris Sonet multiplexers. Intelect Network Technologies, Richardson, TX, debuted several enhancements to its sonetlynx multiplexer, which the company said would position the product for large backbone networks. These include Sonet OnRamp Access, which permits lower-speed access drops from a Sonet ring; an Ethernet bridge module; and a video module. Finally, Alcatel Network Systems, Richardson, TX, introduced the Maxxis digital crossconnect, which combines Sonet and Asynchronous Transfer Mode functions, while Tellabs, Lisle, IL, unveiled its Titan 5200 digital crossconnect system, a single-shelf version of its Titan 5500.

Optical networking

While Sonet received its due as an established technology maturing toward its potential, the newer science of optical networking also created a stir on the show floor. Optical crossconnect systems in particular attracted attention. Both Hitachi Telecom (usa) Inc., Atlanta, GA, and Lucent Technologies, Holmdel, NJ, debuted equipment in the exhibit hall, with Lucent incorporating its system in a live demonstration (see related article on page 1). Meanwhile, sources at Pirelli`s Telecom Systems Group, Lexington, NC, and nec America, Herndon, VA, revealed that their companies also were near to unveiling comparable systems. Pirelli sources predicted their system would be in field trials with mci by the end of the year, while an nec America representative said the company would begin to produce its optical crossconnect by the end of 1998 or the beginning of 1999.

Meanwhile, Alcatel sources said the company had already displayed its expertise in optical crossconnects, pointing to the capabilities of the firm`s optical amplifier systems and add/drop multiplexers. The company furthered its commitment to such technology by announcing the formation an optical networks product group to oversee its activities in this area.

Not to be outdone, the Pirelli sources said the firm intended to position itself as an optical networking company and focus most of its fiber-related efforts toward this phase of the technology. Pirelli introduced such optical networking products as the WaveMux 3200, a 32-channel unidirectional wavelength-division multiplexer compatible with both OC-48 (2.5 Gbits/sec) and OC-192 (10 Gbits/sec) that can transport 80 Gbits/sec over a single fiber pair; the T-31 omds16 optical multiplex system for metropolitan area applications; and a 4 ¥ 4 bidirectional optical amplifier system.

Ericsson, Richardson, TX, also threw its hat into the optical networking ring with the introduction of its erion line of eight-wavelength dense wavelength-division multiplexing (dwdm) products. The company announced the first sale of its erion equipment to Telecom Finland.

While the rush to jump into optical networking seems irresistible to some, not everyone is ready to take the plunge. "We`re not about all-optical networks," remarked ciena Corp.`s president and chief executive, Patrick Nettles, in an interview. The company unveiled the MultiWave Sentry line of dwdm systems at the show, which allow the transport of a mix of traffic types on each of 16 OC-48 or stm-16 channels over a single fiber. at&t has selected the product for field trials.

supercomm `97 was held June 1 to 5 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Slightly more than 37,700 people attended the event, presented jointly by the Telecommunications Industry Association and the United States Telephone Association. q

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