New switch fabric means more flexibility for the Flashwave 7500. But how soon will the market be ready for it?

April 4, 2005

5 Min Read
Fujitsu Firms Its ROADM Resolve

The ROADM systems space got another nudge of momentum this morning as Fujitsu Network Communications Inc. (FNC) announced it has added a WSS (wavelength-selective switch) optical switch fabric, tunable narrowband optics, new optical modular transceivers, and a host of other improvements to its Flashwave 7500 reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexer (ROADM). (See Fujitsu Improves ROADM Devices.)

The upshot of all of these improvements is that they position FNC to provide a product more squarely in line with where RBOCs and cable providers are going with their metro networks. But will it be enough to stave off challengers to the vendor's apparent lead in the ROADM systems space?

Because it’s a ROADM system, operators can already remotely change which wavelengths are taken in and out of a particular optical switching node with the Flashwave 7500. But with its new WSS fabric, the device can switch any wavelength into any of several output ports, giving it the ability to interconnect several optical rings at once. That feature alone saves carriers from having to spend more on the fiber connections and transponders required to link several DWDM systems together.

These advances are testament to how carrier networks are evolving. Carriers are no longer able to spend precious time and money manually provisioning optical channels on their DWDM systems. And they don't always know which sites on their networks will need to dynamically connect to one another as new services come online.

So a WSS-based ROADM system is a good thing to have, especially with the kind of market power FNC enjoys in the optical transport space. In fact, the vendor claims it has more than 220 Flashwave 7500 nodes deployed today and that more than 90 percent of all ROADMs deployed in North America are Flashwave 7500 DWDM systems.

Several of FNC's deployments have been in the cable MSO (multiservice operator) space, as those operators are quickest to move on video applications and core network consolidation. The vendor counts Bright House Networks, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. (NYSE: COX), and Shaw Communications Inc. as customers.

But there's RBOC interest, too. FNC spokespeople say they have 75 shelves of Flashwave 7500 equipment deployed in the unregulated portion of one RBOC, but they could "neither confirm nor deny" the carrier's identity.

Indeed, the buzz about ROADM systems has been amped up because there are several big carriers with requests for proposal (RFPs) asking for a single device that can provide integrated transport and switching at both the wavelength and Sonet layers (see Report: ROADM Market to Nearly Double and Vendors Race for Reconfigurability).

Clearly, FNC is aiming at a metro DWDM RFP issued by Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), as their spokespeople referred to it three times during a 20-minute call. SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC) has had one out recently as well, though it's thought to have been wrapped up by Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and its partner, Tropic Networks Inc. (see SBC: ROADM Search Ain't Over).

The heightened carrier interest in WSS-based ROADM devices is understandable. Several upcoming next-generation access networks -- such as SBC's Project Lightspeed and Verizon's FiOS deployments -- will shove loads of bandwidth back onto metro transport networks. This is causing carriers to upgrade the metro core "in a much larger way than just on a ring-by-ring basis," according to Scott Clavenna, chief analyst with Heavy Reading.

"The time has come for a new metro optical layer that is capable of unifying the many diverse service networks in place today or currently under construction," Clavenna writes in his upcoming report, "The Future of Optical Networking in the Metro Core."

These metro core networks can't improve solely with denser products and faster ports. "With triple play and Ethernet access services coming along, stacking ADMs just doesn't scale anymore," he says. "You're not just nailing up point-to-point pipes anymore. You're doing things dynamically and you're moving things around."

That call to metro core flexibility is what FNC sees itself answering, as do its competitors, which include Alcatel, ADVA Optical Networking (Frankfurt: ADV), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), ECI Telecom Ltd. (Nasdaq/NM: ECIL), Lambda Optical Systems Corp., Mahi Networks Inc., Marconi Corp. plc (Nasdaq: MRCIY; London: MONI), Meriton Networks Inc., Movaz Networks Inc., Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE), Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA), and Tropic.

Even in a crowded field, FNC is well positioned, given its Sonet ADM dominance in large incumbent carriers. But even FNC might have some issues if the ROADM systems market stays in its perpetual state of being almost ready to take off.

"First, this market is being driven by U.S. RBOCs, which are presently in a state of flux as they consolidate with IXCs and integrate their networks," writes Clavenna, in his coming report. "Second, the price premium associated with reconfigurable systems may be unpalatable to operators in the next two to three years as they focus capex on access builds."

Still, given the fact that huge metro core upgrades are being pushed by greater Ethernet deployments and new access networks, the market has potential. What will be key is the timing of deployments, as that will set the tone for how likely some of FNC's privately held competitors stick around to challenge it.

— Phil Harvey, News Editor, Light Reading

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