Nortel's Got a Plan

Optical Internet chief Mumford says they're beefing up DWDM platform; new CEO will come from outside Nortel

May 16, 2001

4 Min Read
Nortel's Got a Plan

OTTAWA -- By all accounts, the past nine months have been the worst in the history of Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT). But one of the struggling company's top two optical executives says it's not time to throw in the towel.

In an exclusive interview with Light Reading at his office in Ottawa, D.G. "Greg" Mumford, president of Nortel's Optical Internet business (see Greg Mumford), detailed his plans to help the reeling Canadian giant regain its footing.

"We are absolutely focused on the high-growth segments of this industry," Mumford says. "It's a tough time for the company, but we think we're investing in the right things and that our investment program is on the right trajectory."

To start with, Nortel's optical divisions have regrouped, as previously reported in Light Reading (see Nortel's Empty Room at the Top). Mumford's still in charge of the Optical Internet division, which includes long-haul optical equipment. His colleague Frank Plastina, who like Mumford reports directly to CEO John Roth, governs an expanded suite of divisions that includes Metropolitan Optical, which is now headed up by Brian McFadden.

When questioned, Mumford says he's not sure who'll succeed Roth, who plans to retire next year. He is clear about one thing, however: The candidate will come from outside the company.

"John Roth and the board have decided the new CEO will be external," he remarks. Further, he says the company might leave the post of chief operating officer vacant. (COO Clarence Chandran has resigned for health reasons.)

"Before 2000 we didn't have a COO," he notes. While times are tough, he says, the company can probably do without one.

Mumford's enthusiastic, though, when it comes to describing the products his division plans to promote this year. Topping the list is the Optera Connect HDX, Nortel's long-awaited, integrated, multiprotocol DWDM platform.

Aimed to compete with the CoreDirector switch from Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN), the HDX is out to best its rival in the long-haul market. Mumford says it will support a 3.8-Tbit/s fabric, fed by multiple 800-Gbit/s switching cards, and up to 384 DWDM channels -- all without taxing the present power and air conditioning requirements of the carriers. It will bristle with interfaces, including multiple gigabit and 10-gig Ethernet -- followed as soon as possible by 40-Gbit/s.

The HDX will also be a grooming box, capable of manipulating STS1 (51.8 Mbit/s) connections. It will deploy MPLS (multiprotocol label switching), including prestandard iterations of generalized MPLS, which handles circuits and wavelengths as well as packets.

Software called Optera Smart is also a key item on Mumford's roster. This suite of protocols, announced earlier this year along with the HDX, will be added across the board to Nortel's gear to provide an automatic way for devices to interact with other gear on the optical network. Optera Smart is based on specifications for an Automatic Switched Transport Network (ASTN), formulated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Sounds terrific. But doesn't it matter that the Connect HDX still has an electrical core -- giving it a limited lifespan?

Not a bit, Mumford says. "That's what the carriers require right now." As long as individual wavelengths must carry a mix of traffic -- voice, IP, Sonet, Ethernet, etc. -- electrical devices will be required to sift, aggregate, and manage it, he says. As the carriers make the move to larger, smarter optical cores, based on Nortel's own 1000x1000-matrix photonic switch (also under development), the HDX will move farther out on the edge.

Mumford also says that Nortel's terabit router, the Optera Packet Core, which came to light last year (see Nortel Discloses Terabit Router Plans ), is now set for beta testing by year's end. A key feature of this product will be its ability to expand capacity by linking multiple chassis, instead of requiring a new chassis.

And there you have it. A roadmap of hope through Nortel's slough of despond. Now the question seems to be whether Nortel can get all this out the door, despite its financial woes and the layoff of 21 percent of its workforce (see Nortel: Losses and Layoffs, Eh?). Indeed, there's not a moment to lose, considering the ongoing traction that Ciena's CoreDirector continues to gain (see How Ciena Won TyCom ).

Mumford seems to anticipate the questions and is intent on demonstrating the reality of his product vision. A lengthy tour of the optical lab reveals what is perhaps Ottawa's largest and most complex testbed for long-haul gear. At one table, components are displayed, many of them aimed at sustaining 40-Gbit/s equipment.

In a sunlit corner, prototypes of the Connect HDX are on view. Fully assembled cards and chassis are slotted into racks, interface cards open to reveal glittering arrays of squiggly coils and squares in startling patterns. Mumford says carriers will have the product in hand for trials by late this summer.

"Look at this," he says, breaking into a grin as he leans over an opened 800-Gbit/s switching card and a display of associated components. "Some of this couldn't have been done even six months ago. This is why we're confident." - Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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