SBC's Wavelength Wonder

SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC) has beefed up its Multi-Service Optical Networking (MON) series of services with a DWDM ring offering (see SBC Enhances Multiservice Offerings).

But some sources question whether there's much fire behind the smoke. Do RBOCs care about wavelength services -- and if so, how much?

SBC's service is worth a double-take on a few counts. First, it's fast -- customers can get up to 160 Gbit/s per fiber pair. It features a ring topology, versus the point-to-point service that SBC has offered before. And it's being promoted throughout SBC's 13-state region.

All this compares favorably with other RBOC offerings -- which have been generally low-key. BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS) offers a point-to-point wavelength service in regional cities at rates to 2.5 Gbit/s (see BellSouth Intros Wavelength Services). Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q) offers mesh services at 2.5 Gbit/s. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) offers point-to-point 2.5-Gbit/s wavelength services in-region.

It seems, though, that SBC isn't pushing its new MON ring service very hard. In fact, it's peddling it to a select few customers. Specifically targeted are large enterprises looking to move multiprotocol data traffic quickly around multiple sites that are within close proximity. A financial services firm in New York City comes to mind. Other examples are harder to come by; SBC isn't giving any customer data, though it says the service is operational for an undisclosed number of companies, and the carrier's considering it for its own use.

SBC says it's just that the market for MON ring service is small -- because the product can only be purchased by a handful of deep-pocketed customers. According to Bob Walters, executive director of optical networking at SBC, the case for using this service "gets pretty specific," because it makes most sense where the call is for high-bandwidth, protocol-indifferent transport over short distances without the amplification that would hike up the DWDM costs.

At least one analyst thinks SBC and other RBOCs are just as worried about their own costs as they are about the customer's. "RBOCs put out announcements to let businesses know they still care. But they're not going out and starting to build rings," says Sam Greenholtz of Communications Industry Researchers Inc.

Greenholtz says RBOCs face more cost and complexity in rolling out metro wavelength services than in simply rerouting customer traffic, lighting more fiber, or upgrading a Sonet ring. And these days, they take the cheapest existing way unless they see specific demand.

Walters of SBC says this isn't quite the way things are. Instead, he says Gigabit Ethernet, Sonet, and DWDM will all play roles in future business nets, even as SBC moves to offer those services on a mostly-DWDM infrastructure.

As an example, Walters says SBC plans this summer to migrate its GigaMAN gigabit Ethernet service for metro customers to a CWDM-based OPTera 5100 platform from Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), whose OPTera 5200 is the basis for the MON ring service. The migration will be followed by the addition of Fibre Channel and 10-Gbit/s Ethernet interfaces to the GigaMAN services a few months later -- possibly by the end of 2003.

Bottom line? Wavelength services, while not taking off in a big way with RBOCs or their customers, are nonetheless fitting into a broader spectrum of more diverse service offerings. Who knows what new iterations lurk down the pike?

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

dljvjbsl 12/5/2012 | 12:12:32 AM
re: SBC's Wavelength Wonder This sounds very much like a fire sale.
firstmile 12/5/2012 | 12:12:29 AM
re: SBC's Wavelength Wonder A small number of very specific applications...sounds a lot like they are banging the PR drum on what would traditionally be called a "special assembly". Walters is a very smart guy and will not tip any future cards unless he has to. I'm betting that there are some more interesting and larger scale projects in the works.
billstewart 12/5/2012 | 12:12:08 AM
re: SBC's Wavelength Wonder It's not really a fire sale - it's reflecting the changes in available technology. Buying right-of-way, digging trenches, splicing fibers, and pulling stuff through conduits haven't changed much in cost over the last few years, but the amount of data you can shove across a piece of fiber has changed radically, and the amount of data that an X-thousand-dollar box can shove across a fiber has too. So that 4xOC192 CWDM doesn't really *cost* that much more than the 3xOC1 SONET ring we were trying to sell them five years ago, and the GigE you could also run on the fiber costs even less.

The big problem is that nobody knows how to *price* it without disrupting their existing base of SONET customers, except the people who don't *have* an existing base (like cable companies that are learning how to sell fiber), and the dark-fiber construction companies who are selling parts, not "value of service".

The main differences between what telcos can do vs. what construction companies can do is hook up to existing services in telco offices and occasionally manage wavelengths that use shared big metro rings with DWDM (or CWDM if they have enough spare fiber) and dedicated fibers for last-mile access, vs. the construction companies who usually just provide dark fiber.

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