Optical/IP Networks

OIF Carrier Working Group: About Time?

The Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF) has formed a working group specifically to "foster and address carrier-specific recommendations." And industry sources say it's a small step forward, considering what's needed.

The working group was formally voted into being late in January 2001 and unveiled to the world last week, but the group's apparently been in existence informally since May 2000. Among other things, it's worked to define a set of requirements for OIF's User Network Interface (UNI) 1.0, which will allow IP routers to request bandwidth from optical networking devices in carrier nets.

By formalizing the group, the OIF demonstrates awareness that carrier input is key to developing specs for next-generation networks. "There was recognition that carriers are going to be the main customers for these new networks, that we needed more formal input," says John Strand, a consultant with AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T), who will be chairing the new OIF Carrier Working Group.

Besides AT&T, other carriers represented in the OIF group include Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), Global Crossing Ltd. (NYSE: GX), Sphera Optical Networks Inc., Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON), Telia AB, Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ), and WorldCom Inc. (Nasdaq: WCOM).

Right now, industry sources say there's a lack of meaningful carrier participation in many standards development groups -- a lack that could be disastrous if it isn't addressed. Groups like The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) and The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) don't have a way to ensure carrier input, sources say.

"It's a major problem," says one carrier network architect, who asked that his name and company affiliation be withheld. He says carriers belong to lots of groups but don't participate in a meaningful way. Sometimes, he notes, they send folk who are too passive or who aren't qualified to participate -- often because they just don't have the people to send. "Carriers don't comprehend the impact these organizations will ultimately have on their ability to get the technology they really need, versus having to accept something that's dictated to them by the data vendors."

If the vendors dominate standards bodies, he says, there's a chance that specs won't be able to meet carriers' requirements for scaleability and reliability. He feels that could spell disaster.

"Data equipment vendors are multiplying like blind mice in an open granary," he rhapsodizes, "and without carrier input we're in for a major service meltdown." High-profile frame relay disasters in recent memory, he says, resulted from carriers accepting equipment into their networks that wasn't up to snuff.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI)'s T1X1 Technical Subcommittee, a group that creates specs for input to a range of standards bodies worldwide, are among the only groups that have formalized procedures to ensure carrier input.

"We have four classifications of membership, including interexchange carrier, exchange carrier, manufacturer, and general interest," says Ken Biholar, vice chair of T1X1, who also works at Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA: Paris: CGEP:PA). "If we find that voting ballots show a strong leaning in favor of any one group, then that's an issue that needs to be addressed."

The OIF sees the formation of its group as a step in the right direction. "Becoming more formal is also a more structured way to interface with other groups," says John Strand. The OIF, he points out, is not itself a standards body but regularly submits its work to groups such as the IETF.

He says the group's first official project will be to draft a set of requirements for multidomain, multivendor optical networks. The document is slated for delivery to the OIF at its next meeting in Paris early in May.

-- Mary Jander, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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