Optical/IP Networks

Optical Signaling: Slow but Sure

Participants in a recent webinar conducted by Light Reading see optical signaling as a key factor in next-generation carrier networks. But it's going to take time for specs to materialize, they say. And in the process, proponents will need to take care not to let proprietary interests overshadow the ultimate goal.

Whatever shape they finally take, signaling standards are critical to the future of the optical networking industry. Carriers already are well on their way to using optical networking technology to solve their capacity problems. Now they need to find ways to generate revenues from all that bandwidth. By enabling the instantaneous deployment of new services across multivendor networks for the first time, signaling could do just that.

During a webinar titled, "Optical Signaling: Turning Capacity into Currency," conducted on October 11 by Scott Clavenna, director of research at Light Reading and president of PointEast Research LLC, viewers were asked to comment on the progress of specs that purport to enable carriers to automate provisioning of multiservice networks.

A majority (60 percent) of 144 respondents think it will be sometime in 2003 or 2004 before optical signaling comes to the fore on carrier networks. And 33 percent think it will take longer:

What’s the holdup? Panelists on the webinar said standards take time, particularly in the carrier world. "Proprietary signaling mechanisms are already being deployed by a number of vendors," said Krishna Bala, CTO and co-founder of Tellium Inc. (Nasdaq: TELM). He says it will be 2005 and beyond before standards take hold, primarily because carriers will wait for the T1X1 subcommittee of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to bless the specs once the initial work is done by other bodies.

According to Bala, the fact that so many carriers are willing to wait years for Telcordia Technologies Inc. to complete OSMINE certification of their provisioning and management software "is testament" to their painstaking and uncompromising approach.

Others agree, with reservations. According to Amy Copley, senior product manager at Sycamore Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SCMR) and another panelist, industry consolidation will force the issue a bit. "The economic situation that’s currently plaguing us all will help drive requirements for interoperable networks," she says. As carriers and vendors continue to merge and purge, such as is presently underway, it will become more important for signaling to ensure that the wheel isn’t continually reinvented. Still, she too doesn’t expect to see widespread rollouts until at least 2003.

A key focus of interest in optical signaling homes in on generalized multiprotocol label switching (GMPLS), the IP-based specs under construction at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Many participants think there’s a chance that the signaling specs could suffer if preliminary work on MPLS, which is presently underway, hits political shoals. Indeed, a full 51 percent of 136 webinar attendees who chose to respond to the question said GMPLS is at risk of "too many cooks" syndrome:

These findings tally with an earlier Light Reading poll in which readers indicated they think MPLS is at risk due to vendors' dueling objectives (see Poll: Is MPLS BS?).

Apparently, those involved in the standards process worry too. "We need to evaluate the [specs] on technical and business merit and not on religion," said panelist Alan Repech, optical transport manager, advanced technology planning, at Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO). "We don't need a standards war."

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— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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