Testers Forge On to 40 Gigs

LONDON -- Lightspeed Europe 2001 -- Manufacturers of optical testers here highlighted the need for next-generation gear that will help pave the way to economical 40-Gbit/s Sonet/SDH networks.

Just prior to this conference, SHF Communication Technologies AG, a microwave component and test vendor based in Berlin, announced two new test generators supporting speeds of 44-Gbit/s. (The higher rate allows for the development of forward error correction, or FEC, which eats up a bit more bandwidth than 40-Gbit/s.) The company also has upgraded several other testers to run at 44-Gbit/s. And it's slashed pricing on its line of 40-Gbit/s amplifiers by 20 to 40 percent.

The announcements highlight new energy among a select group of companies providing the necessary elements for creating 40-Gbit/s gear, including add/drop multiplexers, crossconnects, switches, and other devices. Just a handful of firms, including Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) and Anritsu Corp., offer products similar to SHF's.

But these tools will be vital to the future of 40-gig. "The biggest challenge in 40-gig is R&D," says Jonathan Mees, European product line manager for communication network systems at Agilent.

Mees told attendees at a panel discussion this morning that he sees 40-Gbit/s opportunities in both metro and long-haul areas. But he and other panelists stressed that the market won't take off unless the right equipment is developed at price points carriers can respond to.

Agilent was among the first to market with 40-Gbit/s testers, including the Agilent ParBERT 81250 43G and BERT E2150A 43G, which the vendor announced in July. Both of these units, which generate and then monitor the bit error rates of OC768 or STM256 components or systems, are now shipping, Agilent says.

Agilent's gear operates at 43.2 Gbit/s, which spokespeople say is more than sufficient to cover FEC development. Indeed, they seem puzzled by claims that more bandwidth -- even a bit more -- is better. "You need to reserve six percent of the signal for FEC," says Alexander Frew, application engineer at Agilent. "Six percent of 40-gig is 43.2."

Frew says Agilent's differentiator is in the design of its tester, which he says streamlines the process of setting up tests by keeping packets small.

Anritsu recently released its ME7750A tester, which includes a pattern generator and error analyzer and operates at speeds to 43.5 Gbit/s.

Attendees expect more 40-Gbit/s test tools, and they're banking on having them soon. In another conference announcement, Conformance Standards Ltd. (CSL), a U.K. integrator, and Prosser Telecom, firm that specializes in telecom standards testing, have united to form a service called Consultia. And one of their priorities will be the testing of 40-Gbit/s networks using gear from Digital Lightwave Inc. (Nasdaq: DIGL), which is set to release its own 40-Gbit/s tester in mid-2002.

More testers and services like Consultia's will presumably make tools a bit more affordable to developers. Right now, most 40-Gbit/s testers sell for a minimum of $500,000 and Agilent's gear can top $1 million.

Clearly, these costs must be weighed against the value the tools can bring -- gear for a whole new market. But there's also an interest in keeping the economics reasonable in order to speed market growth.

"The key is to make 40-gig palatable to incumbent carriers who are already challenged by the limitations of their existing fiber networks," says Scott Clavenna, leader of the panel, who is president of PointEast Research LLC and director of research at Light Reading.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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