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Optical/IP

UTEP Boasts a Fiber First

The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) has turned up a new high-capacity fiber link between itself; Internet2, the U.S.'s not-for-profit research consortium; and the more than 78 Mexican universities and research centers interconnected by Corporación Universitaria para el Desarollo de Internet A.C. (CUDI), Mexico's version of Internet2.

The link is significant because it demonstrates the growing trend of municipalities and universities opting to go it alone when buying, building, and running their own networks. Indeed, UTEP claims this is the first university-owned fiber optic link between the U.S. and Mexico.

A similar trend can be seen in Europe, where many new fiber build-outs are being planned and undertaken by municipalities and utility firms rather than traditional telecom operators.

The U.S.-to-Mexico fiber link physically connects UTEP and the Universidad Autonóma de Ciudad Juárez (UACJ), which is about 10 kilometers away, according to Paul Maxwell, UTEP's VP for research and sponsored projects.

The two universities attempted to hook up back in 1991, but the costs were enormous. Maxwell recalls that an OC3 connection between UTEP and its Mexican counterpart ran between $10,000 and $15,000 a month.

At that time, it opted to set up a 100-Mbit/s wireless link between the two locations using off-the-shelf equipment. Unfortunately, sandstorms, smog, and thunderstorms caused frequent service interruptions, Maxwell says.

Now the two universities are connected with 48 strands of fiber. Half of the bandwidth is dedicated to university and research use, the other half is used for city, county, and government applications. Only two strands -- 10-Gbit/s worth -- are lit at the moment, which results in a connection that's 100 times faster than UTEP's old wireless hookup.

UTEP has its gear -- including a Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) Catalyst 3550 Series switch and two Gigabit Interface Converters (GBICs) -- housed in a telecom rack at El Paso City Hall. The fiber UTEP owns starts at City Hall and runs more than 10 blocks to the bridge that crosses into Mexico. That part of the link cost about $120,000, Maxwell says, and UACJ spent about the same amount for the link on its side of the border.

The remaining 1-mile link between UTEP's campus and City Hall is linked via SBC Communications Inc.'s GigaMAN service, but Maxwell says they'll eventually complete that literal last-mile buildout so the university can own that part as well.

The concept of universities and other large user organizations building their own optical networks has long been championed by Bill St. Arnaud, senior director of advanced networks at Canarie Inc., a not-for profit corporation developing advanced Internet infrastructure in Canada. St. Arnaud broadcasts news clips on this topic, many of which are listed on Bill's Blips on Light Reading's sister site covering services and software, NGS.

— Phil Harvey, News Editor, Light Reading

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