Internet Photonics Stretches the Metro
The basic pitch? The LightHandler OA is a small, cheap, expandable optical add/drop multiplexer (OADM) and amplifier. The DWDM product, which is only one telecom rack unit high, includes a 16-channel OADM as well as an amplifier that extends the distance that signals can be transmitted without regeneration from around 80 kilometers (as in traditional metro DWDM systems) to 300 kilometers.
The product targets metropolitan area networks. Increasing transmission distance is important, because it allows metro and cable providers to build out regional networks over greater distances.
“Three hundred kilometers. That’s pretty impressive,” says Garrett Hess, senior product manager of Ethernet services for XO Communications Inc. (OTC: XOXO). “It’s good if you’re in a large metro area like San Francisco. If you go from bay-side to bay-side there are some large fiber rings, and usually you need to regenerate to meet the application requirements.”
XO uses metro DWDM gear from both ONI Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ONIS) and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), the two market leaders.
Internet Photonics has focused its efforts on developing products to help incumbent carriers migrate their legacy networks to optical Ethernet without disrupting the current infrastructure (see Internet Photonics Etherizes). This latest product is important because it provides metro and cable providers with DWDM features usually only found in larger, more expensive, long-haul systems -- in a small, inexpensive box.
“This is a breakthrough if they can really achieve the distances they say they can at a reasonable price,” says Michael Howard, principal analyst and cofounder of Infonetics Research Inc. “It’s the kind of approach that carriers want to see. They want to maintain and grow their Sonet rings, but eventually add new services like Ethernet.”
The LightHandler OA comes equipped with uni-directional or bi-directional amplifiers, slots for two DWDM modules supporting up to 16 wavelengths, and full operations, administration, management, and provisioning (OAM&P) support. Service providers can add and drop wavelengths when the amplifier is used in conjunction with the LightHandler Passive Combiner DWDM platform, another one-shelf module. It can also be used with the LightStack MX -- another stackable device that offers Ethernet services on existing Sonet rings -- to support a broad range of applications, including optical Ethernet transport, Gigabit Ethernet private line, video on demand, and networked storage.
The LightStack MX is an interesting product in itself, because it transports Ethernet by using unused wavelengths on a Sonet ring. This is different from Ethernet-over-Sonet approaches, which share the same wavelength as the Sonet traffic and, as a result, eat up expensive Sonet capacity.
Analysts note that the size of the product is important. Unlike products from ONI and Nortel, the LightHandler comes in a one-rack-unit-high stackable device. ONI and Nortel offer products that require an entire chassis. With the Internet Photonics products, carriers can start small by buying one box and add more later when they run out of capacity.
“You’re not buying extra capacity in a chassis that you hope to fill later,” says Howard. “In a capital constrained environment, it makes sense to start out small and add more capacity as you need it.”
Another differentiator is the capability to adapt the power output automatically when the number of wavelength channels changes. This is important because it enables service providers to dynamically configure the wavelength channels transmitted through an amplified fiber link in response to changes in traffic demand. This eliminates the need for manual reconfiguration of the amplifier each time wavelengths are added, removed, or simply rerouted in the network. The amplifier also responds to load changes, adapting to fiber breaks, equipment failure, or scheduled network maintenance. This kind of adaptability is usually only found in expensive long-haul platforms.
“This is a huge deal,” says Jack Biery, vice president of engineering for AFN Communications LLC. “That is one of the beauties of Ciena Corp.'s CoreStream. But we don’t need that kind of capacity in every part of our network.”
AFN, a carriers' carrier, has been testing the Internet Photoncs LightHandler and so far is pleased with the performance of the product.
Biery adds that in these tough economic times, AFN can’t afford to deploy large systems and wait to sign up customers to fill the capacity later. “This solution allows us to scale and manage our capital better on lower capacity routes,” he says.
— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading