Metro Optical Gear Reaches Out

ORLANDO, Fla. -- NFOEC 2003 -- Announcements at the NFOEC show here today highlight a push toward extending metro DWDM boundaries.

Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) announced plans to virtually double the physical reach of DWDM channels on its OPTera Metro 5200 Multiservice platform (see Nortel Extends Metro DWDM). By year's end, carriers and large enterprises will be able to access up to 2.5-Gbit/s wavelengths at distances up to 350 km, compared to about 175 km today; and 10-Gbit/s wavelengths at up to 110 km, compared to about 60 km today.

By early 2004, Nortel plans to extend the 5200's reach as far as 600 km, by deploying parts formerly used only in its long-haul gear.

According to Nortel, carriers and enterprises want the extensions in order to support so-called regional networks that go beyond the boundaries of a single city. Cable MSOs, for instance, are looking to widen their areas of coverage, and enterprises want the security of having backup facilities located farther from metro offices than they are today.

By making metro DWDM longer, Nortel and other vendors also hope to eliminate expensive optical regeneration. In this manner, they can upgrade metro boxes for applications that would have previously required more expensive long-haul gear. At least one vendor says carriers are looking to see if they can't make do with metro gear in places where long-haul equipment would otherwise be used.

"We definitely see customers looking to extend metro distances," says Sophia Fang, a spokeswoman for Movaz Networks Inc., which claims to offer a 640km DWDM channel reach via specially designed Erbium Doped-Fiber Amplifiers (EDFAs).

Meriton Networks Inc., which reports distances of about 300 km, also has plans to release a product capable of 600km distances as soon as possible. Product manager Coleman Hum, reached on the show floor, says Meriton is testing a more powerful amplifier now.

Meriton today unveiled its 3300 Optical Services Unit (OSU), an access unit that aggregates traffic at rates to 10 Gbit/s for switching by Meriton's 128-wavelength 7200 Optical Add/Drop Switch, which is designed for the metro core. The 3300 was first announced late in 2002 (see Meriton Grabs Another $17M) and forms a key element of the vendor's proposition to distribute its system across greater distances.

Meriton also unveiled the 1450 Optical Fiber Amplifier and 1100 Dispersion Compensation Module, which enable multiple 7200s to be linked at distances to 300 km.

One analyst says these enhancements come from improved price/performance in DWDM parts. "The underlying factor is progress at the component level," says Michael Kennedy, president of Network Strategy Partners LLC. Better price/performance in amplifiers and other optical building blocks has made it practical for equipment vendors to start adding some distance to their metro gear.

The question is: Will customers buy it? After all, the chief complaint about metro DWDM centers not on its range but on its reconfigurability (see Voodoo Econ in Metro DWDM). While vendors like Meriton claim varying degrees of reconfigurability, most vendor offerings are still not sufficient for most customers, a situation that will likely persist well into 2004.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

For an in-depth exploration of the metro MSPP market, check out the inaugural report from Light Reading's independent market research division, Heavy Reading: Multiservice Provisioning Platforms: Empowering the Metro Edge.

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