Optical Signaling: Remote Control of the Future?
There's plenty to look at. Suppliers inside and outside carrier organizations are working on protocols and software to control, monitor, and record the activities of optical devices such as switches in broadband networks. The goal of these projects is to give carriers a so-called "control plane," a centralized way to streamline and simplify the tasks (and expenses) involved in setting up and managing services.
[Note: conveniently enough, an upcoming Light Reading Webinar -- set to happen this Thursday, October 3, at 11:00 AM Pacific/2:00 PM Eastern -- will focus on the status of optical signaling. To register for the event, click here: http://metacast.agora.com/link.asp?m=5348&s=1228410&l=0.]
At least one source claims the ultimate goal of companies working on optical signaling is to be able to offer subscribers a Web-based menu of broadband services from which they can pick and click. Behind the scenes, the carrier would be able to reuse each subscriber's information without recasting the system that manages each service -- something that can't be done with today's labyrinthine systems of element managers and OSSs.
While this vision is still a pipe dream, there are various solutions on the drawing board that address different stakes in the hoped-for ground. Some approaches use standards such as GMPLS (generalized multiprotocol label switching) and the Optical UNI (user-to-network interface), while others are based on proprietary techniques. Some products are focused on core networks, while others address the metro space. Some manage devices, while others are geared to managing subscribers.
Whatever the approach, the goal is to make it easier for carriers to roll out next-generation services quickly and automatically. Startup QOptics Inc., for instance, plans a November release of a product that will give carriers a common point of control for the element management systems that govern networking gear, as well as the operations support systems (OSSs) responsible for managing subscribers and their configurations.
QOptics says being able to order and set up subscriber services with a common link to network devices will cut provisioning times from months to seconds and give carriers a way to generate revenues they couldn't hope to glean before.
Other independent software vendors at work on end-to-end control plane products include Emperative Inc. (see Emperative Shows Optical's Future) and CPlane Inc., as well as at least one stealthy startup.
Each supplier has a distinct approach, some using early versions of standards, some not. QOptics, for instance, will use the Optical UNI being developed by the Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF), because the company thinks it gives better control over distinct groups within a carrier network.
QOptics says that even if a carrier's devices all are controlled by GMPLS, they may fall into different departments, whose services and subscribers need to be managed separately. The Optical UNI, it asserts, provides a way to preserve the distinctions that it can't find in GMPLS.
Other software vendors say they're not too concerned with standards -- at least for now. The first release of products from CPlane, for instance, uses MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) and the vendor's own techniques for providing end-to-end control and system coordination. CPlane's products are geared toward metro Ethernet services now but will eventually migrate to core control, according to director of marketing Dan McBride.
"We're going where the business is," he says.
Interestingly, one of CPlane's first customers isn't in North America. McBride and others say that even though there's hope that U.S. RBOCs will soon start looking at control plane solutions, the market in Asia and other parts of the world seems a bit more promising right now.
The downturn in capital spending in North America is surely to blame, but not for the reason one might immediately assume. Control plane solutions are, after all, usually made to interact with next-gen optical gear -- something that RBOCs and other ILECs aren't into buying just now.
A source at Syndesis Ltd. says the legacy issue is why his company hasn't got control-plane development in full gear just yet. "It's on our radar screen, surely, but I think it will be a while before carriers adopt [GMPLS and other control-plane approaches] generally," says Sam Torrente, Syndesis' optical product line manager. "There's a lot of legacy equipment out there that needs to change first."
— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading