Comcast, Nortel Put 100G to the Test

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Nortel Networks Ltd. have teamed up to conduct one of the first trials ever to send live Internet traffic over a 100 Gbit/s wavelength on the MSO's current fiber backbone.

The test is running on metro and long-haul fibers connecting Philadelphia and McLean, Va., on lines that are being used today to shuttle video (including high-definition), voice, and Internet traffic.

For the trial, Nortel has installed a prototype 100 Gbit/s interface on its Optical Multiservice Edge (OME) 6500 platform. Nortel's prototype cards are based on its 40G/100G Adaptive Optics Engine, formally introduced this morning. (See Nortel Trots Out 40Gig.)

Comcast is conducting the test this week in conjunction with its hosting of the 71st meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) .

Comcast and Nortel say the test marks the first use of a 100 Gbit/s wavelength to access and deliver live Internet traffic alongside the existing 10 Gbit/s and 40 Gbit/s wavelengths on the network. Last November, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) concluded a 100-Gbit/s trial, piping dedicated test traffic (a live FiOS TV feed) between facilities in Miami and Tampa, Fla. (See Verizon Keeps 100-Gig Promise.)

This week's test represents a "major step toward production capabilities of 100 Gbit/s," says John Schanz, Comcast's executive VP of national engineering and technical operations. Although the technology is being tested using live traffic, 100 Gbit/s isn't expected to become available and "race-ready" until the back half of 2009, he notes.

Schanz is expected to announce details of the test this afternoon during his plenary talk at the conference.

Comcast's Converged Regional Area Network (CRAN) uses both 10 Gbit/s and 40 Gbit/s wavelengths. The MSO says it can upgrade lines to 40 Gbit/s, and eventually 100 Gbit/s, by replacing cards while preserving the photonic layer. Comcast's CRAN is comprised of about 525,000 plant route miles, including about 125,000 fiber route miles, with the bulk already upgraded to 40 Gbit/s.

Schanz says an eventual move to 100 Gbit/s will help Comcast prepare the network to accommodate more revenue generating units (RGUs) as well as heavier content loads and the introduction of speedier platforms such as Docsis 3.0. Comcast has already disclosed plans to wire up to 20 percent of its footprint for 3.0 by year-end. (See Comcast Closes In on 100 Mbit/s.)

Comcast's backbone will also play a starring role in supporting Project Infinity, which will give video subscribers access to more than 1,000 high-definition choices by the end of 2008. It will also feed Fancast, the MSO's new Internet-based video hub. (See Comcast Launches 'Project Infinity' and Comcast Fires Up Fancast.)

Schanz says Comcast's decisions on where and when to introduce 100 Gbit/s transmission will be governed by capacity requirements, much as it is today when the operator weighs whether to ratchet up to 40 Gbit/s.

100G a 'hot topic'
It should come as no surprise that operator such as Comcast are starting to test the mettle of 100G.

"There's real demand for 100 Gbit/s," says Heavy Reading senior analyst Sterling Perrin. "It's definitely a very hot topic," driven by video and Internet traffic.

Although 100 Gbit/s deployments are still well off on the horizon, operators today are sorting through how they will upgrade to 40 Gbit/s and for how long. Perrin notes that 40 Gbit/s technology just started shipping last year.

He estimates that the earliest opportunity for carriers to deploy standards-based 100 Gbit/s technology could be mid-2010, though some may opt to start the ball rolling before that. According to some recent Heavy Reading survey data, 100 Gbit/s deployments will begin to ramp up by 2011.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to Docsis 3.0 Strategies: From Product Development to Service Deployment, a conference that will take a comprehensive look at the cable industry's plans to roll out its next-generation architecture around the world. To be staged in Denver, March 19, admission is free for attendees meeting our prequalification criteria. For more information, or to register, click here.

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