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Brits Build Backbone With Infinera

Ray Le Maistre
12/19/2007
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Optical upstart Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN) has landed itself some more European business, but only with a very late bid having nearly missed out on the selection process. (See CPW Builds With Infinera.)

The long-haul optical vendor's gear, which is already in use in a handful of networks in Europe, is being deployed by British broadband service provider Carphone Warehouse Group plc (London: CPW), which, through its offer of free DSL services and acquisitions, has grown its broadband customer base from just a few thousand to 2.5 million in two years. (See CPW Reports H1, Carphone Faces Broadband Hiccups, Carphone Acquires AOL UK, Free Broadband Comes to the UK, and Infinera Adds to Euro Footprint.)

To date the operator's infrastructure unit, Carphone Warehouse Networks (formerly Opal Telecom), has relied on leased capacity, "and that was fine a few years ago when we just needed a few STM1s [156 Mbit/s], but now we need a lot more," says the operator's head of transmission, Paul Jackson.

So Jackson came up with "a business case for taking dark fiber from Geo Networks Ltd. and adding DWDM. As part of our Network Unification project, we are trying to get as much traffic onto our own network as possible. It gives us cost savings and makes us responsible for our own network," he says, adding that Carphone spends about £15 million ($30 million) per year on leased capacity just now. (See Geo Wins Carphone Deal and Geo Connects Carphone.)

So Carphone decided to build a U.K. national optical backbone of 36 POPs (points of presence), and began a "long DWDM equipment selection process... We had been looking at Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. ," an existing access equipment supplier, "Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN), ECI Telecom Ltd. , and Marconi [now Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC)]," says Jackson. (See Huawei Lands Another Euro Deal.)

But not Infinera. "I hadn't heard of them," says Jackson, who heard about the vendor late in the selection process from a contact at U.K. wholesale operator Virgin Media Business Ltd. . Once he had seen what Infinera was doing, though, Jackson decided shortly after to source his optical gear from Infinera alone.

"The whole process with Infinera has been very painless. We've pretty much built a national network in eight weeks since signing the contract, and we can increase capacity pretty much at the touch of a button. It has taken the guesswork out of the optical network. We often get last-minute demand from the sales teams, and you need a technology partner that can help meet that demand," says Jackson.

The Carphone man says Infinera's ability to supply extra capacity, in the form of extra 100 Gbit/s line cards, within 10 days of an order is a real plus. "I have experience of other suppliers and the lead times on equipment can be three months, even up to nine months," says Jackson.

Carphone has built 400 Gbit/s of capacity into the network at the moment, and has already deployed 230 Gbit/s -- twenty-three 10 Gbit/s wavelengths -- in its 8-POP London ring. So far the operator has spent almost $5 million with Infinera, but with the prospect of more.

"Before too long we will likely have to upgrade the London ring to 800 Gbit/s, but in the rest of the network 400 Gbit/s should see us through for a while. A lot of it is down to broadband customer usage -- our calculations for how many customers we can fit on a backhaul connection are going down all the time," adds the network man.

So far, though, Carphone doesn't have any plans to build its own metro rings or backhaul links to connect its network access aggregation points to its new backbone. It is using metro network capacity from BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), and sources backhaul capacity from BT, Cable and Wireless plc (NYSE: CWP), and ntl:Telewest.

Heavy Reading Analyst Sterling Perrin isn't surprised that Infinera landed the deal, or that Carphone is raving about the capabilities of Infinera's technology. "In backbone networks, with very high capacity, Infinera is standing out because its technology is completely unique and it actually works, and it has been proven to work in real networks, such as Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT), which has been a great validation point for them."

Perrin adds that Infinera's ability to provide extra capacity "very quickly is resonating with operators," and notes that another of the optical vendor's European customers, Interoute Communications Ltd. , is using that quick upgrade capability as a marketing tool: "It helps them differentiate as a service provider," says Perrin. (See Interoute Offers Rapid Capacity and Infinera Muscles Into Interoute.)

But the analyst adds that while Infinera's "technology differentiation is a big deal" as a result of the amount of money it invested in its photonic integration process, the downside is that "the long-haul backbone market is just one piece of the optical market, and not the biggest. As a result, Infinera is under constant pressure to bring its success to metro and regional networks." (See Should Infinera Go Metro? and Analyst Sees Booming Optical Growth.)

Such a move would create new challenges for the vendor, notes Perrin. The value proposition of Infinera's technology, which is designed for very fat long haul pipes, is much harder in regional and metro networks, he notes, so "Infinera's success may be limited by the size and growth rates of the market it's in."

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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