Lucent boss sees high-speed, converged networks

Networks are at the dawn of a revolution that will see capacities increase by as much as 250 times by 2005, while usage costs will remain more or less constant, Rich McGinn, chairman and CEO of Lucent Technologies, said here yesterday.

The increased capacity is being driven by advances in microelectronics and optical-networking technologies, which applied together will make possible new types of services and applications for delivering multimedia content, e-commerce, and voice and data communications, McGinn said.

McGinn spoke on the opening day of Networld+Interop, the networking industry's annual mega-event taking place here this week. As many as 50,000 people are expected to attend the show, where every type of networking product from PC modems up to carrier-grade switches and routers is on display.

Touching on what is expected to be a central theme this week, McGinn said all data and voice traffic will merge onto a single "network of networks" that will be packet-switch-based like the internet.

"The two networks -- the PSTN and the data network -- are beginning to blur in distinction. As data traffic starts to outweigh voice traffic, it will be desirable to converge the networks into a single, packet-based optical network," he said.

Still, the Lucent executive urged caution before companies switch every aspect of their vital communications infrastructure to an IP-based network.

"Right now, IP is not ready to support the network core on prime-time basis. It's still several years away," McGinn said. The industry's job is to bring the level of reliability present in today's voice network to the converged network of the future, he said.

McGinn's remarks contrasted with a view presented by officials from rival Cisco Systems here on Monday night. Cisco, which makes much of the data networking equipment that underlies the internet, announced new elements of an integrated architecture called AVVID (Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data), and urged businesses to begin implementing converged networks at once.

The internet is only part of the story of tomorrow's network, McGinn said. Common protocols are needed that will allow any person or device to connect to the network seamlessly, and allow different types of network -- wireless, wireline, cable -- to interoperate, he said. The industry must also offer guaranteed levels of service, increased bandwidth and greater scalability, he said. Networks are "living organisms" that require "constant nourishment and attention" to make them operate properly, he added.

Network technologies are at a point similar to where semiconductor technologies were 15 years ago, and the network's performance could easily double each year, in the way that semiconductor performance is said to be doubling every 18 months, McGinn said. The advances are being driven in part by improvements in photonics -- the science that underlies optical networks.

In 10 years, fibre-optic networks will offer consumers and businesses the capacity to support bandwidths of up to one petabit per second, or 1000 terabits of data, he said. While this is happening, wireless networks will improve, bringing increased bandwidth to areas of the world where wireline networks are not yet economically viable.

Meanwhile, network use is growing at an unprecedented rate, McGinn said. In the last year 2.7 trillion e-mail messages were sent, and 70 million new voicemail boxes were deployed, bringing the total to 350 million, McGinn said.

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