Nortel aims at Net with optical technology

Nortel Networks yesterday took the wraps off of a high-speed optical switching and routing technology that it says will help meet the surging need for bandwidth on the internet and relieve traffic congestion.

Company officials said the technology will give businesses and consumers access to delay-sensitive services, which might include videoconferencing technologies, that can't be delivered reliably over today's internet.

Dubbed the OPTera Packet Solution, the technology will unify optical and packet networks into a single infrastructure, the officials said. It supports data speeds of up to 19 terabits per second for all kinds of internet traffic, including IP (Internet Protocol), ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) and SONET/SDH (Synchronous Optical Network/Synchronous Digital Hierarchy), and will be able to scale to hundreds of terabits per second, officials said.

Nortel is pitching the technology as a way to help cure the congestion and communications failures that hamper today's internet. The central components of OPTera are expected to be available for customer trials by the third quarter next year.

The Canadian networking and telecommunications equipment vendor wants to be seen as a provider of the data networking equipment behind the fast-growing internet, an image rival Cisco Systems has nurtured well. Nortel officials on Tuesday said it is launching a global advertising campaign built around the question, "What do you want the Internet to be?" and featuring popular figures like astronaut Buzz Aldrin and musician Curtis Mayfield.

The OPTera system has five elements:

-- The OPTera Packet Core, which includes the new technologies announced yesterday, is the cornerstone of the system and is expected to be available for customer trials in the third quarter next year.

-- The Versalar Switch Router 25000, a carrier-class terabit switch router which is currently in customer trials, is expected to be generally available in the fourth quarter of 1999.

-- The OPTera Connect DX is an optical cross-connect which will be available for customer trials in the second quarter of 2000.

-- The Passport 15000 Multiservice Switch is an ATM-based multiservice switch which is now available.

-- Integrated Network Management, end-to-end network management software, is also now available.

Nortel officials said its system allows voice and data traffic flowing over both wireless and wireline networks to be managed in an integrated fashion. They said it will lower ownership costs and make it possible for service providers to offer new services more quickly.

The development of the technology was partly made possible by Nortel's acquisition last year of Bay Networks, which gave the telecommunications equipment company much-needed expertise in the area of IP networks.

Early customers for OPTera include Cable & Wireless Communications and IXC Communications, company officials said.

Nortel said its optical transport systems currently carry more than 75 per cent of backbone internet traffic in North America. According to the company, demand for its optical networking equipment is growing at 56 per cent annually, and the market will grow to $35 billion by 2001.

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