Expect Bigger Roles for Optical Networking

FRAMINGHAM (04/10/2000) - Wait, there's one more Oscar: For best performance in a supporting infrastructure role, we nominate the optical networks of next-generation service providers Qwest Communications International Inc., Williams Communications Group Inc., Level 3 Communications Inc., Enron Corp. and BroadWing Inc..

Optical networking emerged in 1999 with a promise to provide tremendous savings over traditional SONET architectures. Service providers were able to introduce wavelength services at significantly lower prices, and we now see wavelength services in the backbones of many large ISPs and IXC carriers. Service providers began to question the benefits of SONET rings and warmed to the proposed benefits of dense wave division multiplexing and optical networking.

Thus, what began as an interesting promise turned into one of the greatest paradigm shifts in a decade.

Besides cost efficiency, optical networking outperforms SONET because it doesn't have the rigid time-division multiplexer SONET constraints, it handles the bursty characteristics of data traffic more efficiently and it is much more scalable. Rather than overhauling the SONET infrastructure, you can just add transmitters or cards to increase the number of wavelengths.

You've probably heard about "point-and-click" provisioning systems, but SONET made that a daunting task, especially if your provider installed SONET rings.

If your service traverses four SONET rings, it requires piecing together four separate segments to deliver a complete end-to-end service.

For the foreseeable future, bandwidth- intensive applications will continue to fuel network growth. E-commerce, video streaming, Web broadcasts, portals, hosting, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) will further drive the need for high-speed Internet and network connectivity.

Metropolitan service providers are in the middle of the optical revolution.

Vendors and a few new service providers are trying to establish and position themselves with the most viable solution for the metropolitan market.

Application service providers will begin to experience greater demand for hosted applications such as e-commerce, ERP and CRM. This will drive the need for improved reliability, cost-efficient scalability and higher-speed access to their data centers.

Multitenant office buildings will see optical networking come closer to the customer's premise. Last year the hype was around integrated access devices and ATM to the edge for small to midsize locations; this year should be the optical edge moving into densely populated multitenant buildings and large campus enterprises.

So now that optical networking has received our nomination for the prestigious infrastructure Oscar, will it be destined to be a one-hit wonder of networking?

Not at all. Optical networking should shake up the local cost curve of the incumbent local exchange carriers and help bring bandwidth-intensive applications to your desktop.

Briere is CEO and Heckart is president of TeleChoice, a telecommunications consultancy. They can be reached at dbriere@telechoice.com and checkart@ telechoice.com.

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