Optical Net expert brings good news, and bad

A Canadian expert working on the world's first national optical Internet is coming to Australia with good news and bad news for researchers looking enviously at its 40Gbit capacity.

The good news is an advanced optical network can be built using off-the-shelf commercial equipment such as Nortel optical multiplexers and Cisco GSR 12000 routers with high-speed optical interfaces.

The bad news is that Australia is lagging behind some of its Asian neighbours when it comes to high-performance networks.

Both bits of information will be delivered to Australian network technologists at the coming QuestNet conference by Sam Mokbel, chief engineer for ONet, Canada's largest provincial research and education network.

The June 29 to July 2 conference will bring together researchers and technologists using the Australian Academic and Research Network (AARNet) that links tertiary and research centres around Australia.

Mokbel's real message to the conference is that optical networking is the coming wave in wide area network communications. "It is the next phase and the sooner you start learning about it and implementing it, the better," he said.

"Try to develop new protocols that are well suited to optical networking and move away from the SONET-based protocol structure which is better suited to voice than data."

From a North American perspective, some of Australia's Asian neighbours are positioning themselves better to catch the new wave.

"Australia seems to be a little behind in terms of funding for high-speed connectivity," Mokbel said.

"We see Singapore as being very active at advanced networking conferences and gatherings where Australia doesn't have the same visibility."

In the next two to four months, Mokbel's ONet will be the first to connect to CA*net 3, the $150 million next-generation optical Internet backbone being built for Canada's research and education community.

Contractual and funding issues have loomed as large as technical problems in the development of CA*net 3 by a consortium which includes Bell Canada, Cisco Systems, Nortel, Newbridge Networks and JDS Fitel.

However, the first three GigaPoP (Gigabit capacity Points of Presence) nodes on the backbone are available and the network will start general operations in the next 12 to 18 months, Mokbel said.

It threads 32 colours of light simultaneously through optical fibre and is able to transmit the entire contents of the US Library of Congress in one second. A generation ahead of the vBNS network in the US, it is the first national network to put the Internet directly over light, cutting out the traditional ATM and SONET layers.

Videoconferencing is the high bandwidth application in which potential CA*net 3 users are showing the most initial interest, Mokbel said.

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