Lucent: Optical networking system expands capacity

Lucent Technologies yesterday promised the ability to transmit the equivalent of 15 CD-ROMs through the air in less than a second via its new WaveStar OpticAir networking system.

The Bell Labs-designed system -- "about the size of a birdhouse or mailbox", said Lucent Optical Networking Group chief operating officer Harry Bosco -- uses lasers, amplifiers and receivers placed on rooftops or in windows to transmit voice, data or video communications through the air.

"This is the first optical networking system to use dense wave division multiplexing (DWDM) technology through the air to increase network capacity in densely populated urban or campus environments where it may be impractical to install fibre," Bosco said.

DWDM technology allows increased network capacity by transmitting multiple wavelengths of light at the same time, each of which carries specific streams of data.

According to Lucent, telecommunications service provider Global Crossing plans to conduct field trials of the WaveStar system before the end of the year. Lucent expects a marketplace introduction of one wavelength at 2.5Gbps (bits per second) next March. By the third quarter of 2000, the company plans to offer four wavelengths at 10Gbps.

"This system opens up numerous and exciting possibilities for our customers," Bosco said. "They can now share data between high-rise buildings separated by a river, or it can be used by naval ships offshore to transmit critical data to bases on land."

Companies that have used fibre-based systems in the past should not expect networking costs to skyrocket as a result of using the WaveStar system, Lucent officials said.

"The cost per wavelength is the same as with any traditional fibre-based system," said Kathleen Szelag, a marketing vice president at Lucent. "It's neither cheaper nor more expensive. The difference is that there's no fibre, so you'll save the cost of fibre."

The new optical networking system should not be seen as a replacement for fibre-optic systems, Szelag added.

"If fibre is in the ground, we would assume that people would use that and not shoot through the air," she said. "You would use it when you don't have fibre. If it turned out you don't have fibre in your campus, and it's difficult to put it in, this would be the way you'd go. And you don't need a licence, you don't need right-of-way clearance -- you just shoot through the air."

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