In the race to build the next-generation public network, the most intense heat may be around metropolitan area networks (MAN).
Start-ups, new entrants and incumbents are all vying for a piece of the MAN equipment and service pie as enterprise customers demand more services and faster ways to access them. This demand is prompting equipment suppliers to build a new class of products for service providers looking to enhance or replace their existing optical infrastructure.
"This is a huge market and a very vibrant market," says John McQuillan, president of McQuillan Ventures, a venture capital and consulting firm. "There is going to be spectacular innovation on the service provider side that builds on innovation in the equipment side."
McQuillan made his comments while recently chairing his annual Next Generation Networks Ventures conference in Burlingame. The conference was attended by several hundred venture capitalists, start-ups, established vendors and new entrants in the service provider equipment and service markets.
Of the four segments of the public network (access, metro, regional and core) access and metro may be the most competitive because they are the closest to the service provider's customer - the enterprise. Also, new broadband services such as digital subscriber line (DSL) and cable are pumping at a faster rate more traffic from customer premises into MANs, forcing service providers to acquire equipment to break any potential bottlenecks at the last mile.
In addition, intelligent service provisioning mostly takes place in MANs, whereas raw, "service unaware" bandwidth is closer to the core. That means MANs give service providers and equipment vendors more distinct ways of differentiating their offerings, which catalyzes competition.
A few start-up vendors at the NGN Ventures conference were targeting the last mile - or first mile, depending on your perspective - optical metro access opportunity. They were Appian Communications, Sirocco Systems and Quantum Bridge Communications.
Sirocco says next-generation MANs will be intelligent optical service delivery networks feeding many OC-192s into "dumb" optical transport cores. The key components of MANs will be NxOC-48 optical access devices (OAD) connected to optical edge switches that combine the functions of SONET add/drop muxes and cross-connects, ATM, frame and IP switches, and wave division multiplexing (WDM).
OADs will perform SONET aggregation and grooming, and ATM access concentration, and will have the intelligence to provision IP and lambda-based VPNs, Internet access services and additional bandwidth, according to Jonathan Reeves, founder, president and CEO of Sirocco.
Appian is targeting the enterprise to metro central office bottleneck. Currently, enterprises; and MANs have "oceans" of bandwidth; Ethernet at the enterprises and SONET/ WDM in the central offices. Those oceans, however, are linked by circuit switches "sipping straws" that have a rigid bandwidth hierarchy - DS-0, T-1, T-3 and OC-3 - that take months to provision.
"It takes 14 weeks to cutover a T-1, with multiple telco truck rolls," says Mick Scully, president, CEO and founder of Appian.
Appian proposes "Etherband" services that go beyond DSL and T-1 access rates and provide "tunable" bandwidth that can be turned up or torn down dynamically, depending on application requirements. Etherband would integrate packet, circuit, private line, voice and video services in one metro access platform, Scully says.
One of the issues surrounding next-generation optical MANs is whether to enhance the current SONET infrastructure to support a new generation of high-speed, data-optimized services, or replace it. SONET's key benefit is its reliability, but the technology is optimized for circuit switching and is less dynamic than Ethernet or WDM is terms of service provisioning.
But there are 100,000 SONET rings in the US today, representing tens of billions of dollars in installed infrastructure. Therefore, some MAN start-ups such as Mayan Networks propose leveraging that infrastructure.
"SONET is like the New York subway, which was built in 1904," says Dan Gatti, Mayan president and CEO. "It's still there. It just needs better track, better cars and better air conditioning."
But others are anxious to rip up SONET and lay new tracks.
"SONET is not efficient for new services in the metropolitan area," says Barton Shigemura, president and CEO of start-up Alidian Networks. "Is this SONET's last stand in place of WDM in the metro network? Yes."