Sprint Labs Developing New Laser-Based Network

BURLINGAME, CALIF. (05/03/2000) - Scientists at Sprint Corp.'s Advanced Technology Laboratory are in the process of conducting laser experiments they think may someday lead to the development of telecommunications systems that will more efficiently transport data through MANs (metropolitan area networks).

With the growth of Internet traffic clogging fiber-optic networks, service providers such as Sprint are searching for ways to place more and more data on the network. The carrier's work on experimental laser technology could help meet some of those bandwidth access demands, Frank DeNap, director of the Sprint laboratory, said last week during a company briefing here.

"For Sprint and for other carriers, the order of the day is capacity, capacity, capacity," DeNap said. "How do we increase capacity for our customers; how do we increase data bandwidth?"

Fiber-optic networks use WDM (wavelength division multiplexing) technology to modulate data streams onto different parts of the light spectrum. But even this data is slowed and diminished as it travels on a wavelength around a network, DeNap said.

Lasers presently transmit data one wavelength at a time. However, the Sprint scientists, along with Stanford University researchers, have developed a laser that could change electronic signals into optical signals and send them on any available wavelength in the network. This combination of electronic and optical technology led Sprint to dub the technology HORNET for hybrid opto-electronic ring network.

The success the scientists have experienced in tuning the laser to transmit data packets over any wavelength on the spectrum will allow for better management of data flow over the least trafficked wavelengths, according to Sprint.

The new transport method is like a car traveling on a multi-lane highway that is able to change from clogged to open lanes, said Claude Romans, an analyst with RHK Inc., based in South San Francisco, California, in a phone interview yesterday.

"WDM is a technique for increasing bandwidth, and this (HORNET) is a different technique for utilizing the wavelengths," Romans said.

Another analyst said the experiments could result in important advancements in bandwidth capabilities. "It's a great subject to look at," said David Schwartz, an analyst with San Jose, California-based research firm Dataquest Inc., in a phone interview yesterday. "They are certainly moving in the right direction."

Sprint's DeNap said great strides will be made in the development of WDM technology to meet bandwidth demands. "WDM technology is like computer technology ten years ago," he said. Hornet itself is four to five years away from implementation, he added.

While Sprint is developing use of a laser for the network, third-party companies will need to develop the necessary processes and equipment to support infrastructure for the technology, all of which Sprint hopes to someday deploy.

"We are equipment agnostic," DeNap said.

Sprint's Advanced Technology Laboratory, based in Burlingame, California, can be reached at +1-650-375-4200 or via Sprint's Web site at http://www.sprint.com/.

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