Sonet: Not Dead Yet

Touting voice, video, data in one

Synchronous optical networking isnt dead, and for the next few years it will be the best way to deliver voice, video and data to the home and office, say a half dozen feisty start-ups touting "the perfect box for the job."

The vendors that boost pure Internet Protocol Ethernet solutions will be the darlings of offices that want data first and foremost. But when service providers have to deliver voice and video along with the data, users want equipment that doesnt force them to start over. One IP network for data, one SONET for voice and a third network for video means three sets of equipment.

Some of the companies vying to bridge the metro bandwidth gap have come up with boxes that can handle two or three services and two or three layers of architecture in one — and can carry traffic equally well over Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), frame relay or IP. Among those attracting attention is Geyser Networks in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Always On

"In our solution, we can carry IP, ATM, frame relay and Gigabit Ethernet on a SONET transport structure," says Kent Novak, vice president for business development at Geyser. "We said, Lets carry packets over SONET, rather than packets over pure Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexers. "

SONET was created for voice and is built on an always-on ring architecture. Voice calls flow through the open pipe, circle the other way if lines are broken, and travel at 1.5 megabits per second, whether its Mothers Day or Wednesday morning. If thats not enough bandwidth, then its stepped up to 50 Mbps.

Thats the main beef against SONET: End users cant scale up gradually to get — and pay for — just what they need. Another annoyance is that it traditionally took weeks and a couple of truck rolls to add to any customers capacity.

Geyser says that it has a way to provision bandwidth over SONET in seconds, and at increments of just 1.5 Mbps. "If you want 19 megabits [per second] of video service, we can give you that," Novak says. "The most waste we will ever have is half a megabit."

Delivering bandwidth in seconds is one of the few new apps for which customers are willing to pay a premium. If a small company can get by with 3 Mbps most of the week, but needs 20 Mbps for two hours on Friday, it can save a lot of money if the bandwidth can be tuned up and down on the fly.

"Geysers added attraction is that they have looked at video as an integral application in designing their platform," says Larry Hettick, vice president of consulting at TeleChoice in Alameda, Calif.

At intermediate nodes, Geyser puts point-to-point SONET connections that dont add jitter or delay to voice and video traffic. Geyser will make its box available later this year.

Delivering bandwidth for data isnt a high-return business, Novak says. "The mistake most competitive carriers made is strictly focusing on customer touch — having facilities in the ground — rather than on the profit per megabit. Value-added voice — thats high revenue. Video is high revenue."

The big companies — Cisco Systems, Lucent Technologies and Nortel Networks — also have multiservice ATM products in the space.