Taking the Metro

Companies move into the metropolitan area network market

While the communications industry sits largely becalmed in economic doldrums, theres a welcome breeze blowing in one quadrant.

The metropolitan area network, that maze of fiber and associated equipment that joins enterprises to the national communications backbone, appears to be nearly the only place a desperate telecom sailor can hoist canvas.

"The metros really turning out to be the key space in telecom right now," says Grier Hansen, an analyst at Current Analysis. "There are at least 30 or 40 start-ups targeting this space, and plenty that havent announced yet."

Its the Finances

Service providers are desperate to leverage their networks by marketing higher-bandwidth services to customers. "Thats the only place where they can get any return on investment," says P.G. Menon, vice president of marketing at Atoga Systems, a Fremont, Calif., maker of intelligent Wavelength Division Multiplexing equipment for the metro space.

So many companies are flocking to the metro space, wanting to help providers boost returns, that a shakeout is certain, Hansen cautioned. "While theres plenty of room for companies in this area, there isnt room for all of them. And nobody really knows which of these [approaches] will become the next big thing."

The demand for high-speed data services is growing fast, even in the economic downturn. Clifford Holliday, author of IGI Consultings June Metro Lightwave report, estimates that slightly less than 14.3 million high-speed access devices will be in use by the end of this year. The number will shoot to roughly 43.5 million in 2005, he estimates. And as many studies have shown, once people have high-speed access, "they use it more, and they do more complex things," Holliday says.

Long-haul companies, such as Sprint and WorldCom, have poured billions of dollars into beefing up the backbone in recent years, but building in metro areas is a tougher, slower job because of complex rights of way and other factors. "Its dirty work," notes Scott Barry, director of global product management at Metromedia Fiber Network.

With broadband use on the rise and the backbone ready and able to handle heavy traffic, "youve got this push on both sides and the squeeze in the middle," Holliday says.

The metros main problem is that its saddled with legacy Synchronous Optical Networks (SONETs), which are best suited for voice traffic. Data, with its fits and starts, cries out for a system that is flexible, speedy and easy to change as customers demands change.

Established companies, as well as start-ups, are revamping offerings or acquiring companies to round out product lines for the metro. Last year, Sycamore Networks, an intelligent optical networking company that had concentrated on wide area networks, bought Sirocco Systems for its optical aggregation and switching products for the metro. Lucent Technologies acquired Chromatis Networks to round out its metro offerings, and announced at SuperComm its new Metropolis line, intended for the metro market. Ciena bought Cyras Systems, which became Cienas Metropolitan Switching Division.

Core or Edge?

The metro can be divided loosely into the metro core, which connects to long-haul points-of-presence, and the aggregator or collector networks, which interface with large customers. Whether theyre targeting the core or the edge, equipment makers aim to either improve upon or replace SONET infrastructure and drive services closer to the network edge and to customers.

Current Analysis Hansen sees numerous product categories among those trying to improve upon the legacy system, but the categories finding the most traction today fall under the multiservice provisioning platforms moniker. The two main current subsets of these products are "next-generation" SONET boxes, and multiprotocol Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing devices. The DWDM devices sit on the fiber rings and allow each wavelength to act as a separate pipeline, while adding intelligence to make transport more efficient.

Both start-ups and established giants such as Cisco Systems, Lucent and Nortel Networks are using SONET as a springboard to new devices. The "next-gen" SONET market will grow to $6 billion by 2004, Pioneer Consulting says.

"From our standpoint, the more pragmatic approach is evolving the SONET structure," says Kent Novak, vice president of business development at Geyser Networks in Sunnyvale, Calif.

The Geyser OSM 4800 Optical Services Manager, the companys next-gen SONET approach now in beta testing, incorporates distribution algorithms that divide the SONET pipeline by 1.5-megabit-per-second increments. Thus, a customer can get any "size" pipeline he or she desires instead of being forced into taking an oversized traditional SONET pipe.

Cinta Networks recently unveiled an optical services platform, its WaveJunction, that integrates DWDM with an optical switch. The approach cuts space and power requirements by 80 percent over conventional approaches. Its "disruptive" architecture incorporates optical and electrical cross-connects, allowing nonblocking switching of any wavelength and any fiber. The WaveJunction can be scaled, one port at a time, to 4,096 ports per node at line rates of OC-48 (2.5 gigabits per second) to OC-768 (40 Gbps). The associated software reduces operating costs by managing the entire optical network from one node.

Atoga has replaced several devices with one, called the Optical Application Router, Menon says. He believes that the OAR is the only device that will allow converged provisioning of routed Internet Protocol (IP) services, legacy Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) bandwidth services and tunable DWDM services. Atogas platform uses tunable lasers that allow easy, remote opening of additional channels. The company is lab testing its approach with several large carriers, Menon says.

PacketLight Networks, based in Kfar-Saba, Israel, believes that it has created a new class of transport with a system that handles SONET, Gigabit Ethernet and Fibre Channel over a single wavelength. Its platform incorporates both packet and optical switching. "We take any type of ser- vice, under any type of protocol and allow them to run over existing networks, with an eye toward the future, which is all-packet, all-optical," says Yaki Luzon, vice president of marketing at PacketLight. Beta testing should be complete late this year.

Sycamore can help transform the traditional central office with optical switching. Typically, a CO holds five bays or more of patch-panel or cross-connect equipment to handle traffic from a 20-ring hub. But Sycamores SN 3000 optical access switch takes up just one-third of a bay, and integrates SONET add/drop multiplexers, digital cross-connects and DWDM transport in one device. Sycamore also makes an optical edge switch, the SN 4000, to aggregate and direct wavelength traffic. And Sycamores Broadleaf Network Operating System software speeds up the provisioning process, from months to days or minutes, says Bonnie Sitsis, director of product marketing for Sycamores optical edge business unit.

ONI Systems, a 3-year-old company based in San Jose, has built on its early successes in transport and added new products for the evolving metro market, says Marianne Wu, ONIs senior director of product marketing. Early entrants in the optical networking metro market took long-haul equipment and "shrank" it — not always successfully — for the metro venue, Wu says. ONI designed its products specifically for the metro.

ONI targeted the core metro with its Online9000, introduced last year, and has since added the Online7000 for metro access, the Online11000 for the regional market, the Online2500 for the network edge and the Onwave family of products for subwavelength grooming. Wu is optimistic about the metro markets future.

While the metro network was almost entirely SONET-based a few years ago, the Ethernet platform — the local area networks underpinning — is making headway because of its ease of provisioning, says Agnes Imregh, vice president of marketing at LuxN, a company that deals with optical networking for the last mile.

LuxN deploys both Dense and Coarse Wavelength Division Multiplexing equipment. It is one of the more mature companies in the field, and has some 40 customers that include competitive local exchange carriers, network storage providers and universities laying their own fiber.

LuxNs WavSystem DWDM, protocol-independent platform boosts a fiber pairs capacity by a factor of 16, Imregh says. Each wavelength achieves Gigabit Ethernet speeds, at OC-48. Yipes Communications recently announced that it was buying LuxNs WavSystem products, and expected to migrate speeds to OC-192 (10 Gbps) later this year.

Aura Networks is also banking on Ethernet, says Alan Brind, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at the Merrimack, N.H., company. "If a service provider wants to get large amounts of bandwidth, hes better off going to Ethernet," Brind says. "Its lower cost, scalable, easier to provision."

Auras Radiance family of plug-and-play Ethernet/IP products has begun to ship. They incorporate a management system that Aura has named "Stealth IP" because technicians can insert commands into gaps in the data packet stream. Initially, Aura is making data-only products, but the company is working on the architecture of a system that will encompass legacy systems and TDM/voice, Brind says.

San Jose-based Lantern Communications is taking a different Ethernet path — via the resilient packet ring. Although Ethernet switches dont run well on rings traditionally, Lanterns approach solves that issue, says Mannix OConnor, vice president of business development at Lantern. The companys solution incorporates statistical multiplexing and 10-Gbps rates. "In the end, this makes Ethernet services behave much like ATM [Asynchronous Transfer Mode] or frame relay," OConnor says.

Lantern is also involved in an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers committee, which hopes to have a draft of a metro packet ring standard by early 2002.

Mass deployment of pure Ethernet build outs will be a tough sell, at least for a while, Current Analysis Hansen says. SONET is still growing, and probably wont level off for a year or two. "Theres no way in the near term that a system vendor is going to convince a legacy carrier to cap that [SONET] investment entirely, and move on a different path," he says.

Many believe that the already rapid rate of technological change in the metro space is only going to intensify. LuxNs Imregh, for one, believes that still more developments are afoot at both the carrier and enterprise edges of the system. "The biggest revolution in networking will be in the metro network," she says.