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Optical Wave Math: Multiply And Divide
By Joe McGarvey, Inter@ctive Week
August 16, 1999 6:24 AM PT
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With a handful of next-generation service providers putting the finishing touches on nationwide
fiber-optic networks that span thousands of miles, the leading data carriers of the next decade will
not necessarily be the ones that boast the most capacity. Instead, the leading indicator of success
is likely to be a carrier's ability to use near-surplus levels of capacity wisely.

"Having too much or too little bandwidth is a nightmare for service providers in terms of getting a
decent return of investment," says Tom Valovic, an analyst at International Data Corp. "Anything
that adds to the flexibility service providers can employ to expand bandwidth when they need it
has got to be good."

Williams Communications arguably has a head start with its Optical Wave Service, which enables
the wholesale carrier to lease individual wavelengths of bandwidth to its commercial carrier and
Internet service provider (ISP) customers - creating a fractional fiber service that gives Williams'
customers another option for building cost-efficient networks.

Dark to light

Optical Wave Service fills a gap in Williams' product portfolio between leasing dark fiber, which
essentially only provides customers with access to a fiber-optic strand, and full-blown private-line
services, in which Williams provides all of the termination equipment and maintenance service.

The new offering gives customers an OC-48 (2.5-gigabit-per-second) wavelength, or channel,
that Williams extracts from a single strand of fiber, which can be further provisioned and sold to
additional customers.

Williams furnishes the optical equipment but leaves it to the customer to supply the transport and
service equipment, says Sunita Krishna, product manager for wave services. "We supply the wave
and the customer needs to provide the ATM [Asynchronous Transfer Mode], IP [Internet
Protocol] or frame relay gear," Krishna adds.

Selling capacity in wavelengths of light is made possible by the advances in Dense Wavelength
Division Multiplexing gear. DWDM is known as a bandwidth multiplication technology because it
increases the data-carrying capacity of fiber networks by dividing a single fiber strand into multiple
channels on different frequencies.

With its new service, Williams is taking DWDM a step further, using breakthrough optical
networking equipment from start-up Sycamore Networks to neatly separate the individual
wavelengths from Williams' fiber network.

"What we're doing is coupling right into their existing infrastructure," says Ryker Young, vice
president of sales and business development at Sycamore.

Using Sycamore's SN 6000 and SN 8000 transponder systems, Williams is able to provision
channels of light without deploying add/drop multiplexers and other expensive Synchronous
Optical Network (SONET) gear that is usually required to provision the optical transport layer in
usable chunks of capacity, Young says.

Additional savings stem from the fact that the Sycamore gear is tapping into capacity that a
SONET-based infrastructure usually reserves for protection. Since the service enables providers
to extend a data backbone or complete the last leg of a SONET ring, where protection already is
available, the protection scheme offered by IP routers or ATM gear is usually sufficient for most of
Williams' customers, Young says.

"With layer 2 [ATM] and layer 3 [IP] recovery mechanisms available, ISPs are saying that they
don't need the extra protection from SONET," Young adds.

The major advantage associated with leasing wavelengths of light that do not require the
installation of expensive SONET gear is time to market, Krishna says. By simply installing a card
in the Sycamore transponder, Williams can provide customers with a new 2.5-Gbps feed in less
than a week, which is about six months faster than it takes to provision the same service through
SONET, according to Krishna.

Expected to offer the service commercially later this year, Williams is the first major carrier to play
in the wavelength provisioning market, analysts say. Officials at Level 3 Communications,
however, say they recognize that flexibility and variety of bandwidth options are key attributes in a
carrier, and it is currently evaluating the business case for a similar offering.

Representatives from Qwest Communications International and Frontier could not be reached for
comment about future plans to offer capacity in wavelength increments.

"There are a few carriers that are currently grasping the significance of this service," says
Sycamore's Young. "Those that don't will be in a very bad position in 18 months."
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