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100 GbE field trials signal carriers' progress toward NGN architecture

Pressured to support rising waves of IP traffic, carriers are testing 100 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE), optical transport and IP traffic as they build out their NGN architecture.

As carriers try to support a seemingly never-ending spike in bandwidth-hungry and latency-sensitive Internet Protocol (IP) traffic, next-generation networking (NGN) starts to look pretty attractive. Endlessly bonding 10 Gigabit links isn't a long-term solution,

Customer port speeds are increasing to 10 Gigabit Ethernet, so we have to keep scaling the backbone to keep up with the increasing demand.
Vincent Alesi
Director of Ethernet Architecture and DesignVerizon

and the shelf life of 40 Gigabit connections remains questionable, which is driving operators to instead focus on testing 100 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE), optical transport and IP traffic as they build out their NGN architecture.

Verizon recently announced success in carrying data at 100 Gbps across 7.9 miles -- farther than the anticipated 6.2 miles -- on a portion of its Dallas-area metro Ethernet backbone, using its Switched Ethernet Services (SES) network and dedicated fiber.

"Customer port speeds are increasing to 10 Gigabit Ethernet, so we have to keep scaling the backbone to keep up with the increasing demand. 100 Gigabit Ethernet is the next progression in Ethernet," said Verizon Director of Ethernet Architecture and Design Vincent Alesi, addressing why carriers need to test higher speeds now. "There is 40 Gigabit Ethernet, but we're targeting 100 Gigabit Ethernet because the economics look good there."

Verizon's Switched Ethernet Services network serves its business and wholesale customers, and wholesale is already straining the Ethernet backbone with wireless backhaul traffic, Alesi said.

"Our metro Ethernet network is experiencing tremendous growth, but it's across multiple lines of business -- enterprise customers, wholesale customers and even small-medium [business] customers," he said. "[Among] wholesale customers, wireless backhaul is exploding right now."

Verizon 100GbE field trial pushed speed envelope with non-standard equipment

Verizon used its existing Alcatel-Lucent 7450 switches for the trial, saving money by powering them with line cards to place native 100 GbE traffic on a single fiber, according to the announcement. The carrier's decision to do the test on non-standard equipment also brought down costs, said Nick DelRegno, principal member of Verizon's technical staff.

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"At least in the near term, that piques our interest," he said. "But a lot of things are driven by volume, and if the price [of standards-based 100 GbE line cards] comes down, it certainly makes sense to go standards-based."

Verizon will only offer 100 GbE on the SES network as requested but expects to expand 100 Gigabit speeds to other parts of its network, not ruling out its use on Verizon's FiOS network, DelRegno said. Metro network field trials with 100 Gigabit optical transport are expected to begin toward the end of 2011, Alesi said.

Even if large-scale 100 Gigabit deployment is years away, Verizon's achievement is relevant to the progress toward implementing end-to-end NGN architecture, according to Ron Kline, research director at Ovum. "Every little notch in the belt -- these little trials -- is important," Kline said. "Every carrier essentially goes through its own version, whether they're publicized or not."

The field trial, which ran from June 14 to 18, marked the first successful 100 GbE field trial in a metro network, according to Houman Modarres, senior director of marketing for the IP division of Alcatel-Lucent.

"We believe 100 Gigabit in the core is necessary, but it's not sufficient," Modarres said. "The full value of 100 Gigabit will be realized when it can be extended to serve the edge and the metro environment as well as the core because then … [customers] will be able to get those services closer to where they meet the network."

Operators in various stages of 100 GbE, NGN architecture implementation

Verizon's 100 GbE announcement follows a 100 Gigabit optical and IP field trial in March, which used Juniper Networks core routers and NEC dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) systems across a 1,520-kilometer span of the carrier's network north of Dallas.

"In general, 100G optical transport needs to be successful and available before we can ubiquitously deploy 100G Ethernet and IP networks," said Verizon spokeswoman Lynn Staggs. "The one exception is that in metro environments with relatively short distances, we can start to deploy 100G Ethernet and IP networks over dedicated fiber prior to having 100G optical transport available."

Although Verizon may be the latest North American operator to trumpet its 100 Gigabit achievements, it isn't alone. AT&T completed a 100 GbE field trial in March across a 900-kilometer ultra long-haul transport link between Louisiana and Florida. AT&T did not respond to a request seeking comment on additional testing.

At the time, AT&T officials issued a statement saying its 100 GbE trial "advances development of the next generation of backbone network technology that will support growing volumes of wireless and wired Internet and data traffic in the years to come."

Prior to being acquired by CenturyTel (now CenturyLink), Qwest announced in late 2009 that it would bring 100 Gbps speeds to its edge networks and 100 GbE services for the edge and metro, noting at the time that build-out had already begun and would continue through 2010. CenturyLink declined further comment.

Rival cable operator Comcast has completed all of its 100 GbE trials over the past few years and is "now preparing for general availability and deployment across our network," said Comcast spokeswoman Jenni Moyer, who declined to specify when 100 Gigabit speeds would go live.

100 GbE uptake may be slow

Deployments and field trials are in the "very, very early adopter stage," said Kline, who predicted more carriers will embrace 100 Gigabit when equipment prices come down, he said. "Although it's just becoming available now, we believe 2012 will be the year that the price of the technology is cheap enough for carriers to begin to ramp up deployment," Kline said.

Carrier Ethernet is still an evolving market and 100 GbE revenue opportunities may be slow to materialize, seeing as 40 GbE services have not picked up momentum, according to Roopashree Honnachari, senior industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

"It's still in the nascent stage," she said. "Once they have the 100G metro core, the time for them to monetize this will be in three to five years -- maybe later."

Basing expectations for the maturity of 100 Gigabit networks on how 40 Gigabit has fared is "a bit of a pessimistic view," countered Modarres, of Alcatel-Lucent.

"We believe that there will be uptake in both 40 and 100 gig. The reason for the modest uptake is in 40 gig is that 40 gig and 100 gig were part of the same specification … and most service providers are keen to get the most out of their networks and make the fewest changes possible," he said. "Most service providers are looking to go straight to 100 gig … [but the market] will also drive 40 gig at the edges of the network."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer

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