Thursday, 22 March 2012 18:32

Ciena squeezes more bits through existing fibres

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An optical networking vendor has been showing local carriers how advances in technology can dramatically increase the capacity of existing fibre-optic cables.

A Ciena roadshow is putting the company's optical networking gear in front of potential local customers. Recent contract wins include upgrades for the Victorian Education and Research Network (VERN), the Southern Cross Cables trans-Pacific submarine network, and AAPT's nationwide network.

Senior vice president and chief technology officer Stephen Alexander said "we build the circulatory system for the Internet." He explained that the traditional method of turning the laser on and off as quickly as possible at the transmitting end and detecting the flashes of light at the receiver had run out of steam.

Coherent technology uses a laser at the receiving end to measure additional characteristics of the light - such as phase, wavelength and polarisation -  giving a 10x to 20x improvement in the capacity of an existing fibre. Ciena is on its third generation of coherent technology, and is "well ahead of what the competition can do," he said.

The additional capacity available in carrier networks adopting this technology will spur the development of new applications, which will attract more users (as well as additional use by existing users), and that will feed back into demand for more capacity in what he describes as a "virtuous cycle."

Some of this additional demand is already showing up from mobile users (there are reports from the US that some purchasers of the new iPad consumed almost their entire monthly bandwidth quota in the first week, partly due to the improved experience when consuming video over 4G networks). Significant amounts of data are used for location-aware apps, Mr Alexander noted, such as those designed to alert users who come within 200m of a branch of a particular cafe chain. Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication will also contribute to increased demand, he suggested.

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Another segment demanding increasing amounts of bandwidth is made up of organisations that need to transmit uncompressed HD video. The problem with compression is that it is lossy, so better results are obtained if video remains uncompressed until final transmission.

The advantage of using Ciena's approach is that it provides substantial increased capacity without having to build additional networks. Anthony Mclachlan, vice president and general manager for Asia Pacific, said the submarine sector was the fastest adopter of this technology for that reason. It extends submarine cable life significantly, and helps maintain price pressure in the marketplace.

Terrestrial networks are also adopting it, but at different rates. Changing to Ciena's hardware allows 100Gbps connectivity over fibre networks designed for 10Gbps operation. "That's almost equivalent to finding a pot of gold," Mr Alexander said.

Although the technology isn't directly applicable to the NBN (which is using PON - passive optical networking, a technology that Ciena does not use), the company's products are relevant to service providers who want to connect to the NBN, said Mr Mclachlan.

Ciena Roadshow

As part of the roadshow, Ciena has been demonstrating a range of its equipment including the 5410 service aggregation switch, the 6500 packet-optical platform, and the 565 advanced services platform, covering 40G/100G transport, packet-optical switching, uncompressed HD video transport, Carrier Ethernet, and OneControl unified management.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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