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Nortel Hits New Benchmark in 100 GbE

Just what does the promise of 100 Gigabit Ethernet promise?

For one, it means greater top-end speed for carrier networks. It could also represent adding multiple existing 10 GbE lines into one 100GbE connection. Or, it could be about transmitting a 100 GbE signal over a single optical wavelength.

For Nortel Networks all of this is the promise of GbE. The networking company claims that it can run 100 GbE over a single optical wavelength, which could offer another promise: true bandwidth expansion.

Instead of using 10 connections of 10 GbE each, Nortel claims it can send 100GbE on a single optical fiber wavelength. The difference is no less than a potential 10 fold expansion of available bandwidth for carriers using ground fiber.

"The reason why we specify 100GbE over a single 100G wavelength is [because] in June there was a demo by Infinera and XO that did have 100G Ethernet service, which is similar to what we are doing. But it was going over ten 10G wavelengths," Helen Xenos, Nortel's marketing manager for Metro Ethernet Networking, told InternetNews.com. "Ours is the first time that 100GbE service is going over one 100gig wavelength."

Infinera demoed its 100GbE technology at the NXTcomm tradeshow with a route going from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Nortel used the same bandwidth measurement technology from Ixia that was used by Infinera for its NXTcomm demonstration as well.

Jeff Ferry, communications director at Infinera, confirmed to InternetNews.com that the June NXTcomm demo deployed 100GbE using 10 wavelengths at 10GbE each. Ferry argued that 100 GbE isn't just about the total capacity of fiber. He said carriers are looking to deploy advanced technology that is manageable and helps them increase their profitability.

"It's a question of what services the carrier is trying to handle," Ferry said. "If you have large flows then you need larger services."

The Internet2

One such carrier that needs larger flows is the Internet2 scientific network, which is currently building out its 100GbE deployment with help from a multi-vendor group that includes Infinera.

Nortel's Xenos agreed that there is also a need for 10x10GbE solutions for 100GbE, such as Infinera's approach, in order to take advantage of existing 10GbE ports in carrier networks. On the other hand, Xenos argued, it's in carriers' best interest to maximize what they get out of each wavelength.

"So wouldn't you prefer to carry 80, 100GbE wavelengths as opposed to 80, 10GbE wavelengths?" Xenos commented. "You could get 10 times more traffic from the same fiber."

Xenos argued that carriers would not have to replace their existing in the ground fiber deployments in order to get the benefits of 100GbE over a single wavelength.

Challenges

There are a few challenges ahead of full scale 100GbE deployments yet to overcome. For starters Xenos does not expect the final IEEE standard to be completed until late 2009 or early 2010.

Overall 100GbE transmission is also challenging in that there is the potential for noise on the fiber that could distort the higher capacity signal. Xenos claimed that Nortel has overcome many of the transmission challenges by leveraging some of the same technology it is using in it 40Gbps (OC-768) optical networking gear. Infonetics Research recently forecast that it expects 100GbE deployments to overtake 40G deployment by 2012.

The other potential challenge for Nortel relates to Nortel's financial status. For the third quarter of 2008, the networking provider reported a loss of $3.4 billion on revenues of $2.32 billion. As well, Nortel has its intentions to divest itself of its Metro Ethernet networking group which includes the 100GbE solution.

Despite the pullbacks on investment, Xenos is bullish on Nortel's Metro Ethernet group.

"The team over here is continuing full steam ahead and we still see traction with our solutions."