RealTime IT News

Level 3 Upgrades Fiber Network

Level 3 Communications Inc.'s long-haul data network lines are getting an upgrade with third-generation fiber optics from Corning Inc.

The next-generation LEAF fiber-optic cable, not available until early 2001, reduces signal loss when carried over a long distance. Level 3 officials expect the upgrade to improve performance more than 50 percent over the second generation LEAF fiber, on the market since October 1999.

The letter of intent signed with Corning gives Level 3 two million kilometers of cable, with an option for more. Installation is expected to begin when the cable is available commercially in the first quarter 2001.

Kevin O'Hara, Level 3 president and chief operating officer, said customer demand - not technology - is the main reason for the company's continuous upgrade projects.

"This decision is driven not only by improving technology but by customer demand," O'Hara said. "Our unique multi-conduit network allows both us and our customers to take advantage of ongoing improvements in optical fiber technology. This upgradable network design enables rapid responses to changes in the marketplace and allows Level 3 to deploy new fiber technologies with unprecedented and unequaled speed."

According to Level 3 spokesperson Arthur Hodges, Level 3's 12-conduit network that spreads from Seattle to Boston and parts in between lets the company upgrade its network in the length of time it takes to string fiber from one city to another.

For every one percent of improvement in technology there is a significant level of demand, Hodges said, and if you can't adjust or upgrade your services to fit that demand you're going to lose out.

LEAF fiber for long-distance network connections came about as demand for high-speed Internet access increased. To meet the demand, broadband providers started fishing around for companies.

The general consensus seems to have fallen to Corning and its LEAF series of fiber. Now in its second generation, the fiber optics got its start in February 1998. Since then, companies like AT&T , Williams Communications Group, Inc. , 360 Networks and Carrier 1 International have signed on and use the product for its long-distance fiber optic cabling. The other companies have yet to sign on for the third generation fiber.

Alan Eusden, Corning optical fiber vice president and general manager, said the latest generation of fiber gives these companies the edge in high-speed Internet performance.

"The new generation of LEAF fiber will offer a polarization mode dispersion specification that will be improved by 50 percent over the previous version," Eusden said. "The resulting fiber performance will enable Level 3 to significantly increase the transmission distance and data rates of their long haul network, while reducing the need for PMD compensation or signal regeneration."

Lines with a using 40 gigabits of capacity or more are prone to signal loss, or PMD. Each LEAF generation cuts down on the signal loss experienced on long-distance transmissions.