RealTime IT News

Time Warner Telecom 'MAN'-Handles Baby Bells

While regional bell operating companies (RBOCs) sort out where to invest in new high-speed data services, fiber optic networking company Time Warner Telecom is rolling into local markets with metro Ethernet services at blistering speeds of up to 1 Gbps .

And soon to come from the metro-area broadband provider: 10 Gigabit Ethernet offerings that support data transfer rates of 10 gigabits per second on multimode fiber optic cables.

This week the Littleton, Colorado-based Time Warner Telecom said its native LAN services are delivering an increasing range of Gigabit Ethernet services to business customers.

The new services from the competitive local exchange carrier promise to challenge local Baby Bells (the incumbent local exchange carriers or ILECs), some of which are still considering investing in new Ethernet services.

Industry analysts say the new services arrive at both a tumultuous and opportune time in the telecommunications industry.

"With long-haul providers WorldCom and Global Crossing going through bankruptcy and dramatically restructuring, there are opportunities for Time Warner Telecom to jump in," said Gerry Kauffold, principal analyst with tech research firm In-Stat MDR.

"Even AT&T has seen an uptick in its business as a result of WorldCom's bankruptcy. So the timing of this announcement is perfect. They are tossing their hat into the ring too."

Kauffold said the beauty of native LAN services delivered with Ethernet networking protocols is that high-speed data services can be provisioned in a variety of speeds for businesses, and delivered as an overlay on top of existing T1 lines and beyond the fixed 1.5 Mbps speeds that are currently offered by regional Bell companies.

Regional telcos meanwhile, are also sorting out a recent Federal Communication Commission ruling that said the Bells have to continue sharing their local voice copper lines with competitors (competitive local exchange carriers or CLECs).

Outraged Baby Bell executives later warned publicly that innovation and new investment in fiber lines could suffer as a result of the ruling, which also said the Bells no longer have to share their high-speed fiber lines with broadband competitors.

Amid the confusion, Time Warner Telecom has kept plugging away, building new fiber lines into buildings. Now, its metropolitan area network, or MAN , is helping to address the business world's version of the "last mile" problem by offering a metropolitan area network that connects to long haul backbone networks (Wide Area Networks) in order to deliver blistering bandwidth to local area networks (LANs).

Mike Rouleau, senior vice president of marketing for TWTC, said the capacity is available to about 3,500 buildings in 44 U.S. metropolitan areas covering 22 states with its local fiber optic networks. In addition, he said the company can deliver service to customers in thousands of buildings near its local networks.

The services come in a wide variety of industry applications, Roleau told internetnews.com, including Internet access, storage transport with Voice over IP , and with IP Centrex (voice-over-packet telephony services) on the horizon.

(Time Warner Telecom is an independently owned and operated company, but AOL Time Warner owns about 44 percent of its outstanding stock.)

Rouleau said the metro Ethernet services are currently serving about a hundred customers in markets throughout the country, including New York.

Daniel D. Briere, the CEO of telecommunications research concern TeleChoice, said with TWTC now offering metro Ethernet, "this raises the ante" in the metro loop in all the markets where they offer service.

"As a facilities-based competitor using its own network even for last mile connectivity, Time Warner Telecom has greater control over service costs and quality than their non facilities-based CLEC brethren."

The 10 Gigabit Ethernet standard is about to arrive in local markets as both regional bells and long distance companies are angling for ways to get into each other's markets, Kauffold added. It's as though TWTC snuck in under their radar.

But it is also early yet for 10 Gigabit Ethernet offerings. The latest networking standard was only ratified last June by a working group of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

According to the standards group, 10 Gigabit Ethernet, (commonly known as 802.3ae -- yet another 802), extends the speed of Ethernet operations by an order of magnitude to 10 Gbit/s and makes provision for linking Ethernet local area networks (LANs) to municipal and wide area networks (MANs and WANs).

The group said the new standard uses the same management architecture as earlier Ethernet standards. Perhaps most important for enterprise applications, it allows users to easily upgrade to the lightning speeds as well as provision their capacity "on-demand" as their data needs rise and fall.

TWTC's services come in three packages, the company said, depending on a customer's size and needs:

  • CD-NLAN: A managed native LAN service for point-to-point and point to multi-point applications at speeds from 10 Mbps to 1 Gbps. One customer is industrial product maker Ingersoll Rand, which is using the service to reduce the number of servers and controllers in its network.

  • Switched native LAN: a managed service with switching capabilities from 10 Mbps to 1 Gbps. Time Warner Telecom calls this service a Frame Relay backbone replacement for any-to-any virtual LAN applications. One customer using this service is Tennessee National, a regional bank headquartered in Memphis. The bank is using a 100 Mbps service to connect its data center with eight branch locations. The nine-node network deployed in the switched native LAN's has improved communication speeds by 2.5 in its data center, the bank said, and by 100 times between branch locations.

  • SONET (Synchronous Optical Network) native LAN: TWTC's premium service that delivers rates of 10 Mbps to 1 Gbps. This version is in use by Carondelet Health Network in Tucson, Ariz., in order to ship large data files such as medical images between 3,000 desktop units at two of its hospitals and a business center.

TWTC said its Native LAN products represent one of the most comprehensive suites of Ethernet services available in the industry.

"Time Warner Telecom owns, operates and maintains more than 17,000 local and regional fiber route miles in the U.S. to deliver these capabilities to businesses today," said TWTC's Rouleau. "Fiber into buildings is gold."

Typical pricing ranges from $750 to $6,600 per port, with no mileage charges, and based upon contract terms.

TWTC may also be an exception to the rule at the network access level in local markets. The IEEE said less than 5 percent of commercial structures worldwide are served by fiber networks, mostly because of the labor-intensive costs involved with laying fiber.

And given the popularity of wireless Internet access, TWTC could soon face a new competitive threat from wireless MANs. The IEEE recently approved another specification that could one day render fiber to buildings obsolete. In January, the standards body approved 802.16a, which supports the creation of fixed Broadband Wireless Access (BWA). The protocol could provide network access support to buildings wirelessly with speeds that approach those offered by high-speed fiber optic networks.

As internetnews.com has reported, 802.16 MANs could anchor 802.11 hot spots, which serve as wireless local area networks (WLANs), as well as servicing end-users directly.

But it's early still for the developing technology behind wireless MANs. For now, the TWTC "last mile" advance increases the competition for Baby Bells.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell recently told a congressional panel that he believes the Bell companies will begin investing in high-speed fiber lines, despite their argument that FCC rules would make such upgrades difficult. TWTC's expanding services in their markets may prove him right.