Alcatel hikes optical speed with less energy

Its 'universal' carrier core switch will offer several times the performance of its current platform

Alcatel-Lucent will try to tackle the growing volume of traffic on carrier networks with an optical switch that can handle 4T bits per second (bps) while consuming less power per bit than today's equipment.

The 1870 Transport Teraswitch (TTS) is based on a new chip built by Alcatel that can switch a mix of traffic types at 1T bps. It will have a maximum capacity of 4T bps in a single chassis in its first iteration, and later will be able to scale up to 8T bps in a single chassis. Alcatel-Lucent's current optical core switches have a capacity of 640G bps.

Traffic on service-provider networks is growing fast, led by video applications and the use of mobile data networks that feed into the large-scale wired infrastructure. Advancements in optical technology have allowed carriers to divide the light traveling over a single fiber into more wavelengths, increasing the capacity of existing networks and forcing routers to process more traffic.

The capacity of a single fiber is nearing 1T bps, said Alberto Valsecchi, vice president of marketing for optics. Alcatel wants to help carriers keep up with these trends.

At the same time, technology is evolving to simplify networks and make them more efficient at moving packets. The 1870 TTS will work with both new and existing technologies in carriers' core networks, including TDM (Time-Division Multiplexing), SONET/SDH (Synchronous Optical Networking/Synchronous Digital Hierarchy) and Carrier Ethernet, Valsecchi said.

The platform is designed to help carriers migrate away from legacy systems and eventually to end-to-end IP (Internet Protocol) packet networks. Alcatel has previously used this "universal" approach on its 1850 Transport Service Switch (TSS), an aggregation switch designed to work closer to the edge of the network. Both platforms can be administered using the same management software.

In designing the new chip, Alcatel cut power consumption to one-eighth that of earlier processors. The chip in the 1870 TTS uses 0.04 watts per gigabit per second, Valsecchi said. The company is now emphasizing low power consumption in network gear, which has received less attention for its power use than have servers and data centers.

Last week, Alcatel led the formation of a consortium, called Green Touch, to start with a blank slate in developing network equipment with low power consumption. Samsung, China Mobile, AT&T and other entities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are participating.

The 1870 TTS supports the GMPLS/ASON (Generalized Multiprotocol Label Switching/Automatically Switched Optical Network) protocol, which allows carriers to avoid routing some traffic and can switch it across the core of the network instead, said Michael Sedlick, Alcatel's head of cross-connect product line management.

GMPLS also allows for a more reliable core, with recovery from multiple failures, so carriers can offer stronger service-level agreements, Sedlick said.

Squeezing more performance out of network core equipment is the key to carriers keeping up with growing demand, said Infonetics Research analyst Andrew Schmitt. Since about 2002, overall IP traffic has grown an average of 40 percent per year, while spending on optical gear has grown only about 6 percent to 8 percent, he said.

"What you're trying to do is increase the total capacity at an equivalent cost," Schmitt said.

Alcatel's "universal" optical switches stand out because they include so many capabilities in one box, according to Schmitt. Because they include Layer 2 Ethernet switching and other features, the Alcatel systems reduce the amount of equipment carriers need to buy and maintain, he said.

Most optical platforms can't match the integration Alcatel achieves, with the closest product being the Fujitsu Network Communications Flashwave 9500.

The 1870 TTS is scheduled to become available in the second quarter of this year. The company said several service providers are testing the platform and one, which Alcatel could not name, has committed to deploying it. Alcatel-Lucent does not disclose the prices of its products.

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