Nortel gets ready for the optical Internet

With its US$3.25 billion acquisition of Sunnyvale, Calif-based Xros, Nortel Networks plans to be the first mover in delivering the all-optical Internet.

“This gives us a giant leap forward in building the high-performance Internet,” said Clarence Chandran, president, Service Provider and Carrier Group for Nortel Networks. “What Xros’ capability does for us is give us tremendous velocity in meeting the demands of our customers to go faster, wider, longer and now use the technology of photonic capability – in other words light – to deliver value to networks where we’re racing to provide people with content, instantly.”

In the form of light, Xros’ silicon-based micro-mirror technology will allow data to be switched through large-scale optical networks. “What it ends up being is a mirror that can be positioned anywhere in space, allowing us to direct light to a wide range of places,” said Xros’s president and CEO, Greg Reznick. “In actuality these mirrors are…about two millimetres square and we can fit about 1100 of them into about a 6-inch by 6-inch space. Two mirrors face each other, light will come in, bounce off one mirror, hit the other mirror and go out to a target fibre.”

According to Chandran, Xros’s technology will not just make Nortel conversant in the area of optical Internet, but will make it the absolute leader.

“Our master plan is to deploy the building blocks of the all-optical, high performance Internet, and because Nortel Networks is a leader in building the high-performance Internet we know exactly when and how these particular capabilities should fit and what capabilities they must have in the network as we deploy world-class systems for our customers,” he said.

Xros’ technology is designed to operate at today’s industry standard speeds, 10Gbps, as well as future Optical Internet speeds of 40-80Gbps. The optical Internet could potentially deliver millions of instant Internet sessions, thousands of video channels and extensive amounts of e-business transactions all at unprecedented levels, said Chandran.

“What Xros represents is a huge capability for us to materialize it (optical Internet), implement it, not just talk about it for our customers around the world,” he said.

According to Chandran, Xros’ photonic switching (X-1000) and Nortel’s OPTera Connect, Qtera ULTRA and OPTera LH together will provide customers with unprecedented flexibility, a statement Current Analysis’ director of Carrier and Optical Infrastructure, Christopher Nicoll agrees with.

“The AON (all-optic network) will provide carriers unprecedented network flexibility in dealing with high bandwidth but transient, traffic demands,” he said. “AON will help service providers to build direct paths between traffic centres in their networks, rather than flooding the entire network with overflow from congested or failed links.”

Xros’ X-1000 technology is capable of arbitrarily connecting up to 1152 pairs of inputs and outputs with an all-optical pathway from each input to each output, making the cross-connect independent of the bit rate speed of the data, format or protocol of the data, Reznick said. At 1,152 by 1,152 ports, Xros offers a scale that surpasses anything else that’s been announced, he said.

“Scale continues to be important as you move forward in time, as you continue to add higher bandwidth singles through that switch,” he said. “By doing the switching completely photonically, we’re completely independent of any bit rate advances, [or] any multiplexing of wavelengths. We can take anything that comes in on a fibre and switch it to another fibre without regard to any of those things. As the network grows and the bandwidth grows around this switch, that switch will continue to stay in place and continue to carry all the traffic that will be thrown at it.”

Reznick went on to say that the technology “is similar, in fact, to what Lucent is using, but while we respect their approach we think that we have a robust technology that we believe will scale farther and provide a very good solution.”

According to Nicoll, “Nortel Networks’ acquisitions of optical cross connect vendor Xros is a move in the right direction. Nortel needed to add purely optical switching to its optical networking portfolio, and Xros will complement Nortel’s earlier acquisition of Qtera’s ultra long haul DWDM technology. The end goal is to get to the all-optical network – as much for bragging rights as for the benefits all optical technology offers service providers.”

The Xros transaction is based on US$3.25 billion in Nortel Networks common shares on a fully diluted basis, and is expected to close in the second quarter of 2000. Xros plans to begin customer trials with the X-1000 this summer, with shipments beginning next year. For more information, visit Nortel Networks at