Nortel unveils new metro optical Ethernet gear

Nortel Networks Inc. revealed a new class of optical switches for the ever-more-attractive metropolitan area network market on Jan. 28. Nortel touted the switches’ power to cut carriers’ costs.

The Nortel OPTera Metro 1200 Ethernet Services Module and the OPTera Metro 8000 Ethernet Services Switch can vary the bandwidth passed from the core of the network to a customer with minimal aid from a technician. This permits a service provider to easily increase a customer’s bandwidth for a fee.

The OPTera 1200, due out in April, is a relatively small box meant for installation on campuses and in large multitenant buildings. It has 12 10/100 Base-T Ethernet ports and carries one or two 1000Base-TX ports and two GigE Mini-GBIC ports.

Nortel’s OPTera 8000 is a service provider’s switch with 128 gigabits of switching capacity. It provides tunable bandwidth from 1Mbps to 1000Mbps in 1Mbps increments.

The OPTera line operates using Ethernet overlaid over existing infrastructure, be it a fibre-optic network, resilient packet ring or SONET (synchronous optical network). While the 8000 is for use solely in a fibre-optic environment, major service providers like Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. have yet to move completely from older SONET systems in their metropolitan areas, said Keith Mayberry, a packet networks and services analyst with RHK Inc. in San Francisco.

“These guys have a lot of SONET stuff, and it made a lot of money for them,” he said. “To do Ethernet over SONET, you have to have next-generation SONET gear.” When carriers have the capability to run Ethernet over SONET, Nortel’s OPTera 1200 will be a useful supplement, he said.

Service providers can use Nortel’s Metro 3500 multiservice platform to bridge between SONET and Ethernet in the metro area. Nortel plans to release a software upgrade to its Metro 3500 switch in May, permitting it the same tunable bandwidth and endpoint provisioning capabilities of the Metro 8000.

Some of Nortel’s smaller competitors like Riverstone Networks Inc. produce equipment with similar capability to the OPTera 1200, but only for newer fibre-optic networks.

Provisioning new services is a bottleneck in network development, said Al Safarikas, Nortel’s vice-president of marketing for optical Ethernet. Service providers want to simplify their products and reduce their provisioning, he said.

Provisioning – turning on new services for a customer – has generally been a labour-intensive process relative to other network functions. Service providers’ chequebooks bleed when paid time-consuming technicians must make individual connections between network devices.

Nortel’s endpoint provisioning cuts in half the time needed to provision a new service like bandwidth-on-demand, and reduces the expertise needed from technicians, according to the company.

The devices’ automated provisioning also makes monitoring service level agreements easier, Safarikas said. It allows service providers to lay blame for a network outage on the right doorstep.

The OPTera 1200 is due for worldwide release in April, with a price tag starting at US$3,500. The OPTera 8000 will be available in June with a high-end configuration price of about US$300,000.

Nortel, in Brampton, Ont., can be reached at