The fibreless city

The most important optical tool in breaking the metro bandwidth bottleneck is the fibre.

Once the number of fibre routes increase, so will the “agility” of metro networks, says Brian McFadden, president of metro optical networks at Nortel Networks Corp.

“The issue is still fiber connectivity to the edge and the richness of that connectivity,” McFadden said in an interview at the recent SuperComm 2001 show in Atlanta. “Only 10 per cent of buildings are connected to fibre, and less than 10 per cent of databases are connected to a network. Once we get the fibre out there we can look at different models for provisioning.”

What’s holding up the build out of fibre routes is the cost of the rights of way into the building, McFadden says. He adds, though, that it’s cheaper to put in fiber for short routes than it is equipment, while the opposite is true in the long-haul network.

“We’ve got to think about fibre in cities like pipes or roads” in terms of necessity, McFadden says. “It will make the city more competitive. A bunch of communities” – private and public sector, legal, civic and public interest – “need to come together to determine how to do this.”

It’s difficult, McFadden notes. MFN has been at it for five years, he says, and still only 10 per cent of buildings in major metropolitan areas are connected to fibre (MFN was founded in 1993).

As usual, applications will be the driver. Broadband to the desktop – in the form of videoconferencing – should be compelling enough for companies to bite the bullet and go glass. 3G (third-generation) wireless will also be a big bandwidth driver, McFadden says.

“We’re just at the beginning,” he says. “We have to figure out how to get carriers more profitable with optical networks.”

But don’t hold your breath. That metro bandwidth bottleneck will not be busted wide open anytime soon.

“The single biggest thing in metro optical is fibre,” McFadden says. “You can’t start unless you have fibre to the building. When we haven’t got 10 per cent of big buildings connected we have a lot of work to do.”