Alcatel announces 100 Gig Ethernet modules

Alcatel-Lucent plans to ship a router module next year that supports the yet-to-be ratified 100 Gigabit per second Ethernet standard at the edge of carrier networks, where services are delivered to subscribers.

The Paris-based telecommunications equipment manufacturer this week announced a 100-Gigabit services interface for its 7750 Service Router and 7450 Ethernet Service Switch, which will be available for demonstrations in the fourth quarter of this year and ship commercially in the middle of next year.

Vancouver-based Telus Corp. is one of the first carriers to announce it will use the cards. Pricing has not yet been set.

On a conference call, Alcatel-Lucent officials said they expect the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) to finalize the standard, known as 802.3ba, by the middle of 2010, so the line cards will ship after that.

The intent is to make it easier for carriers to combine services such as on-demand television, voice over IP, Internet Protocol virtual private networks (VPNs) and fourth-generation wireless services (such as Long-Term Evolution, or LTE) on to one network.

“Building a platform nowadays for the core is about speed, uptime and reliability but building it for the edge is about much much more, it’s about all of those things plus the mediation of different services on to that common core,” said Basil Alwan, president of Alcatel-Lucent’s IP division and head of its carrier group portfolio strategy. “The move from broadcast to on-demand has a real explosive impact on traffic.”

Alwan added carriers can also use 100 Gigabit Ethernet to combine different business services at the network edge and to manage wireless networks.

“As we go to a pure IP mobile network, 4G and LTE, we’re going to see a strong increase in the amount of mobile traffic.”

The 100G line card has one 100Gbps port and can be can be used in Alcatel services routers shipped as far back as 2004, the company said. To serve carriers that may not need a port that fast yet, Alcatel will also introduce at the same time a line card with 10 10-Gigabit Ethernet ports. A standard telecommunications rack fully configured with those modules could accommodate 300 10-Gigabit Ethernet ports.

“Carriers don’t need it today, for the most part, but they do need to know it’s coming,” said Infonetics Research analyst Michael Howard. Some large enterprises are also looking ahead for their data-center needs, he said. “You can bet that Google’s looking at this, and MSN and the rest of the big content providers.”

Some large banks that have to interconnect thousands of servers in their data centers are already waiting for 40-Gigabit Ethernet gear, Howard added. By 2012 or 2015, 100-Gigabit Ethernet will be widely deployed, he said.

One of reasons Telus is buying the cards is to consolidate and manage all of its metro traffic, said the carrier’s chief technology officer, Ibrahim Gedeon.

“Part of the overall plan is to consolidate metro traffic for all our businesses: the wireless, wireline, wholesale and TV,” Gedeon said. “You could just get dumb pipes, but why would you have multiple infrastructures if you really know how to do a proper IP network with quality of service?”

Telus plans to purchase “in range of 80 to 150” cards “over the next few years,” Gedeon said, adding a major reason for selecting Alcatel-Lucent was the FP2 chipset used in the cards.

FP2 has been in Alcatel-Lucent’s 50 Gbps full duplex line cards for a year now, Alwin said, adding the 100 Gbps card is being tested in a lab. FP2 includes a queuing chip and packet processing.

“Our 100 gig announcement is not just about moving bits,” Alwin said. “It’s about moving and managing bits.”

For Telus, it’s about managing traffic for different customers running on the network.

“You could support the Government of Canada — National Defence is one of our clients — and at the same time support someone doing peer-to-peer traffic,” Gedeon said. “As you control the network you need to have the right systems to be able to have applications leverage a certain quality of experience. When you look at customer experience, the next phase would be, if you’re willing to pay a bit more you could have much better experience than your neighbour for the same application.”

For example, Gedeon said, Telus could use it to let wireless customers pay more to get their services prioritized.

“It’s 5:00 in the afternoon, everyone is using their cell phone and your data session is slow by default, no matter which vendor you use,” he said. “Suppose you’re in a rush, you pay 25 cents more to get your browsing session to call a cab, because in the future cab calling will be by Web launch on your phone, because (the dispatcher knows) where you are and can send a cab to you but why should you wait a minute or two to load a session?”

The ratification of the IEEE 802.3ba standard was an important factor in Telus’s decision.

“There are a couple of debates on the standard so we are waiting until that gels out,” Gedeon said.

Other vendors have not waited for the standard.

For example, Juniper Networks Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif. last month introduced a 100-Gigabit interface for its T1600 Core Router, which is designed for the core of carrier networks.

Alcatel’s module is intended for routers that are usually used at the edge of the service provider core, closer to subscribers but can also be used in a carrier’s core.

Alcatel is a major vendor of DSL (digital subscriber line) access equipment but a relative newcomer to the carrier router business, which is dominated by Cisco Systems and Juniper. The 100G interface offers double the speed of Alcatel’s current fastest line cards, which have a maximum throughput of 100G bps For the average enterprise, the promise of 100Gbps interfaces at the edge of carriers’ core networks bodes well for faster carrier Ethernet services they eventually will be able to buy down the road, Howard said. 

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