Cisco, Nortel Bringing Optical Networks onto Horizon

Networking vendors are racing toward the manageable optical networks finish line at the speed of light.

Cisco Systems Inc. bought its way into the optical transport market at the end of August by spending $7.4 billion to acquire Cerent Corp. and Monterey Networks Inc.

In the Cerent purchase, Cisco gained the smaller company’s wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) technology, which pushes the bandwidth on fiber-optic networks.

Monterey's infrastructure-class, optical cross-connect technology focuses on enabling service providers to add capacity to the core of networks.

Earlier this month, Nortel Networks announced its OPTera Packet Solution, technology that unifies optical and packet networks to increases capacity and reliability on the Internet.

A recent report by Current Analysis Inc. (, a market analysis firm, states that the OPTera solution will help provide fast, reliable optical switching and routing capabilities that will replace the current routers responsible for 57 percent of all Internet failures today.

In the report, titled "Nortel Builds an Intelligent Optical Network and Finds a Terabit Router", Chris Nicoll, director of carrier infrastructure at Current Analysis and author of the report, expects products like this will enable the high-performance Internet that will unify optical and packet networks.

Nortel's new routing and switching technology, in fact, has the potential to raise the amount of traffic on the Internet from less than 1 terabit per second to 19 terabits and beyond.

The OPTera Packet Solution consists of five elements: the OPTera Packet Core, the Versalar Switch Router 25000, the OPTera Connect DX, the ATM-based Passport 15000 Multiservice Switch and integrated Network Management software. The network management software is available today, and the other products are expected to be available for customer testing at different times between the end of the year and the middle of next year.

The OPTera Packet Solution will integrate these elements to deliver optical switching and routing capabilities that will be a major part of Nortel’s OPTera Portfolio, which also includes metropolitan and backbone optical networking solutions.

The entire OPTera Portfolio is managed by an integrated network management system that administers voice and Internet traffic flows across wireless and wireline networks with centralized billing and accounting records.

Nortel says its optical transport systems carry more than 75 percent of backbone Internet traffic in North America, with OPTera customers including Cable & Wireless Communications and IXC Communications.

Clarence Chandran, president, carrier packet solutions, at Nortel Networks, says demand for its optical Internet solutions is growing 56 percent annually, and the market is expected to shoot up to more than $35 billion by 2001.

Although OPTera is the first IP/ATM over optical networking product to come to market, Current Analysis’ Nicoll expects others will soon follow.

Nicoll’s report also states that although this solution is part of the future of optical IP/ATM networking, service providers are not yet in a position to take advantage of its benefits.