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Nortel will give the first live demonstration of its OPTera Connect PX photonic switch, at the Supercomm 2001 trade show in Atlanta this week.

The PX redirects light from one optical fibre to another, without electronic conversion, using a micro-electro mechanical switch system with tiny moveable mirrors.

According to Nortel it can support 1,008 duplex ports at any line rate - including 10, 40 or 80 Gbps - so we're talking switching fabrics which can theoretically scale to Terrabits (though since servers and routers aren't up to this kind of speed yet this is a moot point).

In May, Lucent announced that Global Crossing had become the first customer of its version of an all-optical switch, the WaveStar LambdaRouter, which pioneered the use of microscopic mirrors technique as a way of switching light.

Developed by Lucent's Bell Labs in 18 months, the LambdaRouter is 16 times faster than conventional electronic switches and also offer space saving advantages for telcos.

Nortel's aims to leapfrogging Lucent's early lead by showing how non-optical devices can use the blistering fast speeds offered by an optical network, for applications such as optical virtual private networks (VPNs) and storage.

Using kit from EMC, Nortel reckons it can create an optical storage network that can access critical data between five to 15 times faster than before.

With mobile operators in mind, Nortel will also demo a Mobile Multimedia IP core network implementation which will illustrate access and data delivery using Session Initiated Protocol (which is used to initiate user sessions that involve multimedia) and Enhanced Mobile IP (E-MIP) calls.

Nortel has announced alliances with Juniper Networks, EMC and IBM (for application hosting and ebusiness) in order to accelerate its products to market.

All well and good. But poor sales of optical networking kit to telcos are one of the main reasons both Nortel and Lucent shares are trading on the floor while staffers are being shown the door.

It's an example of where the technology seems to be moving ahead faster than the market's ability to deploy it - particularly when the inability of many US service providers to sustain a profitable business model has resulted in a number of high-profile casualties. ®

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