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Carrier backbones: bandwidth glut or gap?

Overcapacity row breaks out

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A fierce industry debate has been sparked off by claims by industry analysts Gartner that carrier backbones are running at just 10 per cent utilisation.

The assessment by Ian Keene, a chief analyst at Gartner Group, pointed to the need for telcos to drive end-user bandwidth needs, for example by building out Gigabit Ethernet services on metropolitan networks, rather than invest in terabit switches.

Keene said: "Who wants to install a bunch of terabit switches when only 10 per cent of the network is being used as it is?

"Investors like to see a carrier who is operating at around or above 90 per cent utilisation, not investing in things that will just lie dormant and be written off. There is tremendous under-utilisation, which is a big problem."

Keene's figures on carrier backbone utilisation, delivered in a keynote presentation at the NetEvents networking symposium in Portugal last week, were described by a representative of optical networking firm Sycamore Networks as "absolute rubbish".

Phillip Hemstead, director of marketing at Sycamore Networks, said that the topology of optical networks meant that for every working path you need a protected path, so that capacity is effectively halved. Gartner's conclusions fail to take into account that links are seldom run at peak capacity and that customer churn created capacity that can't be reused, he added.

Hemstead admitted carriers do have "stranded assets" but this was an issue of putting intelligence into optical networks, rather than some bandwidth "glut" on carrier backbones.

Keene stood by Gartner's figures: "There is total overcapacity there, whereas in other areas, the capacity is not being tapped. It is not the fact that there are tonnes of fibre; it is in the wrong place and it is not spread out enough."

While there was heated disagreement over whether there was a bandwidth "glut" on carrier backbones (an Intel rep we spoke to, for one, sided with Gartner) there was a consensus of a bandwidth "bottleneck" between the edge of carriers' networks and their customers.

Networking vendors (such as Cisco Systems) are looking to improve sales to debt-ladened telcos by developing 10Gbps Ethernet kit for Metropolitan networks, on which service providers can layer profitable services, such as remote storage and ASP services.

Cheap "but not very sophisticated" bandwidth available via high-speed Ethernet-base metropolitan networks offers 25 times improved price/performance than can the legacy optical networks, based on technologies such as SONET, according to Keene.

Gartner believes that one in five medium and large businesses around the world will have at least one metropolitan connection in their enterprise in four years' time. ®

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