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Nortel looks to speed up Net backbone

The network equipment maker unveils technology that potentially could deliver speeds more than 640 times faster than current systems for fiber-optic networks.

Nortel Networks wants to raise the speed limit over the pipes that make up the so-called Internet backbone.

The company disclosed plans today to unveil new networking technology that can potentially deliver speeds and capacity 640 times better than current technology for fiber-optic networks.

The technology, not due to ship commercially until next year, could give Nortel a boost with its telecom carrier customers, many of whom are currently upgrading and expanding their networks to meet the demands of increased Net traffic.

The company is attempting to speed up delivery of Internet content and transactions to users by various means, including using high-speed consumer modems.

"The appetite for bandwidth is growing very rapidly," said Anil Khatod, vice president of marketing and sales for Nortel optical networks. "What we're trying to do is address the entire infrastructure, including on-ramps and off-ramps."

Khatod said trials based on the new equipment will begin in the fourth quarter of this year. Customers who plan to help test the technology will be announced within weeks, he added.

Nortel essentially hopes to extend the capabilities of a technology called dense-wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) to handle more data at higher speeds.

Yet Lucent Technologies and Ciena are also working feverishly to up the bandwidth ante.

The technology, is able to combine 160 beams of light for data transmission across a single fiber-optic strand, according to the company. That translates to a potential capacity for the new system--dubbed the OPTera 16000G--of 1.6 terabits, or 1.6 trillion bits per second, the company said.

Nortel's current technology can handle 32 beams of light, or "wavelengths." Comparatively, technology from Lucent can handle 80 wavelengths, while similar equipment from Ciena can handle 96 wavelengths.

Nortel's competitors said many of their own telecommunications customers are more concerned with how to manage the bandwidth they already have, not with the promise of more to come.

"They're announcing a product that's going to be shipping some day," said a spokesman for Ciena. "It's almost: 'So what?'"

Lucent said it continues to work on improving its technology, which as recently as last year was only capable of carrying 16 wavelengths before it was updated. Company executives said 25 customers are currently evaluating Lucent's 80-wavelength equipment and revenue numbers from initial sales of its existing technology are expected this month.

Kathy Szelag, vice president of marketing for Lucent's optical networking group, described the current climate as "ungodly hot" for its DWDM technology.