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Analysts question Lucent cable advance

Lucent introduces new undersea cable technology that can increase the capacity of networks, but some analysts wonder if such an advance is necessary.

    Lucent Technologies this week introduced new undersea cable technology that can significantly increase the capacity of present networks, but some analysts wonder if such an advance is even necessary in the present climate.

    Lucent, a maker of telecommunications equipment, said that its new UltraWave product series of optical fiber will more than double the capacity of optical cable networks that traverse major oceans by making the transmission of signals more efficient.

    But the explosion in the capacity of undersea optical networks during the past year prompts some analysts to predict a glut of bandwidth unless data traffic demand meets supply.

    "The question is: Is this a problem that needs to be solved right now," said Tim Smith, an analyst at industry consultants Gartner Dataquest. "A lot of transoceanic cable is being laid by Global Crossing and others and the hypothesis is where is all the traffic going to come from to fill this new capacity."

    According to a Gartner report, transoceanic fiber capacity ballooned from 432.7 gigabits per second (Gbps) in the fourth quarter of 1999 to nearly 3,500 Gbps at the end of the fourth quarter of 2000. Gartner analyst Bill Hahn predicts that capacity will mushroom to about 13,400 Gbps by the end of this year.

    This presents a potential problem for the telecommunications industry, which has seen prices fall as the cost of sending data across a network becomes cheaper.

    But others disagree. Julian Rawle, an analyst at Pioneer Consulting, says that carriers are sinking billions into building up their networks and would not do so unless they were optimistic that the demand for data traffic will remain strong.

    Optical networks packages data as pulses of light that are sent down glass fibers. The two main culprits that can reduce a signal and inhibit capacity are attenuation and dispersion. Attenuation is a signal's tendency to get weaker the farther it travels. Dispersion happens as a signal spreads out over time and becomes so diluted that it becomes hard to decipher by receivers. Lucent?s new technology addresses the dispersion problem, according to the company.

    Lucent expects the product to be available in the second quarter of this year. The fiber is made by the company's Optical Fiber Solutions unit, a division that Lucent announced it was thinking of selling last week.

    In related news, Lucent announced a deal with British Telecommunications? Ignite to use its voice-over Internet technology and a multi-year pact with Deutsche Telekom for optical equipment.