One bunch of start-up metropolitan-area carriers is addressing these problems by ditching SONET. They're building fiber networks and rolling out IP services over Gigabit Ethernet. This group includes Telseon in Palo Alto and Yipes Communications in San Francisco, which are up and running in several cities. Another is Cogent Communications, a Washington, D.C., carrier that will launch service next month in New York.
In general, these outfits are using Gigabit Ethernet switches from Cisco, Extreme Networks and Foundry Networks. The connections between the switches are set up using a new generation of DWDM equipment designed for metro environments. (It's less costly and more flexible than long-distance DWDM equipment.)
Gigabit Ethernet beats SONET hands down on costs when handling Internet traffic. First, Ethernet gear is far less expensive. Second, service providers and users aren't forced to buy extra equipment -- typically expensive ATM switches -- to carry IP traffic over an Ethernet infrastructure, as they are with SONET. From an IT standpoint, that means you get some of the advantages of optical networking without incurring substantial bills.
That's the case for Fenwick & West, a San Francisco law firm. It pays "less than $6,000 a month" for 10M-bit/sec Internet access from Yipes. The SONET alternative, T-3, would have cost between $18,000 and $35,0000 a month, says Matt Kesner, the firm's chief information officer.
With Yipes, Kesner can specify the bandwidth he wants. He only needs to give 24 hours' notice if he wants to make changes; he can scale in increments of 1M up to 1G bit/sec. The service has run without a hiccup since it went live in April, he says.
Cogent plans an even better deal -- 100M bit/sec Internet access at $1,000 per month, or 30% less than a typical T-1 connection. Moreover, Cogent is engineering its network so there's no sharing the 100M bit/sec among users, as is common with Internet services.
One of the other problems holding back wider deployment of optical technologies has been the high cost of installing fiber access lines connecting customer sites and carrier points of presence. Digging up streets in cities is an expensive business, costing as much as $300,000 per building, according to carriers.
In the past, this has encouraged carriers to focus their efforts on big customers from which they could quickly recoup investments. Smaller business users have often found themselves with no choice other than dealing with incumbent carriers, which take a couldn't-care-less attitude to customer service.