February 27, 2001, 4:18 PM — Nortel Networks has confirmed that its all-optical switch -- the Optera Px, derived from Nortel's $3.25 billion acquisition of Xros last year -- is now in trials with an unidentified carrier.
This means that at least three vendors -- Corvis, Lucent and Nortel -- now claim to have all-optical switches in trials.
What does this mean for enterprise network architects? It's actually a glimpse into the future. An all-optical network that switches traffic based on wavelengths instead of electrical impulses long has been the ideal that optical networking researchers are working to attain. In the end, these networks should be faster, cheaper and offer more functionality. But all of these vendors are still in the early stages of delivering all-optical network gear.
Lucent appears to be the furthest ahead in some respects. It shipped its Wavestar LambdaRouter to Global Crossing Ltd. at the end of July, and it's been carrying live traffic in trials on Global Crossing's transatlantic cable since September 22.
Corvis shipped its first all-optical switch to Broadwing Communications in October. However, it's tough to ascertain whether it's still undergoing lab trials or whether it's started carrying live traffic.
Corvis' switch probably comes closer to being genuinely all-optical than Lucent's, because it forms part of an all-optical package that includes transmission equipment and net management software. Lucent's LambdaRouter switches light without converting it into electronics, but it isn't integrated with a transmission system. As a result, light probably has to undergo a conversion when it comes out of the LambdaRouter. In practice, however, carriers may want this anyhow, to help them manage their networks.
Xros last year made a big splash by claiming that its switch could scale to 1,024 by 1,024 ports -- but has yet to prove that it can conquer the challenges of making such a large-scale switch work in practice.
Currently, not much is known about the trials of Nortel's Xros switch. The vendor is hoping to keep its powder dry for a possible press release when and if the carrier agrees to publicity.