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Comcast Inks Key Transport Pacts

Comcast Corp. signed a series of deals last week with Cisco Systems Inc. and Nortel Networks Inc. for Internet-protocol optical backbone equipment to handle next-generation services from cable’s largest U.S. provider.

Nortel will supply dense wave-division multiplexing technology, including its common photonic layer and optical multiservice edge 6500 platforms. That equipment will be integrated with Cisco’s CRS-1 carrier routing system, part of Cisco’s next-generation Internet-protocol platform, on Comcast’s national backbone.

The two companies also signed an Open Transport Initiative with Comcast, pledging support to improve interoperability between the optical and Internet-protocol network layers.

“This collaboration is a natural and much-needed step in the evolution of network technology and the interoperability of multi-vendor networks,” Comcast chief technology officer Dave Fellows said in a statement.

The Cisco and Nortel deals dovetail with Comcast’s $100 million agreement with Level 3 Communications, in December 2004, to obtain 19,000 route miles of “dark fiber” capacity across the country.

“We had the dark fiber,” said John Leddy, vice president of network and transport engineering at Comcast. The gear from Nortel and Cisco will allow Comcast to exploit the capacity it bought from Level 3, he said.

“We’re happy about having two vendors that are both leaders in their technical areas,” Leddy added. “We will build a scalable, flexible IP platform to launch new services on.”

Comcast has deployed DWDM and router technology in local and regional networks, but this deal gives it the ability to expand to the national level, Leddy said.

It’s the first time Comcast will deploy the 40-Gigabit-capable CRS-1 Cisco routers, for example.

“We want a national infrastructure that can run linear video, multicast IP and [video-on-demand] asset distribution,” Leddy said.

Distributing on-demand programming via the national backbone could come fairly quickly, he said.

Dan Mondor, general manager of Nortel’s Global Cable Solutions group, said Comcast tested its equipment in an optical link from Boston to Washington, D.C., earlier this year, and received the thumbs up for the contract.

Terms were not disclosed, but Mondor said the multiyear deployment of 30,000 kilometers, or about 18,600 miles of optical gear, has begun, starting with the existing trial link put in place between Boston and Washington, D.C.

Nortel’s equipment will be integrated with the Cisco routers and be connected to Level 3’s backbone. “We’re going to interconnect more than 100 access sites,” Mondor said, “and provide a full suite of integrated, testing and support services.”

Comcast will use Nortel’s ROADM (reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexing capabilities) technology, which allow it to give more bandwidth to high volume traffic services as needed.

Cisco recently added 40 Gbps ports to its existing 10-Gb gear as part of its CRS-1 platform, which will give Comcast greater router bandwidth as its traffic loads increase.

The open-transport deal, Mondor said, “is all about integration of the technology from a management and control plane point of view. The question is managing it more efficiently.”

Said Comcast’s Leddy: “We have current systems out there, but many have to be managed as islands. They have separate management systems.

“We’re seeing [that] as IP and optics integrate, the [dense wave-division multiplexing] lasers and technology move into the IP platform.”

Comcast, Nortel and Cisco will identify and define a set of common interfaces to integrate the Nortel and Cisco gear. The companies also pledged to explore next-generation photonic line interfaces that define power levels, wavelengths, modulation schemes, optical signal to noise ratios and wavelength identification.