There's long been talk about merging cable's three physical plant silos — video, voice and data — into one homogenous transmission path.
Buckeye CableSystem of Toledo, Ohio, is taking the first small steps along that road. It has purchased a suite of products from Internet Photonics Inc. that will combine transport paths for certain parts of Buckeye's commercial telephony operations with its impending VOD service.
"Unlike the typical approach of offering new services over separate networks, we wanted to build a true multi-service network that had the features and scalability needed to satisfy our current subscribers and grow with demand," Buckeye chief technology officer Joe Jensen said.
Buckeye serves 155,000 basic subscribers and 28,000 cable-modem customers in Toledo, and operates a system in nearby Sandusky, connected to Toledo via a 65-mile fiber-optic run.
In 1998, Buckeye launched a separate competitive local-exchange carrier (CLEC), which Jensen runs as president. The same staff of engineers that runs the cable operation also runs the CLEC. The CLEC is focused on serving small and midsized businesses in Toledo, as well as neighboring Bowling Green and Sandusky.
The CLEC counts 900 buildings and 1,000 accounts on its fiber network, Jensen said.
The CLEC runs an OC-48 synchronous optical network (SONET) ring based on Cisco Systems Inc. gear and has installed circuit switches from Lucent Technologies Inc., Jensen said. It offers business phone and data services using frame relay and asynchronous transfer mode (ATM), as well as Ethernet services.
Over the past year or two, Buckeye began developing plans to launch VOD, and it wanted to make sure it had the firepower to make the product run smoothly.
"We didn't want to launch with premium product only to discover we underestimated the take up rate," Jensen said.
At the same time, Jensen was looking to increase efficiency on the telco side of the network.
"The two drivers for this is being able to recover some of the fiber dedicated for OC-48 transport and GigE for commercial subscribers, and positioning us to VOD launch by the end of the year," Jensen said.
So Buckeye chose the full suite of gigabit Ethernet products from Internet Photonics: the LightStack GSLAM, LightStack MX and LightStack MXA.
"This has been a great example that's validated our value proposition for cable," Internet Photonics vice president of marketing Gary Southwell said.
Using LightStack, Buckeye is able to map eight Gigabit Ethernet channels onto a single 10-gigabit DWDM wavelength. For VOD, the LightStack GSLAM aggregates gigabit Ethernet streams from a bank of centralized headend servers, then transmits video streams along a 10 gigabit wavelength to hub sites where IP's LightStack MX separates the GigE streams and sends them to the appropriate QAM device.
On the telco-SONET side of the house, Buckeye is deploying the LightStack MXA to consolidate multiple SONET rings onto a single fiber pair.
Buckeye has 13 hubs and five SONET rings, Jensen said. He'll deliver between 1 and 4 Gigabits per hub site for VOD, as the hub sites range in size from 15,000 and 55,000 subscribers. Buckeye is gearing for a simultaneous rate of VOD usage between 7% and 10%.
"This gave ourselves some headroom," he said.
The new gear also will allow some capacity expansion on the telco side. "We anticipate moving to Gigabit Ethernet for data," he said, at some point. "It never hurts to have a network that can adjust quickly to that."
On the residential modem side, Buckeye presently offers speeds of 1 Megabit per second downstream and 128 Kilobits per second upstream, but it is looking at its options.
"We're moving through the analytical process to determine where we want to end up," Jensen said.
It helps to have an engineering staff that has both cable and telco responsibilities. "We manage it as a single entity," he said. "We shared the sheaths, but had not shared the fiber up to this point. But we're starting to see some exhaust in some of our primary ring routes and we launched an infrastructure project to analyze alternatives.
"We wanted to find a platform to give us the flexibility, and it was more cost-effective to implement a wavelength-management system."