CenturyLink's Poll: We're ready to put 100G at the edge

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with Pieter Poll, Senior Vice President of National & International Network Planning, Engineering & Construction, CenturyLink

Pieter Poll, CenturyLink

Poll (Image source: CenturyLink)

Pieter Poll, SVP of national and international network planning, engineering and construction for CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL), is leading a major change for the telco as it expands its 100G optical capabilities. The move to 100G is driven by demand for new data center and cloud services in addition to the growing base of Ethernet and consumer services such as IPTV. Poll said that what makes their implementation of 100G different is that it "is a graceful evolution versus something in a few points that is layered on top of an existing network." Sean Buckley, Senior Editor of FierceTelecom caught up with Poll to talk about the telco's 100G journey.

FierceTelecom: You recently announced you'll be using Ciena's (Nasdaq: CIEN) 6500 platform. How does that fit into your 100G strategy?

Pieter Poll: We announced recently that we're using Ciena's 6500 platform for 100 Gig. Now, you have seen a series of announcements. We have talked about Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Infinera (Nasdaq: INFN) forming basically our core network, and Ciena is for our regional and metro networks. There will be other announcements to come, because fundamentally, CenturyLink believes that 100 Gig is not something that is special that we need to deploy a new network for. This is a natural and graceful evolution of our network to support these demands, and in this case Ciena is focused around meeting demands in the metro.

In fact, our very first 100 Gig in the company's history was in Singapore, tying together a new data center on the Savvis side that we had built as a joint venture in Singapore with the secondary data center and two PoPs [points of presence] that we have there. That was deployed with Ciena's 6500. It's very much a model where we have to have delivery points in the metros, so we are basically using the investments we have made as well as some new investments as we add capacity and add technologies like the 6500. These will not only deliver the services, but probably are more important to really tie together data center assets with point of presence assets.

FierceTelecom: In terms of the metro build, is that predicated on things like the data centers and delivering Ethernet and MPLS services to enterprise customers?

Pieter Poll: I think in large part that's what's going on, but the point--like when we made our first 100 Gig announcement --is that it's not a 'rip it out and put a new network in place.' This is upgrading a lot of existing assets. Internationally, we were already a 6500 customer, and so now we can take advantage of 100 Gig. We have technology from other vendors that similarly have roadmaps to 100 Gig that we will leverage.

We basically tend to grow rings and mesh in the metro on top of each other. Some of the newer advanced capabilities will be brought in and those in large part are triggered by data center traffic, new data center environments, and we're bringing together the Savvis and CenturyLink transport networks. Those are bringing in great opportunities to bring in some of this technology across the board in the Savvis data center environment.

FierceTelecom: Are you seeing more demand to expand your 100G capabilities in the international sites for Savvis and other services?

Pieter Poll: In the international environment, we have data centers in Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, four in London, and one in Frankfurt. What you see is that as more of them come up, you need transport into them, and we're taking the opportunity to come in with base 100G technology. The good news in Singapore is we're almost through the first 100 Gig and are ready to deploy more. Like most carriers internationally you have a lot of leased circuits that you pull together, and now we're basically able to turn down a lot of those leased circuits and turn them onto on-net or our own network. This is something that we're doing in Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and London.

FierceTelecom: Are you seeing similar dynamics on the domestic side?

Pieter Poll: Yes, but slightly different. Clearly, the data center demands are there. Like I said we're bringing together the Savvis and CenturyLink transport networks. CenturyLink, of course, from Qwest had a large national presence in NFL type cities, while Savvis had transport networks associated with the data center footprint. By bringing those together, we're exclusively using 100 Gig types of technologies and then we have organic demands in the cities where we are an incumbent provider of services such as Internet and Ethernet. You're seeing certain packet capabilities start to move into Layer 1 type of devices as well. You'll start to see those devices participate more intelligently in the movement of IP using Ethernet, and the metro networks are pretty much exclusively an Ethernet environment these days.

FierceTelecom: There have been a lot of announcements around 100G. What makes your implementation of 100G different from others?

Pieter Poll:  I think the piece that makes it unique for CenturyLink is that it's not a revolution but an evolution. Some of our competitors, especially on the wholesale environment, say 'we're building this network,' they cite a vendor and signaling they are going to come in at different cost points. We have demands on our network that just say, 'this is a natural evolution for us and we're starting to use this.'

A case in point is that it's not anything that is brand new, but is across all of our long-haul DWDM technologies and across all of our metro technologies. It's really the depth and a degree that this is a graceful evolution, versus something in a few points that is layered on top of an existing network.

FierceTelecom: What about services? Are you seeing demand for 100G services or is it too early?

Pieter Poll: We have, but you're right--it is early. Clearly, the dominant consumer of 100 Gig on our network will be ourselves, because we're refreshing our Terabit core. The routers are being refreshed because they're out of capacity. We're using 100 Gig to nail up router-to-router connections, so that's going to be the biggest demand for 100 Gig. We see wholesale customers and some very large enterprise and government customers looking for 100 Gig. There's a lot of interest in the research community to access things like Internet2 using 100 Gig technology as well.

FierceTelecom: Another area of growth for CenturyLink Wholesale is Fiber to the Tower. Do you see 100G playing a role there?

Pieter Poll: In the core, but if you do the math on the amount of spectrum our customers have using 4G with 4x4 MIMO LTE, they are in the 200-350 Mbps range, so Gigabit Ethernet is the current currency for Fiber to the Tower. As they look to add more spectrum, they could see a picture that says 'we are going to get beyond a Gig and 10 Gig as well.' We'll be ready with 10G and should it get to 100 at the edge--we'll be ready with that technology. You have to look at physics of the spectrum they have, and that is their challenge. The spectrum they have and the modulation they can do limits them, and [if] they would like more spectrum and should they get that spectrum we'll be there for them.