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SSE Enterprise Telecoms bids to solve UK’s backhaul problem

By layering Infinera technology over its existing network, SSE Enterprise Telecoms plans to deliver what it refers to as a ‘dark fibre-like’ access product for communications services providers

Network operator SSE Enterprise Telecoms is to deploy Infinera’s metro-packet optical networking technology across its network in a bid to alleviate concerns among UK communications services providers (CSPs) over lack of access to affordable unlit, or dark fibre, backhaul network infrastructure.

The roll-out will enable CSP customers to access multiple services with speeds of up to 100Gbps to multiple BT exchanges and datacentres through a mix of different services, which is something that current networks cannot do at a commercially viable cost.

SSE describes its enhanced service as “dark-fibre like” – that is to say, providing the sort of service a CSP might expect to receive using dark fibre without actually being dark fibre.

According to CTO Conrad Mallon, SSE has been working extensively with multiple CSP customers to solve the problem of lack of access to wholesale dark fibre, which has been compounded in the past 12 months after a planned launch of such a dark fibre access (DFA) product by Openreach was canned thanks to a successful legal challenge against regulator Ofcom.

The need for backhaul capacity is becoming even more critical partly given the sudden burst of activity around full-fibre broadband, and partly given the planned roll-out of commercial 5G mobile networks is drawing closer.

Delegates at the June 2018 Connected Britain conference in London heard from mobile network operators (MNOs) O2, Three and Vodafone on precisely this issue. Representatives of all three networks argued in favour of the need for more dark fibre backhaul to help them roll out effective 5G networks over the next few years.

At the event, O2 UK COO Derek McManus said his organisation was “disappointed” that Openreach withdrew its wholesale DFA proposals. He characterised this as a “missed opportunity” that would disadvantage the UK from an economic perspective and prevent the UK from realising the full potential of 5G.

Mallon told Computer Weekly that prior to the withdrawal of Openreach’s DFA product, SSE had been talking to a number of MNOs and other CSPs about the need for better backhaul.

SSE put together a proposition based on DFA for a managed service whereby SSE would supply lit fibre capacity for CSPs that wanted to ramp up their network capacity in support of new services and data-hungry customers.

After Openreach backed out of the market, many of SSE’s direct competitors quietly shelved similar plans to offer multi-terabit capacity between network aggregation points because the standard model was that DFA through the Openreach network would be a crucial element. However, this was not an option for SSE, said Mallon.

“We had been working very closely with one MNO in particular, so consequently when Openreach said they weren’t doing DFA we recognised we had a customer with a definitive need that had to be served, so we pulled out all the stops to acquire and aggregate a network without DFA,” he said.

This led the organisation to Infinera, which is supplying SSE with its XTM product, a dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) platform.

DWDM technology essentially transmits data from multiple sources on the same fibre using separate light wavelengths. Infinera’s version is based on an 88-channel architecture, with each channel supporting wavelengths that can carry either one or two 100Gbps payloads.

It will give SSE the ability to offer customers either 100Gbps or fractional 100Gbps services over either pure optical, packet optical, wavelength or filtered light services.

“This maximises the potential of our system,and  increases our capacity and reach,” said Mallon.

The service will be rolled out to supply connectivity into 80 UK datacentres and an undisclosed number of BT exchanges. Mallon noted that SSE plans to bring connectivity to a much greater number of exchanges in the near future, giving SSE the ability to properly serve customers who want to build nationwide networks.

Infinera senior vice-president of Emea, Nick Walden, added: “The UK market has never been more dynamic, now facing exponential bandwidth growth coupled with a renewed focus on connectivity services from both enterprises and carriers due to the recent DFA activities.

“Infinera is delighted to partner with SSE Enterprise Telecoms on this significant project to rapidly scale network capacity and service differentiation for its customers with our leading XTM Series packet optical solutions.”

Read more about backhaul for UK MNOs

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