The push to add capacity to Internet backbones is nothing new, but major network operators are now saying e-commerce - buying and selling on the Web - is the major new driver for additional bandwidth.
In announcing an accelerated plan to upgrade bandwidth on its Internet Protocol backbone, AT&T officials last week said that supporting Web hosting centers has become the single biggest application requiring new bandwidth, replacing enterprise intranets and extranets as bandwidth hogs. Rival Sprint, while claiming its current IP backbone meets bandwidth demands, agreed that e-commerce and support of commercial Web sites is experiencing significantly higher growth than other applications.
There were also signs that the industry is gearing up to meet this new bandwidth crunch.
Nortel Networks, the leading supplier of high-speed optical transmission equipment, said it is its plant facilities' tripling capacity to produce more of its fastest systems, known as OC-192 (10-gigabit-per-second) systems.
"I am falling behind the rate at which my customers would like me to deliver systems," Nortel Chairman John Roth said.
AT&T will turn up OC-192 systems on its network this month, using Nortel rival Lucent Technologies' gear to make the move, about six months ahead of schedule, said Mike Jenner, vice president and general manager of global IP infrastructure at AT&T.
"We talked in June about our intent to upgrade to OC-192 in the first half of 2000," Jenner said. "What's happened since then is that the amount of demand for people driving commerce to the Internet, for high-capacity access to the Internet, and the 'dot com' companies who are selling on the Net has significantly increased the need for bandwidth."
Working with Lucent, he added, AT&T has been able to accelerate its deployment of OC-192 systems, which will be targeted at segments of AT&T's network where demand is greatest. Many of those segments feed into Web hosting centers, including AT&T's own, Jenner said.
Sprint is also seeing "incredible" growth in traffic related to e-commerce, said Stan Curry, e-commerce market development manager at Sprint. "As companies move from static or brochureware Web sites to more interactive sites, we will see more performance drains on the network," he said. "Companies are adding video streaming, audio streaming and other applications that require much more bandwidth."
E-commerce traffic is a different kind of network challenge from enterprise data services in other respects, said Rose Klimovich, director of global IP infrastructure at AT&T. "It's more broadcast-oriented - more traffic is coming to one site," she said. "So it tends to require a lot more bandwidth in the network. Also, traffic is more oriented toward longer periods of the day. It doesn't end at 5 p.m. - people are shopping well into the evening hours."
Both AT&T and Sprint are touting not only their network backbones but also their hosting facilities - as are companies such as Global Crossing, MCI WorldCom and Qwest Communications International. Officials at MCI WorldCom's Internet backbone operator, UUnet Technologies, were not available for comment.
Roth counts MCI WorldCom, Qwest and Sprint among the customers for Nortel's OC-192 system, putting pressure on the company's ability to deliver product. The company is investing $400 million to build two new plants in Canada and to add to or upgrade other facilities in Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S.