Education and research networks such as Internet2 and National Lambda Rail tend to be early adopters of new IP backbone technologies that later find their way into commercial Internet backbones. With that in mind, it will be worthwhile to keep tabs on the Unified Community Anchor Network that won one of the largest awards in the broadband stimulus program—a $62.5 million grant to upgrade the existing Internet2 backbone and to interconnect it with more than 30 existing research and education networks.

Internet2, which applied for the grant as the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development, today announced that it plans to use Ciena’s ActivFlex 6500 packet optical platform—and a close look at today’s announcement reveals that the Internet2 network upgrade apparently will benefit from advances in technology that have occurred over the eight months since the award was made.

The project fact sheet issued around the time the award was made references total backbone speeds of 3.2 Tb/s, but today’s announcement talks about 8.8 Tb/s total backbone capacity. The change probably indicates that Internet2 originally planned to use a 32-wavelength optical platform, with each wavelength supporting 100 Gb/s, but because Ciena now offers a platform supporting 88 wavelengths, total capacity has increased accordingly. Apparently Internet2 was able to make this upgrade without requiring additional funding, as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which made the award, has indicated it plans to closely monitor expenses for all of the projects it is administering.

It’s also interesting to note that the original project summary says the UCAN network will reach 121,000 community anchor institutions, with the potential to serve up to an additional 97,000 institutions—but today’s announcement talks about connecting 200,000 anchor institutions. It would appear that Internet2 has found a way to reach a large percentage of the 97,000 institutions originally considered as “potential” connection sites.

The ability of Ciena’s ActivFlex platform to support 100 Gb/s wavelengths is made possible, in part, by the product’s use of coherent optical processors. Unlike the optical processors used on traditional fiber optic systems that simply flash on and off, coherent optical processors work by using variations in phase and amplitude.

“This new collaboration with Ciena to create a groundbreaking new national backbone scalable to 88 waves of 100G builds on a longstanding and successful partnership,” said Robert Vietzke, executive director of network services at Internet2, in the release. “After successful field trials with Ciena, we are confident in their field-proven technology, strong product roadmap and focus on optimizing total costs to support a large-scale deployment such as this. We are excited about the directionless, colorless ROADM capabilities and the focus on intelligent automation as it reflects the need for flexibility, scalability and resiliency as is required by the anchor institutions, research sites and education campuses we serve. These capabilities will be critical to supporting the diverse application needs of the users on our network.”

The previous capacity of the Internet2 network was just 100 Gb/s, according to today’s release. Internet2 also has chosen digital optical networking company Infinera to be a supplier for the UCAN network.

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