SMART Letter #16
February 1, 1999



            SMART Letter #16 - February 1, 1999

        For Friends and Enemies of the Stupid Network

             Copyright 1999 by David S. Isenberg -- -- 1-888-isen-com




>  Lead essay: 10 Gigabits to Every Canadian Home by 2005

>  Quote of note: FCC Commissioner Michael Powell

>  Y2K: Leading Indicators Favor "Official Future" Scenario

>  Conferences on My Calendar, Copyright Notice, Administrivia



[Prolog:  Imagine 10 Gbits -- enough bandwidth for over 150,000 

phone calls -- in your living room.  As transmission technologies 

become cheaper, simpler, faster and more capable -- by a factor

of 10 every year or so -- 10 Gigabit access becomes as cheap as

yesterday's less capable, more complicated technologies.

Both DSL and Cable Modem technologies are several years

old -- they date from times when DS-3 (45 Mbit) was fast,

and they predate the advent of WDM (and even the deployment of 



As my article below lays out, it is now "thinkable" (to use

official FCC technical terminology) to bring this year's new 

backbone technology straight into the home.

But incumbent network providers are uniquely disincented to act.

Clearly there are no applications and there is no customer demand.

Besides 10 gig will completely cannibalize the last remains of their

mainstream business -- imagine more throughput in your home than

in a Class 5 office! How long will 5-cent Sundays seem attractive?

In the process of implementing today's latest technology, Canada 

just might demonstrate to the world that what comes after 

kilobit access is gigabits -- and "that giant sucking sound"

will be investment dollars following economic growth, which

will be following bandwidth north. -- David I]


CANADA BRINGS FIBER HOME: CANARIE proposes gigabit Internet 

to the home while U.S. telcos diddle with DSL.

by David S. Isenberg

BOX:  [To Bill St. Arnaud, convergence is a backward 

looking attempt to preserve existing assets.]

When Bill St. Arnaud tries to show earnest telco types the 

leading edge, he might as well be talking Martian. When he 

explains how he'll deliver gigabits via fiber to the home 

(FTTH) for about the same cost as megabits via Digital 

Subscriber Line (DSL) or cable modem, their minds seem to 

be stuck in the traffic jam at the intersection of IP and 


In the midst of the distracting pseudo-battle between DSL 

and cable modems, it is hard to remember that FTTH is still 

the broadband endgame. Despite the pall of failure around 

early-1990s interactive TV, the supremacy of fiber has been 

clear as glass for over a decade. 

St. Arnaud, the mild-mannered Director of Network Projects 

for the Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research, 

Industry and Education (CANARIE; has not 

lost sight of this truth.  The newest CANARIE project, 

CA*Net 3, will throw away Synchronous Optical Network 

(Sonet) and Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) to become the 

world's first all-optical Internet backbone.


St. Arnaud believes that this design can be extended into 

the home.  He proposes to throw away DSL and cable modems 

too, bringing CA*Net 3's all-optical multigigabit Internet 

into every Canadian home by 2005.


In long-haul networks, Wavelength Division Multiplexing 

(WDM) has increased fiber capacity by a couple of orders of 

magnitude in two short years. This year, a single fiber 

will have throughput for 15 million calls -- enough to 

handle the entire U.S. busy hour.

But WDM has not yet hit the local loop.  St. Arnaud thinks 

it's because established providers are tangled in reuse of 

their own nets.  Cable companies have cable modems so data 

service can run on existing broadcast-oriented networks.  

Telcos have DSL, which is backward compatible with twisted 

pair.  For both, the key word is "backward."

The same goes for networking protocols. SONET provides a 

reliable voice (connection-oriented) network. ATM's goal 

was a single protocol for handling voice, video and packet 

services.  Neither anticipated Internet Protocol (IP).

Both SONET and ATM become shaky when they're not propped up 

against legacy networks. SONET becomes unnecessary in an 

all-IP world, because packet protocols like IP thrive even 

when lower layers are unreliable.  ATM loses when Internet 

telephony and audio-on-demand thrive, because more 

bandwidth and a few IP tweaks promise to make real time and 

streaming media scream.


To St. Arnaud, the whole idea of *convergence* is a 

backwards-looking attempt to preserve existing assets.  He 

proposes a *divergent*, third residential network for 

Internet traffic only, installed alongside telephone and 

cable feeds.  Like the CA*Net 3 backbone, it'll have only 

two layers, Internet Protocol and WDM -- information over 

light.  It'll be a Stupid Network -- cheap and simple, 

under-engineered, over-provisioned, and controlled at the 

edge by users.


Installation (right-of-way, trenching and conduit) 

represents the most cost.  In a 100-kilometer metropolitan 

network, a conservative installation estimate is $4.3 

million. Routers and equipment to light the fiber might 

cost another $1.8 million. Using today's 128-wavelength 

equipment, a single 48-fiber cable would serve 6144 homes.  

Each home would have its own WDM wavelength that could be 

lit at 2.5 gigabits per second (the OC-48 rate).  This 

computes to $1000 per home.

The alternative, new Hybrid Fiber Coax (HFC) to support 

cable modems delivers hundreds of times less and costs half 

again more.  Even retrofitting existing cable to carry two-

way data could cost $600 per home.  DSL, somewhat cheaper, 

delivers even less.

CANARIE's optics would meet residential equipment at an 

Ethernet interface.  The step from 2.5 gigabits down to 1 

gigabit Ethernet might seem wasteful.  But St. Arnaud 

points out that the next Ethernet evolution -- 10-gigabit 

Ethernet -- just happens to match the rate of OC-192. Local 

and wide area nets would merge in yet another fundamental 



In Canada, a lot of municipal fiber already exists, thanks 

to favorable regulatory policy.  But in the U.S., bean 

counters of communications behemoths shy from huge 

installation costs.  They look at today's applications and 

figure that current networks can be kludged to handle them. 

Make way for high-definition Internet video on demand -- or 

whatever truly broadband application Canadian users dare 

discover. CA*Net 3 could make Canada the center of the next 

Internet economic boom.  Meanwhile, U.S. telcos manage 

mawkish mergers, dither with DSL and forget fiber to the 

home.  Look north, young entrepreneur.


This article first appeared as "Intelligence at the Edge #6"

in the February 1, 1999 issue of America's Network.  

Copyright 1999 Advanstar Publishing.


[Epilog:  There was so much here that didn't fit into a 750 

word America's Network article.  I had to leave out huge 

chunks of St. Arnaud's gigabit Internet story, including 

(a) the huge cost of all the layers of DACSes and MUXes to 

convert between higher OC-x rates and lower cable modem speed,

(b) the fundamentally different traffic characteristics of

Internet traffic (most notably its asymmetry) and how that

further obsoletes the Sonet paradigm, (c) more about attempts 

to match OC-192 framing and 10 Gigabit Ethernet framing, 

(d) a few more of the cost comparison details, and (e) how 

completely some audiences miss the enormity of this amazing 

message.  Fortunately, you can read about most of this is in 

St. Arnaud's white paper at -- David I]


Quote of note: "I'm tired of hearing about thinking out of 

the box.  Let's GET OUT OF THE BOX."  U.S. FCC Commissioner

Michael Powell, at New Jersey BPU telecom meeting, 

November 6, 1998.



Many weeks ago, Doug Carmichael, in his observant online 

newsletter "Y2K Week" wrote "It is important to be as interested 

in information that disconfirms our bias as supports it. This is 

a system, friends.  Watch the tendency of emotions to lead 

perceptions without further questioning. Not a good sign on 

either side. We need to learn to weigh evidence, not shoot 

half the messengers."  

Well, suppose, just suppose, that the preponderance of 

evidence coming in happened to support the Isolated Failures, 

Social Coherence scenario.  As a reminder, here are my four 

scenarios in a space defined by the degree of interlinking 

of technological failures and by the degree of social coherence 

around millennial events:









Social   ____________________|_________________ Social

Coherence                    |                  Incoherence


         HUMAN SPIRIT        |      APOCALYPSE 2000







I have been monitoring leading indicators from two key events,

(1) the introduction of the European Currency Unit, the Euro, 

which demanded revamping of a huge messy legacy of interlinked 

financial systems, and (2) the arrival of January 1, 1999, 

during which systems that must look a year ahead would be  

exposed to the mistaken math of trying to subtract from "00" 

to compute an interval.  Y2K watchers have been telling us 

that both of these events will presage the advent of Y2K 

itself, and serve as valuable leading indicators.


Peter deJager, one of the first visible Y2K consultants, 

and one of the most articulate, appeared before the European 

Commission about a year ago to plead with them to delay the 

introduction of the Euro until after the onset of the 

two-thousands.  By all accounts, though, the Euro arrived 

quite smoothely.

January 1, 1999 arrived with few glitches and no disasters.

Some taxi meters fluttered, Swedish immigration authorities 

couldn't issue last-minute travel documents, and movie 

tickets by phone were unavailable in some cities.  The most 

serious report that I saw was that the computers that tracked

ships in Hong Kong Harbour shut down, but captains conned 

their vessels under the old system of see-and-avoid, to no 

detriment.  In fact, I am aware of not a single instance 

in which failures were interlinked, in which one failure 

caused or amplified another.

On the social coherence front, while there are reports of 

people beginning to worry about "stocking up," there are 

few signs of disintegrating social institutions.  (More 

accurately, none of the many, many signs of disintegrating

social institutions are attributable to Y2K!)  There was

no detectable effect of January 1, 1999 on stock markets. 

Indeed, most of the Y2K action on the social front seems to 

be in the direction of "community preparedness" -- a decidedly 

cohesive trend!

In total, the evidence now coming in seems to favor isolated 

failures and social cohesion -- the Official Future.

Now, let me hasten to remind that the Titanic did, indeed,

sail on a 99.999% iceberg-free ocean -- thousands of miles 

of ice-free ocean were not a sufficient leading indicator of

its demise.  Unseen disaster might well lie ahead, and 

there is no way to certain knowledge. Infrastructure failures

might well be more tightly coupled to other systems, and these 

may come due on dates yet to be encountered.


Furthermore, many organizations are working like hell to get 

ready, and many of these will not be fully prepared in time.  

And many more are still unaware, and this is still a cause for 


From the belly of big businesses we hear rumblings of inept 

bungling, slipped schedules, malfeasant management and farcical 

fixes.  But Korporate Kulcha *always* seemed to me from the 

inside to lurch drunkenly between disaster and absurdity.

Any apparent productivity seemed serendipitous.  (If you

don't believe me, consider where Scott Adams gets his 

material.)  I'm beginning to think that this looseness

might actually be beneficial in the face of Y2K -- the

absence of tight coupling inside organizations might prevent 

one system's glitch from being another one's poison.  Companies

are always coping with internal failures.

Considering our own emotions.  When we join in the efforts to 

prepare for Y2K, we cannot help but buy in -- I have seen in my 

own psyche that when other people's genuine concerns become a 

legitimate source of my identification, prestige, and 

recognition, it is harder for me to see disconfirming evidence.  

And when I have worked hard to get somebody to see the validity 

of more extreme Y2K scenarios, it is harder for me to admit that 

there is still validity in the less extreme ones.  Social 

psychologist Leon Festinger, in his 1956 book "When Prophesy 

Fails," showed how even the most unambiguous in-your-face evidence 

can be ignored when belief is supported by practise and community.

One beauty of the scenario approach is that it supports the 

holding of several simultaneous and mutually exclusive hypotheses.  

Instead of "right" and "wrong" (and who wants to be wrong,

even to himself?) the scenario thinker considers "this scenario" 

and "that scenario."  So far, all four of the Y2K scenarios that 

I formulated almost two years ago remain.  So far events have 

not eliminated any of them.  Today's evidence seems to favor 

the Official Future -- could it be that the arrival of Year 

2000 will be relatively uneventful?  Let's keep open minds, 

and keep watching, even as we work. -- David I



 + Solutions 99! -- Feb 9, 1999, Denton TX: Sponsored by University 

   of North Texas, . See

   or contact Mitch Land <>.

 + CLEC Reliability -- February 10, 1999, Atlanta GA, 7:45 - 9:00 AM.

   Westin Peachtree Hotel, Atlanta GA.  Sponsored by America's

   Network.  Your Im-Moderator will, once again, attempt to PRO-be 

   and PRO-voke.  Free if you register:  800-854-3112 x446 or



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Copyright 1998 by David S. Isenberg -- -- 1-888-isen-com


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Date last modified: 18 April 99