A Nortel Networks executive told an Internet conference here that packet routing is likely to converge with optical networking next year, allowing enterprises to set up a direct 10Gbps link to the outside world.
Also kicking off the iBand conference was a keynote by Cisco's chief technology officer, Judy Estrin, who acknowledged the challenges to networking vendors in bringing voice and data together over the coming years.
The conference brought service providers and vendors together to discuss managing IP network capacity in order to deliver business critical and multimedia applications.
A number of IP technologies for prioritising traffic and making efficient use of bandwidth are currently in development.
Daniel Pitt, vice president of technology at Nortel, said the speed of IP routing will meet the speed of pure optical interfaces, most likely next year.
Today, the cores of WANs are being built with interfaces of 10Gbps and faster, requiring an intervening layer of technology to link them to smaller pipes coming out of packet-based routers.
The increasing speed of hardware-based routing will allow for routers that can connect directly to a high-speed dense wave-division multiplexing (DWDM) infrastructure, Pitt said.
At that time, the industry will be "at a point when we can move these things forward together", Pitt said. This integration eventually can eliminate the ATM and Synchronous Optical Network (SONet) layers now used in WANs, he added.
This will remove the overhead associated with those technologies, making way for more efficient wide-area communications, he said.
Asked about the future of Asynchronous Transfer Mode, or ATM, Pitt acknowledged a significant installed base of the technology but essentially painted it as a legacy technology in the WAN core.
In the networks he envisions, "cells probably don't play a leading role", Pitt said.
Pitt touted a "Nortel's Law", analogous to Moore's Law, that says bandwidth on optical technologies doubles every year. At that rate, he said, the bandwidth available is increasing by 40Mbps every hour.
Cisco's Estrin also expressed optimism about the growth of high-speed WANs, but she said there are several technology hurdles left to cross before deployments are widespread.
Convergence of voice and data over the Internet will be a significant driver of high-speed networks, but simply putting both types of applications on one infrastructure is only the first step. True integration calls for carrying combined voice and data applications, such as universal messaging and call centres where customers can switch between voice and data calls.
"To do that, you need an infrastructure that can move voice, video, and data around very quickly," Estrin said.
Vendors will need to develop smarter and more reliable software and drive it into hardware devices to make this possible, she added.
"In the data world, we shipped the products and then worried about how to manage them," Estrin said. "We can't do that in this new world."
Likewise, software developers have emphasised time-to-market over quality in recent years, and the requirements of converged networks will not allow for this, Estrin added.