Business

Whidbey Telephone fires up underwater line

"An underwater fiber optic cable laid by Whidbey Telephone almost two years ago became operational this week when the Port of Seattle allowed the line to be spliced into the nationwide fiber optic network.The line, which could someday carry 115,200 times as much Internet traffic as Whidbey Telephone's current WhidbeyNET hookups, is a multi-million dollar addition to the private telephone company's growing arsenal of high-tech infrastructure.Company president David Henny said Wednesday that the hookup was hard won. After running the cable in 1998, his company had to convince the Port of Seattle to allow it to be hooked to a GTE fiber optic line at Seattle's Westin Building. The Port is the regulating authority for telecommunications ventures such as this one. Until Whidbey Telephone could satisfy the Port's regulations, Henny said, his company's 2-inch diameter cable hung within 6 inches of a hookup at the Westin Building.When he received word last week that the hookup was complete, Henny said he was both relieved and overjoyed.We're going to go out and have a celebration, he said.Although installing the cable has been expensive, Henny said its cost will not show up in customers' telephone or Internet bills. He said his company needs the extra capacity the line offers to deliver more, faster and more reliable Internet service to WhidbeyNET customers.Initially, at least, the new cable will not carry telephone traffic. That will continue to be sent over four radio lines that link South Whidbey to Seattle. In the meantime, WhidbeyNET customers will be able to enjoy the computer equivalent of driving a car down a completely empty I-5.It's blazing fast, said George Henny, WhidbeyNET's manager.Comparing the new cable's capacity to those in Whidbey Telephone's past involves a fair bit of multiplication. The cable is a bundle of 192 DS3 fiber optic lines, of which just one is in operation now. That one line can carry 7.5 times the traffic as the four T1 lines that have run WhidbeyNET for the past few years.That capacity will expand as Whidbey Telephone adds more sending and receiving equipment to the cable ends. Eventually, all 192 DS3 lines could be in operation at once. And, if Whidbey Telephone wants more capacity, it can use the physics of light to get it. The light that runs through the fiber optic cable can be split into 80 separate wavelengths. Each wavelength can carry hundreds of standard telephone calls. Fully utilized, the cable could carry more than 10 million phone calls at one time. With that kind of capacity, Henny said, Whidbey Telephone could easily handle telecommunications for all of Whidbey Island.Now, consider this. In 1983, Whidbey Telephone installed a single DS3 line for its telephone calls. At the time, an FCC official told David Henny that the company could never use the full capacity of the line. But as of this year, with DSL Internet hookups becoming the rage on South Whidbey, Henny said the company definitely needed more space.In the coming months, the company will invest several hundred thousand dollars into more equipment to increase the capacity of the line. "

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