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The Softswitch Name Game

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading

VOIP is reaching a stage where its popularity could hamper its progress with carriers, according to a recent report from Heavy Reading, Light Reading's paid research arm.

No one is questioning the strength of VOIP in the long run. But the flood of startups pouring into the market could be causing carriers to slow their move to new VOIP architectures.

"Vendors are jeopardizing the short-term success of VOIP by not presenting a clear and cohesive vision regarding products and architectures," writes Graham Beniston, analyst-at-large for Heavy Reading. Beniston's findings are part of the recently published survey, "VOIP: A Comprehensive Competitive Analysis of Softswitches." (See Heavy Reading Reports on VOIP.)

The problem hits softswitches in particular, because a standard definition doesn't exist, leading to "several competing and conflicting" architectures, Beniston writes. "The lack of clarity won't prevent carriers from beginning their migration from Class 5 TDM circuit switches to VOIP, but it could affect the timing of planned migrations."

Some vendors have already seen that happen. "The large carriers are waiting for a shakedown in the softswitch industry and to understand how it's going to impact them on a large scale," says Andrew Randall, VP of marketing for MetaSwitch. "If you look at the large carriers, everything they're doing in VOIP is layered on top of their [old] infrastructure."

Compared with those larger market-based concerns, the variety of definitions isn't much of a negative factor, Randall says. He notes that carriers even disagree on what a softswitch is; smaller players use the term to label everything replacing a Class 5 switch, while RBOCs often consider "softswitch" to be a specific software piece on a call agent, he says.

The jumbled softswitch market also means a lack of guaranteed interoperability. Carriers will respond by sticking to a small pool of softswitch vendors (see Cisco Skips Class 5). Beniston believes startups can help themselves into those ranks by offering integrated softswitches rather than distributed ones. Those taking that approach include MetaSwitch, Cedar Point Communications Inc., Cirpack, Sentito Networks, and Tekelec Inc. (Nasdaq: TKLC). The list also included Telica Inc., which was acquired by Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) last month (see Lucent Buys Softswitch Vendor Telica and Telica: Lucent's Good Buy).

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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