Zhone Releases Son of MALC

Zhone Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: ZHNE) is giving its access portfolio a booster shot by introducing the MXK platform as a video-era successor to the company's Multi-Access Line Concentrator (MALC).

Zhone is stressing the need for a new generation of higher-capacity access gear, made necessary, Zhone officials say, by the continued increase in video traffic.

"At the access network, it's a fundamental change," says Steven Glapa, Zhone's vice president of product management and marketing. So far, access networks have taken advantage of bursty Internet usage. "You might get 2-Mbit/s peak service, but the amount of usage you add up to is something like 50 kbit/s."

In particular, Glapa points to the recent Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) proclamations that unicast traffic dominates Internet video activity, a sign that the bandwidth-saving techniques of multicast delivery aren't going to shave much off of bandwidth demand. (See Cisco: Video Is Eating the Internet.) Now, he admits there's "some debate in the field about how quickly Cisco's forecast will come true." That buys Zhone some time to upgrade the MXK, as the first release isn't as buffed up as the box could be.

The MXK is a fiber-based access box supporting GPON and active Ethernet. (Copper interfaces -- DSL, in other words -- are slated for a later release.) It's got a 400-Gbit/s backplane, which Zhone says will get an upgrade in future models. (See Zhone Launches MXK.)

Upgrading that backplane from the 5 Gbit/s of Zhone's MALC was a key element of the new product. "If your backplane's not fast enough, you can put all the active Ethernet ports on the box you want, and you're just not going to get the bandwidth that you need," Glapa says.

MALC did fall behind competitors, but the MXK more than catches Zhone up, says Teresa Mastrangelo, principal analyst with Broadbandtrends.com. "They maybe missed a generation where everybody else had been upgrading, and they leapfrogged. They went for where they saw people like Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) going."

Each MXK slot can handle 20 Gigabit Ethernet ports in nonblocking fashion, and Zhone is outfitting linecards with 40-Gbit/s Ethernet switches to handle all that traffic. Two dedicated uplink cards can handle 28 Gbit/s of traffic apiece.

Ports supporting 40-Gbit/s or multiple 10-Gbit/s lines are in the works, as are fatter uplinks. Both should arrive in 2010, Glapa says.

A 100-Gbit/s interface is possible but not a priority; Zhone isn't hearing much demand for such a thing yet, Glapa says.

Though announced only today, the MXK has been in carrier trials for more than six months, and its first production software release is about a month-and-a-half old, Glapa says.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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