AlcaLu: PBT Is Peripheral

Alcatel-Lucent says it's keeping an eye on PBT developments, but it isn't seeing widespread carrier interest

May 25, 2007

5 Min Read
AlcaLu: PBT Is Peripheral

Provider Backbone Transport (PBT), the controversial new flavor of Ethernet that's attracting a lot of industry interest, is a peripheral technology that's not important enough to merit serious attention, according to Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU). (See PBT Stars at Ethernet Expo , PBT: New Kid on the Metro Block, PBT Gathers Support, and PBT's Ethernet Appeal.)

Lindsay Newell, director of marketing for Alcatel-Lucent's IP division, says his company is seeing little evidence of real interest in the technology. "Our overall position in neutral… If we see widespread carrier demand, we will take a look at it, but we're seeing curiosity at the moment, not demand. We are taking an interest in how this will develop, but our focus is on Ethernet over MPLS, where there is tremendous demand," he says.

"MPLS is the technology that enables carrier Ethernet today," adds Newell, and whether PBT can develop into a carrier-grade technology "in the future is an interesting question, one that will be answered in the next two to three years. PBT is a potentially interesting technology, but IP/MPLS is what is being deployed today and is at the center of our discussions with carriers today."

That "neutral with a negative twist" stance won't come as much of a surprise to many. AlcaLu needs to remain neutral so as not to antagonize BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), a major customer and PBT's main carrier supporter at present. (See BT Pressures Vendors Over PBT, Nortel on PBT: Today BT, Tomorrow the World!, Nortel, Siemens Win PBT Deals at BT, BT Rethinks 21CN Core Strategy, and BT Likes Nortel's New Ethernet Flavor.)

At the same time it doesn't want to encourage interest or uptake of PBT, because it wants carriers to invest in IP/MPLS infrastructure instead, especially as it has gained significant momentum in that market and is investing in new products and upgrades. (See AlcaLu Boasts Router Success.)

Unsurprisingly, the other main metro IP router vendors, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) -- also both suppliers into BT's 21CN next generation network -- are adopting a similar position.

Cisco is tracking PBT's development, but is keen in briefings to highlight PBT's shortcomings when compared directly with MPLS. (See Cisco Tracks PBT Standards Process and Huawei Joins PBT Fan Club.)

AlcaLu is also keen to highlight any potential pitfalls, and takes some swings at one of PBT's alleged benefits, that of management and provisioning simplicity. Newell says "there's a history of technologies that look very simple becoming very complex" as they work their way through the standards process, which PBT is doing at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) under the name PBB-TE (Provider Backbone Bridge Traffic Engineering). "There are already signs of feature creep, such as the use of GMPLS as a control plane technology," notes Newell.

Juniper, meanwhile, takes a less aggressive stance. In an email to Light Reading, the company says: "Still in its infancy (and in the early stages of the standardization process), PBT currently provides a small subset of MPLS functionality that has evolved over the years to solve real service provider requirements. Juniper Networks has been monitoring PBT developments and will continue to do so as the technology matures and standards emerge. We remain true to our strategy of delivering to our customers the best, most cost-effective suite of NGN infrastructure solutions."

Like Cisco, AlcaLu prefers to talk about MPLS rather than PBT. When asked about the impact of BT's plans to deploy PBT in 21CN, Newell notes: "BT's decision has attracted a lot of attention, but in Europe alone there are a lot of Ethernet service deployments based on IP/MPLS -- Orange (NYSE: FTE), Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF), Belgacom SA (Euronext: BELG), KPN Telecom NV (NYSE: KPN), Telia Company -- and we continue to see further widespread deployments based on IP/MPLS."

Newell even says one of the first carrier announcements made by PBT's leading vendor, Nortel Networks Ltd. , involves a peripheral deployment alongside what is a much larger MPLS rollout. He points to the announcement that PBT is set to be deployed by China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA) subsidiary Shanghai Telecom, an announcement made in October 2006. (See Nortel's PBT Debuts in China.)

Newell says AlcaLu is helping Shanghai Telecom build its metro Ethernet core with 7750 routers and 7450 switches for Ethernet aggregation to service a city zone of about 9 million people, and that the deployment of PBT and its predecessor, PBB (Provider Backbone Bridging), will be in rural, less dense areas that will then feed Ethernet traffic into the MPLS core. (See AlcaLu Wins Shanghai Deal.)

Indeed, Shanghai Telecom chairman Zhang Weihua is quoted as saying: "IP/MPLS is the strategic direction for network transformation and will help us meet the high expectations of our customers."

Nortel, which is busy making the most of PBT's current high profile, takes a less confrontational approach to the situation in China. (See Nortel Says 40-Gbit PBT Coming Soon and Nortel Demos PBT Integration.)

In a statement emailed to Light Reading, Paul Indoo, a member of Nortel's Carrier Ethernet product marketing team, notes: "Nortel can't comment on the specifics of Shanghai Telecom's Carrier Ethernet network deployment, but we'd point out that Shanghai has a population of more than 17 million so it's not surprising that multiple vendors are involved in this network deployment, as is the case for many large networks."

Indoo adds: "Nortel's position in relation to Carrier Ethernet and MPLS has always been that these technologies are complementary… Where service providers have already deployed a MPLS, we expect to see many cases of Carrier Ethernet and MPLS networks interoperating with each other."

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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