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January 12, 2004
Not everybody is ready for convergence. U.K. competitive operator Kingston Communications is subverting the convergence model as it implements its next-generation networking strategy. It has constructed a separate IP backbone for its national VOIP traffic, as it doesn't want to risk running the service across its data network.
As an interim step towards full convergence, a process Kingston believes will take between five and ten years, the operator has opted to run its voice packets over an IP network based on Riverstone Networks Inc. 38000 routers.
Why Riverstone? Because its routers come as a package with the eight Marconi Corp. plc (Nasdaq: MRCIY; London: MONI) softswitches that Kingston is deploying (see Kingston Switches to IP). Marconi says this pairing of products is a "default option" and but is not obligatory. Riverstone has a similar relationship with Sonus Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SONS).
Kingston -- which competes against the likes of BT Group plc (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA) and Cable & Wireless plc (NYSE: CWP) in providing voice and data services to enterprise users -- provides voice and data services to 152,000 residential and 23,500 business customers in six regions around the U.K. It says it's going to use the new, separate IP network to carry voice. Its first step is to hand off some of its TDM voice traffic onto a long-distance IP network to reduce the pressure on its existing circuit-switched voice architecture, based on Marconi's System X switches.
But, unlike many other operators, Kingston doesn't believe its Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) IP network is ready to handle VOIP traffic and regular data packets.
Mark Dalziel, Kingston's network strategy director, says the operator "needed to build a second IP core for the VOIP traffic, because we don't believe the multiservice capabilities of the existing core routers are mature enough to handle VOIP. The Cisco core will continue to be used for VPN and Web traffic, and in time we will bring the two IP cores together."
Dalziel says he has managed to build another IP network within his existing capital expenditure budget, which in the current financial year (to March 31, 2004) is about £35 million (US$65 million). He says he has used money originally identified for expansion of the System X network.
Graham Beniston, analyst at large for Heavy Reading and principal at Beniston Broadband Consulting, says it's a risky strategy, because Kingston's approach counters the whole point of convergence, and it could end up adding to its costs. "This seems over-cautious," he says. "Unless it's a matter of cost, it probably would have made more sense to upgrade the Cisco network. The Marconi softswitch can work with Cisco gear, and Riverstone is hardly at the cutting edge of convergence." He adds that Riverstone's current financial predicament also makes the vendor even less of a suitable choice as a key supplier (see Riverstone Founders Resign, Riverstone in Debt Dustup, and Nasdaq Delists Riverstone).
Whether the interim solution makes sense or not, Kingston's approach is good news for Marconi. Dalziel says that the evaluation of its softswitch supplier was an extensive nine-month exercise, but that Marconi came out a clear winner from a shortlist that also included LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERICY) and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT). Marconi's softswitch offers met Kingston's specific requirements regarding particular call management functions, such as dialling 1471 for number recall, but Dalziel says that wasn't the main reason for choosing the British supplier. Equipment from other vendors could have been customized to offer such features, he says.
"The main reason for choosing Marconi is the inbuilt resilience of its softswitch," says Dalziel.
Dalziel plans to deploy even more Marconi kit. Sometime this quarter, Kingston will start trialing the vendor's access hub, with a view to replacing its System X equipment.
— Ray Le Maistre, International Editor, Boardwatch
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