Cisco Skips Class 5

Without a softswitch of its own, Cisco leans on Italtel and Ericsson for a market foothold

September 3, 2004

3 Min Read
Cisco Skips Class 5

In the world of softswitches, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) remains conspicuously absent. But it's not clear that the company will fire up its M&A machine to mind the gap.

Some background: Cisco has a Class 4 replacement softswitch in its PGW 2200, but it doesn't really have a Class 5 replacement. The BTS 10200 has some Class 5 features but doesn't fit the bill for baseband carrier voice.

Of course, no one says Cisco has to produce one of everything, but this seems a strange area to skip, considering VOIP is such a hot market -- and especially considering Cisco championed VOIP long before it was hip to do so.

Lack of a Class 5 softswitch sets Cisco apart from other large vendors, including Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), and Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE), according to "VOIP: A Comprehensive Competitive Analysis of Softswitches," a recent report from Heavy Reading, Light Reading's paid research division.

Cisco does have a Class 5 plan, but it's fragmented. The company resells the iMSS from Italtel SpA, but that platform conforms only to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) specifications, making it primarily a European play; Cisco hasn't announced plans for American National Standards Institute (ANSI) extensions for North America.

Instead, Cisco announced plans to use LM Ericsson's (Nasdaq: ERICY) softswitch, called Engine, sitting it beside a Cisco 12000 or 10000 router to create dual-vendor offerings (see Cisco, Ericsson Join Forces).

And in fact, officials claim they're pretty happy with those arrangements. Cisco's own softswitches are suited for the data networks that are Cisco's home turf, adding voice to an otherwise data-centric buildout. "The Class 5 replacement market is a little bit different, because you're into some proprietary interfaces and so on," a Cisco spokesman says. "In those legacy environments, that's where you'll see us partner."So the networking giant does seem to have its bases covered, but even so -- might it follow Lucent's lead and shop for a softswitch of its own? Cisco did think about it once (see Cisco Eyeing Sonus and Lucent Buys Softswitch Vendor Telica). Should the Ericsson project fall through, quite a few smaller vendors would be potential acquisition targets.

Smaller competitors might have a motivation to go on the block, too, because softswitch interoperability is still a volatile area. That's good for large vendors, according to Graham Beniston, the Heavy Reading analyst who wrote the softswitch report.

"Operators cannot wait for large-scale interoperability to be proved, so they will choose two or three vendors and force them to interoperate to get the business," putting small vendors "at a huge disadvantage," he writes.

Should Cisco -- or anyone else -- decide to shop around, they'll find plenty of private companies to browse. The list in the Heavy Reading report includes Cirpack, Nuera Communications Inc., and Veraz Networks Inc. doing distributed softswitches, and Cirpak, Cedar Point Communications Inc., MetaSwitch, NetCentrex SA, Open Telecommunications, and Sentito Networks with integrated softswitches.

Cisco officials were not immediately available for comment.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

For more on this topic, check out:

For further education, visit the archives of related Light Reading Webinars:

  • Key Softswitch Characteristics for Migrating Class 5 Infrastructure to VOIP

  • Key VOIP Migration Strategies and Tactics for Service Providers

  • Next-Generation Voice Architectures: Superior Softswitching

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