MPLS Arrives in Access Nets

Mangrove Systems, World Wide Packets, and Overture Networks prepare carriers for MPLS access networks

June 15, 2004

4 Min Read
MPLS Arrives in Access Nets

One of the trends that’s likely to be evident at next week’s Supercomm tradeshow is the arrival of Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) in access networks.

In essence, carriers have bought the idea of using MPLS in the core of their networks to enable them to consolidate services onto a single, converged backbone. Now, vendors are trying to push the multiservice edge outwards towards the customer, with the goal of making it easier for operators to manage the traffic on their networks and offer better quality-of-service guarantees, at the same time as making everything more scaleable.

In order to do this, vendors have got to bring down the cost of supporting MPLS in access equipment, and at least three vendors are unveiling developments this week that do just that:

World Wide Packets Inc.

World Wide Packets has announced two new MPLS access devices -- the LE-54v and the LE-311v. The LE-54v is the subscriber-side box with two 1-Gbit/s small form-factor pluggable (SFP) optical Ethernet ports and eight 10/100-Mbit/s subscriber ports. When one of the SFP ports is used as the network uplink, the second can be a subscriber interface (see WWP Couples Ethernet and MPLS).

The gear is new, but the ideas driving it aren't. Still, core MPLS equipment providers are warming up to adding an access piece to their story. Barry Kanter, WWP's VP of marketing, says the company is in discussions with every core MPLS switch vendor except Cisco about possible partnerships or reseller arrangements.

The LE-311v is the same box, but larger. It has four 1-Gbit/s SFP optical Ethernet ports and 24 10/100-Mbit/s subscriber ports in a one-rack-unit (RU) system. The LE-311v will be available at the end of July, but the LE-54v won't be around until September 30, the company says.

Both devices from WWP will initially provide transparent LAN Ethernet services, where customer traffic separation is handled via encapsulation or Ethernet virtual connections. When the time is right, the carrier can make a software change and -- on a port-by-port basis -- go from transparent LAN Ethernet mapping to PWE3 (psuedo-wire emulation) encapsulation, without rebooting the device. (For more on PW3, see Standardizing Ethernet Services, page 6.)

Mangrove Systems Inc.

Mangrove Systems Inc. was recently spotlighted for its marketing approach to Supercomm (see Startups Size Up Supercomm). It's going a slightly different route than WWP, with three new systems, including a central office aggregation box (see Ciena Previews Data Enchancements). Mangrove is offering:

  • Piranha 100 Access Multiplexer, a customer-located device;

  • Piranha 600 Access Concentrator, an aggregation system for large customer or central office installations; and

  • Barracuda Enhanced Services Shelf, an aggregation device for the central office that handles packet and circuit traffic from the access network. It's main purpose is to offload data traffic from crossconnects.

Each system uses PWE3 to send a mix of Ethernet, ATM, and Frame Relay services. That traffic is then encapsulated using GFP so it can be sent across the carrier's existing Sonet transport network.

This idea of sending many types of traffic through one pipe from the customer site to the carrier's central office should sound familiar. One of Mangrove founder Jonathan Reeves's previous companies -- Sahara Networks -- preached a similar story, but with ATM to the customer premises instead of MPLS. Reeves bootstrapped Mangrove in early 2002, then landed $3.1 million in early seed funding, including some of his own money.

Reeves had founded Sahara Networks in 1995, and the company was acquired by Cascade Communications about 18 months later. He founded Sirocco Systems in 1999, and it was acquired by Sycamore Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SCMR) about 18 months later (see Sycamore Takes Over Sirocco and Reeves Seeds Mangrove Systems ).

Overture Networks Inc.

Overture Networks is offering access products designed to help carriers migrate to MPLS when ready. Using a variety of possible interfaces, Overture's ISG products make sure everything leaves the building as a packet, even TDM voice traffic (see Overture Raises $15M and Overture Launches Access Platform).

At Supercomm, the company says, it will unveil two more multiservice access boxes designed to help carriers offer Ethernet services to "any branch office or subscriber at any location."

Other examples of MPLS-based access equipment include the 3750 router from Cisco Systems Inc., the RS1000 and RS1100 from Riverstone Networks Inc. (OTC: RSTN.PK), and the Alcatel 7450 from Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), according to Geoff Bennett, chief technologist for Heavy Reading, who is writing of survey of equipment in the space (see Alcatel Pushes Ethernet-Over-MPLS ).

— Phil Harvey, News Editor, Light Reading

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