January 24, 2002
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- RAD Data Communications Ltd. wants the world to believe it's in a class by itself. But in reality, it may be merely on the cutting edge of a growing trend. At least, that appears to be the upshot of a product announcement the vendor made at the SuperNet tradeshow yesterday (see RAD Concentrates).
RAD's ACE-2002 Multiservice ATM Access Concentrator now interworks with frame relay networks and offers OC12 (622 Mbit/s) interfaces and voice and Internet Protocol (IP) connectivity. But that's not the real news. Instead, the announcement signals that RAD sees a future in a product that the vendor has touted as virtually one of a kind.
Here's the scoop: Several methods have emerged to bring multiple services -- IP VPNs, voice, frame, and so on -- to business customer sites.
These solutions fall into three main product categories:
Edge routers These devices typically use Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) to emulate TDM, frame, or Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) virtual circuits to multiple users over existing carrier networks. By doing this, the routers enable carriers to save on facilities costs while upping their revenue streams -- without changing the nature of their routed networks. Vendors include:
Multiservice switches These switches run multiple traffic types over carrier networks, also using MPLS in many instances. Some of these are new iterations of ATM switches that have been recast to bridge the gap between "legacy" ATM and "next-generation" IP networks (see The Great ATM Blitz). Vendors include:
CPE solutions The concept of using a CPE box to arbitrate carrier services isn't new. For years, vendors have called these boxes "integrated access devices" (IADs) or ATM concentrators. The difference now is that they're taking on a new role in the metro network, with additional interfaces and capacity. Besides RAD, vendors developing products in this area include:
In the past, Cisco and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) also competed, via acquired companies (Cisco through its Hynix acquisition, Nortel via Sonoma). Cisco and Nortel appear to have backed out of the market, however.
What do RAD and its competitors see in the CPE solution? For one thing, it's easier and cheaper to install than gear that requires a network upgrade. Service providers just plug the wee boxes in at the edge of an existing network and let them talk to each other. In other words, carriers get to preserve their existing infrastructure investment while mining new sources of revenue.
It's also clearly an opportunity for RAD to capitalize on its strengths. As other vendors have quit the market, RAD has stepped in, making the most of capabilities it already has in its concentrators. The current crop of enhancements clearly indicate the vendor's intent to support the latest trends in edge networking for large enterprises.
RAD appears to have been alone in spotting this opportunity early on, when it added ATM support in its multiservice concentrators back in June 2001 (see RAD to Expand ATM Development).
But RAD's competitors are starting to catch the drift.
"We'll be introducing additional integrated access devices with more port counts and router and packet capabilities," says John Maddison, director of product management at Vina Technologies. He says his company is selling four times the amount of IADs it did a year ago, and more to ILECs.
"There's been a shift back to basics," he says.
Only time will tell how this niche evolves. After all, access networking remains a market in flux, and a hoard of newer players are touting multiservice delivery based not on ATM but on DWDM and other technologies. Several of these, such as LuxN Inc., also function on customer premises. Stay tuned.
— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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