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WaveSmith's Multiservice Surprise

WaveSmith's edge switch is replacing Marconi gear at Global NAPs -- but where's the IP?

May 31, 2002

5 Min Read
WaveSmith's Multiservice Surprise

WaveSmith Networks Inc. plans to unveil a new, higher-end version of its multiservice edge switch at next week's Supercomm 2002 trade show. The startup's also revealing its first customer -- a former customer of Marconi PLC (Nasdaq/London: MONI).

But WaveSmith's news, set to hit the wires next week, has some interesting twists. Its new DN (Distributed Node) 7100 is supposed to be a multiservice edge switch geared to help RBOCs and IXCs migrate legacy circuits to packet-switched IP networks (see The Great ATM Switch Blitz and A New Optical Taxonomy, page 9). But the new box won't support Internet Protocol (IP) or Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) until later this year.

What's more, the customer installing WaveSmith's gear -- U.S. CLEC Global NAPs -- isn't using it at the edge of the network or for data switching. Instead, WaveSmith's new customer is using its gear as a core ATM voice switch.

The news spotlights some key realities of today's carrier market: Namely, circuit switching is alive and well, while MPLS features aren't out of the gate -- at least as far as next-generation multiservice switches are concerned. Indeed, while MPLS percolates on the back burner, next-gen switch startups seem more than ready to compete with established players on the strength of their Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) scaleability alone.

"MPLS is not a priority for us right now," acknowledges WaveSmith spokesman Dan Carter. "Major carriers aren't demanding MPLS just yet." Instead, he says they want technology that makes their existing frame relay and ATM networks faster and cheaper, with a migration path to IP for future use.

The DN 7100 is a larger version of the vendor's previously announced DN 2100 and DN 4100 chassis, which consolidate DS1/E1 (1.5 Mbit/s and 2 Mbit/s) leased line traffic onto Sonet OC48/SDH STM16 (2.5 Gbit/s) ports. Like those products, the DN 7100 features a 30-Gbit/s switching capacity and supports ATM, frame relay, and TDM (time-division multiplexing) traffic today.

WaveSmith says MPLS/IP and packet-over-Sonet capabilities will be added across all its products in November 2002, along with Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet interfaces.

Analysts say they're not surprised that WaveSmith's announcement seems to put it squarely in the ATM market. "I've always thought of WaveSmith as a frame relay and ATM platform replacement," says Beth Gage, executive VP at TeleChoice Inc. "There's definitely a market for upgrading and growing existing ATM edge and backbone networks with gear that can replace the old Stratacom and Cascade equipment of the 90s." Next-gen gear like WaveSmith's, she says, offers scaleability at edge and core networks that older ATM equipment can't match.

Global NAPs makes it clear that WaveSmith's ATM scaleability was the reason the CLEC chose its DM 4100 and DN 7100 to replace Marconi's ASX-4000 multiservice switches in the core of its voice network. The carrier is doing a forklift swap of Marconi for WaveSmith in several points of presence nationwide and will be adding it to other new locations. Affected sites include Atlanta; Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Los Angeles; Las Vegas; Miami, Fla.; New York; and Reston, Va. Terms of Global NAPs' deal with WaveSmith were unannounced.

Marconi had no official comment on its replacement at press time, but spokespeople say their sales force was puzzled by the news, given WaveSmith's official product positioning as an edge IP play, not a core voice one.

"We were not unhappy with Marconi," insists Vincent Bono, VP of engineering at Global NAPs. "But WaveSmith scales in a way we like to the volume we require, and we think it is more focused on the carrier market."

WaveSmith's most attractive feature for Global NAPs, Bono says, is the ability to pack as many ATM switched virtual circuits (SVCs) as its switch backplane can handle, regardless of the number of interfaces each chassis supports. Since all the WaveSmith gear features the same 30-Gbit/s switching capacity, this feature lets the CLEC start with a small, stackable chassis that can be grown economically with extra interfaces to accommodate voice traffic.

Bono says he liked the size of WaveSmith's gear, which is suited for small-to-midrange applications and which he says fits a CLEC's developing network better than higher-end multiservice gear from other large players like Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) or from startups such as Équipe Communications Corp. (see AFC Goes Multiservice).

Gage finds it interesting that Global NAPs will use the WaveSmith gear to implement SVC voice switching. "SVCs have long been discussed as an alternative for switching ATM in carrier networks, but not many service providers have actually implemented it," says Gage of Telechoice. "It's also interesting that a carrier would rip out an existing vendor to implement SVCs."

Global NAPs seems intent on using WaveSmith as a next-gen voice switch. Bono's not particularly interested in WaveSmith's IP capabilities, though he says he'll give them a glance when they arrive. Global NAPs uses the ONS 15454 multiservice platform from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and SN8000 DWDM switches from Sycamore Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SCMR) for IP traffic, and will probably stick with that combination for its edge traffic in future.

WaveSmith is undaunted by the effects its news may have on its future, going against the grain, as it does, of its announced strategy -- namely, to be an edge circuit-to-IP switch, not a core ATM voice solution. Instead, the startup's gleeful over displacing Marconi and being the first among its immediate competitors to announce a customer.

But even though WaveSmith's key competitor in this space, Gotham Networks, has not yet announced a customer, spokespeople claim gear is in a "Tier 1 carrier lab" at present, and an announcement may be imminent. Gotham says its GN 1600 Switchless Switch matches WaveSmith's existing features but also has packet-over-Sonet and 10/100 Ethernet support now.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.comFor more information on Supercomm 2002, pleasevisit: SupercommSpecial

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