Optical/IP Networks

Agere Targets VOIP, Video

Agere Systems Inc. (NYSE: AGR.A) today announces a new chip that combines the functions of a traffic manager and frame/mapper. Called the “Datamapper,” it pushes traffic management further to the edge of the network to enable the increased quality of service (QOS) required for applications such as voice over IP (VOIP) and video.

Traffic managers are chips that usually sit between network processors and switch fabrics. They control traffic flows, making sure the switch fabric doesn't get inundated and also ensuring that priority sessions don't get delayed. (For the latest on these chips, see Traffic Managers Update).

The new chip allows a switch or router to have a traffic manager on every port, rather than having a lone traffic manager in some central location next to the switch fabric. And that, Agere officials argue, is exactly what's needed at the edge as VOIP takes off.

As often happens with chips, the key is that the integration of functions -- a framer, mapper, and traffic manager, in this case -- reduces the cost and the board space required to get a certain job done. Datamapper was designed to be cheap enough for pizza-box switches.

"The result is, you can get more sophisticated gear at the edge of the transport network," says Mark Bordogna, a Distinguished Member of Agere's technical staff.

Datamapper is definitely designed for the edge, with 24 Fast Ethernet (100 Mbit/s maximum) interfaces and four Gigabit Ethernet interfaces. The chip is priced between $250 and $500.

Like network processors, traffic managers were first intended for core routers. But as delay-sensitive voice and video traffic starts to become more common, Agere and others think it's time to push traffic management closer to the subscriber.

"The need for traffic management to take hold is going all the way down to the edge," says Eric Mantion, an analyst with In-Stat/MDR. "Traffic management isn't just for the OC768 connections. We have to have it all the way down the line, or it just doesn't work."

Agere was a likely candidate to try something like Datamapper. The company has established its traffic managers, holding 51 percent of the market by revenues, according to In-Stat. And being spun off from Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), Agere already owns the framer/mapper technology, a product line called Mars.

Another company that's got all the pieces is Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC), which sells framer/mapper chips and also boasts a line of standalone traffic managers. Whether AMCC is interested in building something like Datamapper is another question, as the company has gotten picky since being stung by the telecom recession. "They don't tend to put money where they aren't making money," Mantion says. AMCC officials couldn't be reached for comment before deadline.

Datamapper is already shipping and has one announced design win: Mangrove Systems Inc.'s MetroMPLS platform for access and metro networks. Agere and Mangrove will be showing off the chip at Supercomm later this month.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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