Alcatel Interworks Frame & Ethernet
Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) today introduced a new software feature for its 7670 Routing Switch Platform that should help carriers and their customers out of a knotty problem (see Alcatel Does Frame-to-Ethernet VPN).
An upgrade will give carriers interworking, or the means to offer both Frame Relay and Ethernet services to the same customer from one switch. It also will give corporate customers with a range of bandwidth requirements a better choice.
At least one analyst says it's a problem that's needed solving for awhile. “Based on our research, carriers want to be able to accommodate different kinds of access requests,” says Mark Bieberich, an industry analyst with Yankee Group. “This way, they can offer Frame on one and Ethernet on another. It’s a capability they don’t have today.”
The interworking feature is most appropriate for corporate customers with several locations that have varying degrees of bandwidth requirement. For instance, a corporate head office might need 200 Mbit/s of capacity -- far more than is available using Frame Relay. But the company’s smaller branch offices may only require 1 to 2 Mbit/s each, making them ideal candidates for Frame Relay service.
Offering both services on the same switch does in one box what used to require two or more. It also may be cheaper for the carrier. While metro Ethernet is appealing for the scaleability it offers, it can be quite expensive to deploy, especially if the location being served doesn’t have access to fiber (see Metro Ethernet Stirs Debate). A software upgrade provides a better alternative to hardware for carriers weighing the choice on a case-by-case basis.
The new feature also is proof of Frame Relay's hold on carrier networks. Frame Relay is still a highly lucrative service for carriers, and deployments are expected to grow over the next few years, even if they do start to offer metro Ethernet.
“Frame Relay is not going away,” says Vinay Rathore, director of strategic marketing for Alcatel. “It generates an awful lot of revenue, and we’re cognizant of that.” But he adds, “Some locations are going to need higher bandwidth, and for them, Ethernet could be the best choice.”
Alcatel is just one of many companies focused on protocol interworking, which is topping carrier wish lists as they try to make money from a range of data services. Executives from Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q), for instance, recently talked to Light Reading about interworking as key to focusing on service delivery instead of selling technologies (see Qwest Heads for Convergence).
Standards are also in the works. Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Corrigent Systems Inc., Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), Marconi plc (Nasdaq/London: MONI), Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), and RAD Data Communications Ltd., are currently working to develop a standard for Layer 2 VPNs with dissimilar attachment circuits, such as ATM to Ethernet, and Frame Relay to Ethernet.
In the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Provider Provisioned VPN (PPVPN) working group has received a couple of drafts describing applications and solutions for multiprotocol-over-MPLS, which can also be used for interworking. Alcatel and Cisco have submitted drafts on this topic.
The MPLS/Frame Relay Alliance has also started to work on a solution for ATM/Frame Relay-to-Ethernet service interworking.
While much of the standards work has focused on interworking these technologies using MPLS, Alcatel’s current software solution can be used without MPLS. Bierberich of Yankee says this is key for those carriers that have not yet deployed MPLS.
“There is a lot of talk about MPLS,” he says. “But when I talk to Tier 1 carriers, there are no current plans to converge the overlay networks onto MPLS. Alcatel is a key equipment supplier to many of these carriers, so it’s important for them to address the demand for hybrid services without forcing them to adopt MPLS.”
Alcatel is targeting its existing 7670 customers with this new software upgrade. The 7670 RSP already has 22 publicly announced customers, including large incumbents such as Bell Canada (NYSE/Toronto: BCE), British Telecommunications plc (BT) (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA), Cable & Wireless (NYSE: CWP), China Telecommunications Corp. (NYSE: CHA), Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), France Telecom SA (NYSE: FTE), and SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC).
— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading