The upgrade gives the 1660 a significant boost in capacity while endowing it with additional functions that will enable carriers to cut costs and provision a wider range of services -- notably, lower-bandwidth services, such as Frame Relay, and services based on storage protocols.
The big question is whether this will be enough to preserve Alcatel's market leadership in SDH multiservice edge platforms, much of it based on the 1660, bearing in mind that its biggest competitors in this field -- Marconi plc (Nasdaq/London: MONI) and Siemens Information and Communications Networks Inc. -- are bringing to market brand new products later this year.
Siemens thinks Alcatel is on the defensive. "They're trying to polish their old bulky platform... but inside you will still find an outdated design," writes Ullrich Feuchtinger of the solutions management transport division of Siemens ICN, in an email to Light Reading. "I wonder how long they can survive without introducing a really new platform."
However, there's a flipside to this argument. The Alcatel 1660 has been around long enough to accumulate a large installed base. About 25,000 have been installed to date, representing about half of Alcatel's overall installed based of multiservice provisioning platforms, according to Thomas Fuerst, VP of market positioning in Alcatel's Fixed Communications Group.
Existing customers, many of them incumbent carriers in Europe and the Asia/Pacific, aren't going to shift suppliers unless there's a compelling reason to do so, bearing in mind that they'd face high costs in retraining staff and adding yet another network management system to their operations centers.
So, has Alcatel done enough to its 1660 SM to keep its customers from defecting to the competition? The answer is probably yes. The upgrade announced today adds the following:
- 10-Gbit/s interfaces and 10-Gbit/s switching fabric. This paves the way for carriers to upgrade their metro networks from 2.5 Gbit/s to 10 Gbit/s.
- Integrated CWDM (coarse wavelength-division multiplexing), giving carriers an inexpensive way to run up to eight wavelengths over a single fiber.
- Subrate multiplexing, using its "4xAny" technology already deployed in Alcatel's metro DWDM platforms, which lets service providers carry any combination of four protocols over a single access line. As noted, this has big potential for storage applications and for offering lower-bandwidth services like Frame Relay, without requiring additional boxes.
So, how does Alcatel's 1660 stack up against the brand new products that Marconi and Siemens have already announced and will bring to market later this year? (See Marconi's SDH Blitz Highlights Strategy and Siemens Is Shaping Up.) The table below identifies a few of the key differences.
Table 1: Alcatel vs Marconi & Siemens
|Alcatel 1660 SM||Marconi SMA 16-64 series||Siemens Surpass hiT 70xx series|
|Maximum client traffic per chassis||60 Gbit/s||60 Gbit/s||160 Gbit/s|
|Maximum integrated WDM wavelengths||8 CWDM||160 DWDM||40 DWDM|
|The data comes from a monster survey of multiservice edge equipment that Light Reading is conducting for a report that will be published this summer. Any vendors that haven't already submitted product details should download this questionnaire and follow the instructions in it, to ensure they're included.|
As can be seen, Marconi and Siemens have yet to ship their products -- but the biggest Siemens hiT 70xx box handles three times as much client traffic as the Alcatel 1660 SM and the Marconi 16-64 series.
Both Marconi and Siemens integrate DWDM functions to handle large numbers of wavelengths, something that's of questionable value right now in metro networks, where most carriers only appear to need a handful of wavelengths at the most (see CWDM: Low-Cost Capacity and Metro WDM: What Carriers Think). Alcatel's decision to integrate CWDM in its 1660, and offer a maximum of eight channels, seems sufficient for current requirements.
Siemens makes a big thing out of supporting standards-based Resilient Packet Ring Technology as well as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) in its Surpass hiT boxes, while Alcatel is promoting MPLS plus a proprietary ring technology from Native Networks Ltd. (see Alcatel Takes a Fling at a Ring. Marconi appears to be in catchup mode: It will have MPLS in the first quarter of next year, and has no plans to offer packet rings at present.
Finally, it's worth emphasizing that the Alcatel 1660 is SDH-only. In North America, Alcatel's equivalent Sonet multiservice edge platform is the 1677, the box it inherited with its acquisition of Astral Point (see Alcatel Acquires Astral Point -- Cheap).
— Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading