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Optical/IP

Bidders Abound for Sprint Pseudowire RFP

While the Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) RFP for pseudowire indicates that the company is still in the nascent stages of consideration, several suitors have jumped on board to bid. In the meantime, the company has been lobbying the U.S. Congress to regulate backhaul access fees.

A copy of the 10-page request for proposal, obtained by Light Reading, is vague on the timing or scope of a possible pseudowire deployment. But it does spell out how the company intends to use the technology -- both for wired and wireless services.

Pseudowires allow carriers to carve up bandwidth into small, packetized virtual channels, helping reduce the need for additional T1 lines to backhaul traffic from cell sites to the network backbone -- lines that wireless carriers often have to lease from incumbent wireline carriers. Light Reading first reported Sprint's interest in the technology earlier this week. (See Sprint Nextel Surfs the Pseudowires.)

"Reducing access charges and backhaul costs is key for 3G," says Scott Clavenna, chief analyst with Heavy Reading. "The nice thing about pseudowires also, particularly for wireless, is that it can mix TDM, ATM, and IP all together on a single Ethernet backhaul link. A lot of 2G wireless networks use ATM and TDM, so pseudowires let you unify the backhaul of all three with one technology." "Sprint Nextel’s objective is to design a cell site backhaul network using the PWE access mechanism over wireless and wired Ethernet services, provided both internally and by third parties," says the RFP.

It continues: "Sprint plans to utilize the PWE solution in several scenarios; however, in a typical application the PWE device will be deployed as a 'book-ended' solution where the equipment from the same vendor will make up both the A and Z end of the Pseudo Wire path. The PWE equipment will aggregate multiple T1s and Ethernet tributary circuits and transport them over an aggregated, composite Ethernet transport.

"The first major component of this solution is a 3rd party service provider’s Ethernet backhaul (BTS to MSC) of wireless data, video and voice. The second component is the 3rd party RF connectivity from a RF service provider. The third component is the PWE device(s)... which the end to end network will utilize.

"The PWE solution shall be scalable in size. Sprint Nextel anticipates scenarios where this scalability will be essential."

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Axerra Networks Inc. are thought to be frontrunners for the bid, according to several sources, with Axerra likely to be bidding with a larger partner. Axerra has distribution agreements with both Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Nortel Networks Ltd. .

RAD Data Communications Ltd. also has confirmed a bid for the Sprint RFP.

Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) is involved in the bidding as well, according to sources close to that company. And Mangrove Systems Inc. was invited to participate in the RFP both as an independent bidder and in a partnership bid with Eastern Research Inc. Mangrove met with Sprint last week at the Globalcomm tradeshow in Chicago to talk about its pseudowire technology, sources say.

In the meantime, Sprint Nextel has been lobbying Congress to regulate the fees that local carriers charge to wireless carriers for "special access" (or backhaul) services. Company execs say that, in most cases, the incumbent landline carrier is the only company that can provide these connections -- thus creating little monopolies all over the country. [Ed. note: Wook at dem widdle monpolies. They so cuuuuute.]

Sprint argues that this isn't fair, especially since its main competitors are owned and operated by the wireline carriers from which Sprint must lease the lines. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) owns the majority of Verizon Wireless , and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS) share Cingular Wireless .

"The reality, however, is that even ten years after passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the competitive availability of special access services, such as DS1 and DS3 services, is woefully limited," said Robert Foosaner, senior vice president of government affairs at Sprint Nextel, according to a Senate Commerce Committee transcript from Tuesday's hearing.

"Special access has become the ILECs' most profitable line of business," Foosaner said. "The lack of competition for special access has allowed the BOCs [Bell Operating Companies] to charge exorbitant prices without restraint."

Special access fees would be less of a problem with a pseudowire deployment. "Since the service requested from the ILEC would be Ethernet, then no additional access fee would apply," says Bruce Hoffman, director of technology development planning at Sprint Nextel. "A tariff fee would apply if the service requested was T1 and the ILEC used PW over a packet network."

The full Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is due to meet again on June 22 to consider various aspects of telecom reform.

— Carmen Nobel, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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