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Optical/IP

Carriers Size Up B-RAS Needs

Touch the broadband remote access server (B-RAS) market and you might burn yourself. The global DSL explosion is forcing carriers to invest in the infrastructure needed to manage the increasing volumes of data flowing in and out of their access networks, and for the B-RAS brigade that's resulting in a purchase order frenzy.

That has spurred on some of the key players to upgrade and spin off new products recently, especially scaled-down versions of original traffic aggregators (see Redback's Got an Itsy-Bitsy B-RAS, Nortel, Laurel Extend B-RAS Lines, and Net.com Turns Up Scream). Expect to see all these products pushed prominently at next week's Supercomm show (see Laurel Struts Triple Play & IP Services).

What exactly the large carriers are doing or planning is being kept very hush-hush, though some details have leaked out to Light Reading from some sources close to the major carriers and their RFP processes. Recent highlights include:

  • BT Group plc (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA) is deploying 40 B-RASs from Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) as its network takes the strain of 40,000 new broadband connections per month. BT declines to comment on the deployment, while Juniper says only that it hasn't announced BT as a B-RAS customer. (Yet.)

  • SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC) reignited its interest in broadband aggregation units a few months back (see SBC Edge RFP Resurfaces). A source from a company close to SBC's process says the RBOC is particularly keen to test out the latest generation of B-RAS products that have policy management features based on the DSL Forum's TR-059 specifications issued late last year (see DSL Forum Tackles Premium Services). SBC is also being very specific about the capacity it requires per port, says the source, who requested anonymity.

  • Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON) had an RFP in the market earlier this year, but that was more geared towards a multiservice switch with B-RAS capabilities. Our inside source describes Sprint's requirement as a throwback to the late 1990s search for an edge "God box" that can support every protocol, provide the full range of capacity requests, and then offer a little bit more on the side. "I'm not sure that product is actually available," says our deep throat, who adds that there's talk of more specific RFPs being issued based on the response Sprint gets from its original request.

  • BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS) has been combing the market for B-RAS boxes that conform to TR-059 specs for testing in its labs, says our source, though any sort of network deployment based on such equipment is quite a long way off. BellSouth's key requirement at present is a solution that can provide a bandwidth-on-demand function for speedier video downloads as and when customers want them.

  • RFPs are being prepared, or about to be issued, by other Tier 1 carriers, including BCE Inc. (NYSE/Toronto: BCE) (erstwhile Bell Canada) and Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT).

    Graham Beniston, analyst at large at Heavy Reading, says it's going to be a tough battle between the established players that have reasonable, but trusted, kit, such as Juniper, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Redback Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RBAK), and the new entrants that are offering more scaleable, high-end boxes with integrated ATM switching, but which have little track record with major carrier deployments. That pack includes CoSine Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: COSN), Laurel Networks Inc., and Network Equipment Technologies Inc. (net.com) (NYSE: NWK).

    Beniston says the Tier 1 carriers in North America and Europe are taking the TR-059 specifications "very seriously," and while this could favor the challenging pack, he believes the experience and know-how of Juniper and Redback will likely keep them at the front of the queue when purchase orders are doled out.

    But he warns that all those vendors will need to keep on top of their game, as there's a big challenge coming from a the IP DSLAM brigade, and particularly from Asia/Pacific. "There's going to be a strong challenge from vendors like Huawei, Samsung, and UTStarcom. They're offering IP DSLAMs with built in B-RAS capabilities, and that could be a temptation for the carriers," says the analyst.

    — Ray Le Maistre, International Editor, Boardwatch

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