Cisco Gateways Get the Gate

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has ended up with egg on its face over a project for Transcom, one of the largest wholesale VOIP (voice over IP) carriers in the U.S.

Transcom, which terminates about 180 million VOIP calls a month, is ripping out a large number of Cisco media gateways -- equivalent to 50,000 ports -- and replacing them with gear from Veraz Networks, it emerged today (see Transcom Rips Out Cisco for Veraz.

The project isn’t huge -- the total value is less than $10 million -- but the fact that Cisco equipment is actually being ripped out and replaced is damaging to its reputation as a leading VOIP equipment supplier.

As might be expected, Cisco declines to give its side of the story. “We don't think its appropriate to speculate or comment on our customers' decisions,” says a spokeswoman.

And it has to be said that Cisco isn’t the only vendor that’s struggled to meet Transcom’s requirements. Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) also missed an opportunity when its equipment was trialed by Transcom in 2000.

First Nortel… “We were waiting on the Passport 7000, now the Packet Voice Gateway… but Nortel’s roadmap never came to fruition,” says Chad Frazier, president of Transcom. He says Nortel was catering to British Telecommunications plc (BT) (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA) in Spain by supporting the European standard first, leaving its U.S customers high and dry. “They kept pushing the roadmap back… Like all the big telco suppliers, Nortel was battling an internal struggle of whether to focus on next-generation telephony, which ultimately cannibalized its bread and butter.”

After a year waiting around for Nortel, Transcom gave up and opted for a combined solution from Cisco and Veraz. The carrier purchased Veraz’s ControlSwitch softswitch and had the option of two different media gateways from Cisco. These were the MGX 8260 -- which Cisco picked up via its acquisition of Transmedia in 1999 -- or the MGX 8850, from Cisco’s acquisition of Stratacom in 1993.

”Our preference was to go with the 8850 as we had engineered our infrastructure to go with this,” says Frazier. "But Cisco insisted the 8260 was a better fit, because this was the product that interoperated with Veraz."

Taking Cisco at its word, Transcom began in August 2001 to migrate all its traffic off the Nortel Passport switches onto its new Cisco-Veraz infrastructure.

Then Cisco… This proved to be a disaster, according to Frazier. “We ran into countless problems trying to get Cisco’s gateways to interoperate with the Veraz softswitch,” he says. The key problem occurred when Transcom tried to reset the two ends after a failure. “Cisco and Veraz had written slightly different versions of the MGCP specification, so the softswitch and the gateway were unable to acknowledge each other.”

On top of this, Cisco took forever to correct its code, so Veraz ended up accommodating Cisco’s problems on its end, Frazier says. “Cisco OEMs all its parts and doesn’t have the ability to rewrite code, it has to go to a third party,” notes Frazier.

This was one critical reason for Transcom to pull the plug on Cisco altogether and make Veraz its sole vendor for VOIP gear. Veraz has its own DSP (digital signal processor) intellectual property, which came from ECI Telecom Ltd. (Nasdaq/NM: ECIL), its parent and a big player in voice compression technology for over 20 years. As a result, it's easy for Veraz to tweak things to address interoperability problems, or so it claims. It promises a much faster turnaround than most softswitch vendors that buy in DSP technology and can't adjust it themselves.

But here’s the part that really got Transcom’s goat: “Cisco had the gall to try and get us to migrate to the 8850, which is the product we wanted in the first place,” Frazier sighs. “Cisco promised us this and that, but I couldn’t in good conscience go down that road."

Instead, Transcom purchased 87,000 ports of Veraz's I-Gate 4000 and I-Gate 4000 Pro media gateways to replace its installed base of Cisco media gateways (roughly 50,000 ports) located in cities across the U.S. Softswitch capacity will also be increased on its previously deployed Veraz ControlSwitch to 87,000 ports. With the added media gateways, increased softswitch capacity, and rollout of its Global Carrier Peering (GCP) solution, Transcom says its will double its VOIP capacity by year end.

The GCP offering, part of Veraz’s routing engine, is Transcom’s fastest growing business, as it can support traffic processing and delivery using any combination of the following signaling protocols: H.323-H.323, H.323-SS7, H.323-PRI, SIP-SIP, SIP-H.323, SIP-PRI, SIP-SS7, SS7-PRI, SS7-SS7, PRI-PRI… [ed. note: Sheeeesh! Did they forget any?].

Supporting this breadth of protocols opens Transcom up to almost every carrier, the company says. It already carries traffic for most of the major U.S Tier 1 operators but believes this deployment will give it the edge over CNM Network Inc. and PointOne, Inc. (formerly Unipoint Holdings), its fiercest rivals.

Interestingly, Transcom isn't the only service provider to experience problems with Cisco's media gateways. Peru-based VOIP carrier Convergia Networks Inc. had trouble getting the technology to scale (see NexTone Solves Cisco VOIP Shortcoming).

Nortel could not be reached for comment by press time.

— Jo Maitland, Senior Editor, Boardwatch

Light Reading and Boardwatch are preparing a comprehensive guide of VOIP/softswitch products. Vendors can submit product details free of charge by downloading our (virus-free) questionnaire, completing it, and returning it ASAP.
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beowulf888 12/4/2012 | 11:39:53 PM
re: Cisco Gateways Get the Gate Jo:
I'm confused. You seemed to indicate that Cisco and Veraz had problems with MGCP interoperability. But later, when you mention, Veraz's list of supported signaling protocols, MGCP wasn't among them. What's the story?

glasstotheass 12/4/2012 | 11:39:50 PM
re: Cisco Gateways Get the Gate Beo asked:
I'm confused. You seemed to indicate that Cisco and Veraz had problems with MGCP interoperability. But later, when you mention, Veraz's list of supported signaling protocols, MGCP wasn't among them. What's the story?

MGCP stands for Media Gateway Control Protocol. This is the protocol the Gateway Contoller (Veraz's box - usually a SUN server) uses to talk to the Media Gateway (Transmedia's box - usually a custom piece of HW with a bunch of DSP's which carries the calls) to set up/tear down calls and configure compression/echo cancellation settings etc. Note that this is different from the "signalling protocol" that the Gateway Controller uses to talk to other boxes on the network (a 5ESS which talks SS7 or one of those junky sentitO or equivalent VOIP edge devices that usually talk SIP) to set up calls from end to end (and might need a translation device).

Oh, as far as Transmedia goes: I told you so.


P.S. Oooh, roaring 90's flashback...bad trip. Don't make me go there again.
optical_man 12/4/2012 | 11:39:45 PM
re: Cisco Gateways Get the Gate There was a company in Dallas called DataVon. Chad Frazier was the CTO.
He was a huge Cisco/IPVerse (now Veraz) fan. This was in 2000.
Said it was how Broadwing did it, and if Broadwing did something it must be right.
I told him in 2000 that Cisco was leading him down a dead end path, and the 8xxx series was almost dead.
He became furious and threw me out of his office.
Oops. Should have been gentler and couched the truth instead of pulling a "I'm an engineer, here are the facts as I know them" stunt.
I figured, "bonehead is drinking so much cisco kool-aid, he's gonna wreck this company with hundreds of thousands of Cisco non-working ports".
Looks like he either lost his job at DataVon and it's now bankrupt (website doesn't work...).

If he got the boot, and ended at Transcon, he was still drinking the Cisco sludge, and eventually sobered up and bought only Veraz.
(speaking of, Williams Matt Bross ended up at British Telecom BT, what is it about the English that make them fall in love with discredited American CTO's?
LR should do some background research into their subjects before showing them in such a glowing "I have the vision" light.
Chad, good luck at your new gig, and hope you didn't pour too many millions into Cisco VoIP at Transcon, like you did at DataVon before you finally saw the Veraz light. Only took 4 years, but what the heck, it's never been your money at stake.

http://www.datavon a website that doesn't work anymore....hmmmm.
beowulf888 12/4/2012 | 11:39:23 PM
re: Cisco Gateways Get the Gate glasstotheass:
How to do you come to the conclusion that MGCP is *not* a signaling protocol? Setting up and tearing down calls is the main function of signaling protocols. MGCP command codes such as CRCX, MDCX, DLCX clearly are doing what every other signaling protocol does. Or are you just saying it's a different signaling protocol from SS7, H.323, SIP, etc.? -- which we know.

Suggest you might want to reread RFC 2705 if you think that MGCP is not a "signalling" protocol (FYI: signaling is spelled with one L, not 2). And my apologies if I misunderstood the point of your answer and that you *do* consider MGCP to be a signaling protocol.

You didn't answer my question -- which was actually Jo Maitland's to answer. The fact is that it's not clear what sort of setup Transmedia had. Probably SS7 being translated into MGCP, but that wasn't on the list of Veraz's translations. MGCP was noticeably absent from the list ;-).

voicedude 12/4/2012 | 11:39:00 PM
re: Cisco Gateways Get the Gate Transcom used to be Datavon. Here is an article posted back in 3/01 detailing the DataVon/Cisco/ipVerse depolyment.

ipVerse re-launched itself to NexVerse; which merged with ECI. Veraz is the new company.

Cisco canned the TransMedia box back in September 2001 in favor of the MGX8850. Chad Frazier is not just driking the Cisco's Kool-Aid. Any President/CTO with half a brain would figure out that something is wrong by early 2002. Cisco seized development and support for the TransMedia's MGX8260 back in late 2001. That's why Mr. Frazier did not get what he wanted. And of course, Cisco would try to sell him the MGX8850, duh !!!

Jo Maitland, did you ask the Veraz guys how many media gateway their soft switch fully interoperated with ? The answer is probably none; other than their own. Soft switch/gateway interop is quite difficult to manage with multiple vendors; especially with a screwy protocol like MGCP.

It looks like Chad Frazier finally got his light bulb screwed on semi-correctly by figuring out that he's been dumped. Way to go Chad !!! Good luck with the Veraz box. That soft-switch ain't worth a dime.

optical_man 12/4/2012 | 11:38:58 PM
re: Cisco Gateways Get the Gate ipVerse re-launched itself to NexVerse; which merged with ECI. Veraz is the new company.

You are correct in the order of events, but do not let them fib to you.
NexVerse collapsed completely and was prepping for auction. ECI bought the scraps. To say 'merger' is to make ECI look like it bought some good gear and technology, and let's NexVerse VC save face.
Fact is, ECI wants to make a go of NexVerse's "stuff". Do you think that saying "We bought some crap from a dead carcass company!" would win them business? No, of course not, they said "we merged with the leading provider of blah blah blah."
In any event, if DataVon (and their dead website) is now TransCON out of England instead of Dallas (hmmm) and has installed NexVerse after trialing it since 1999/2000 (wow only 3 years!) then good luck to them.
I'm sure their investors are extremely happy. Nothing has changed in VoIP in 3-4 years has it?
Personally, IMHO, if you are dumb enough to stick with Cisco (drinking the koolaid) and dumb enough to stick with one VoIP vendor through bankruptcy and never even LOOK at any other vendors, you must be brilliant! What Vision. That's the kind of leadership TransCON needs!
optical_man 12/4/2012 | 11:38:57 PM
re: Cisco Gateways Get the Gate Hey LR Staff,
How about an article covering blind loyalty from Executives (even those with only High School Educations)? We all know it exists. Some of us even figure out how to break it (for the betterment of our customers).
Give it a thought.
voicedude 12/4/2012 | 11:38:30 PM
re: Cisco Gateways Get the Gate optical_man,

I agree with you fully of the ECI/NexVerse merger. ipVerse/NexVerse was up to their rears in troubles. They were trying hard to get Cisco to acquire them back in 2000/2001.

The truth is Transcom/Datavon got 3 years worth of deployment out of a box that haven't been worked on for almost 2 years. They were lucky. That proves the TransMedia box wasn't too bad. If Chad Frazier got his initial wish to deploy the MGX8850, he'd be in the unemployment office by now. The MGX8850 is a dull swiss army knife. It works well for data; but it is mediocre at voice service.

About owning DSP technology, Chad proved that he is mis-informed/mis-led again. DiTech/Telinnovasion made a big business out of selling echo canceller/codec algorithm. ECI is nowhere in comparison. Even Northtel/Lucent bought their echo canceller from 3rd party vendors. So what is the big deal with Veraz owning DSP technology ? Cisco did too; so what ...

Don't bother telling the LR guys. They are paid to write these kind of articles. The article totally lacked any journalistic sense. It's just write what you're told to write.


marcus_brutus 12/4/2012 | 11:36:40 PM
re: Cisco Gateways Get the Gate BlindLoyalty is a function of the number of nights at "TT" bars funded by the the preferred vendor sales organization. If one introduces executive educational background (High School equivalency=0, 1yr college=1, etc) as a variable range in the equation, the inflection point where Number of Nights induces Blind loyalty is inversely proportional to the proven technological superiority of the competition. This serves as a beginning point for McKinseyan analysis for why vendors like Nortel, Cisco and Lucent have so many BlindlyLoyal execs pushing their favorite vendor's kool aid downstream.
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