Cisco Gateways Get the Gate
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
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