ECI Makes Ethernet Headway
ECI unveiled its 9700 series of carrier Ethernet switches and 9200 Ethernet access platforms in March this year. At that time, Stan Hubbard, senior analyst and carrier Ethernet specialist at Heavy Reading, noted that ECI was one of the last optical equipment vendors to add carrier Ethernet gear to its portfolio. (See ECI Intros Carrier Ethernet Portfolio.)
But he also said ECI should be able to leverage its existing MSPP (multiservice provisioning platform) customer base to pick up business in the $500 million-plus-per-quarter market that already had 15 active vendors, led by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Hitachi Cable Ltd. , Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY), Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. (See HR Reports CESR Growth and Ethernet Expo Europe: Switch/Router Update.)
And that's what appears to be happening. Having announced a small deal with Danish utility firm ELRO, which was already using ECI as its lead integrator for a WiMax network rollout, ECI is set to announce a number of additional carrier Ethernet switch customers in the coming months. (See ELRO Picks ECI and ECI Teams for Danish WiMax .)
Rafael Francis, the vendor's VP of product management for data platforms, says ECI has already landed a deal with a major Indian operator, which is an existing SDH equipment customer, to support the rollout of IPTV services, with the 9000 family of switches being used for the distribution of video traffic. He says ECI will also provide the carrier with metro optical gear and MSAN (multiservice access node) equipment for its expansion plans.
While ECI is unwilling to name the carrier -- it has a number of Indian operators as optical equipment customers -- one industry source suggests it is Tata Communications Ltd. , though none of the parties would confirm that. (See ECI Touts Top Spot in India.)
Francis also says ECI has won a deal in the U.S. with a Top 10 cable operator and further business in Europe. "We're happy with the initial traction," he adds.
But can ECI make any impact on the market share of the more established carrier Ethernet switch vendors?
Francis says the key to his company's offering lies in the combined heritage of the optical team and the IP/MPLS team that joined ECI's ranks when it acquired Laurel Networks in 2005 -- a combination that gives ECI an edge over some of its bigger rivals, he reckons. (See ECI to Buy Laurel for $88M and ECI's Laurel Hedge.)
"The IP vendors haven't put the OA&M [operations, administration, and maintenance] emphasis in the right place. ECI's main background is in transport, and our carrier Ethernet line is optimized for reliability and OA&M -- it's been built with a transport mindset. We [the data platforms team] worked closely with our transport team, to look at fault monitoring" and other network management capabilities that helps give the ECI platform reliability as well as scalability, says the former Laurel man.
Francis also highlights ECI's LightSoft network management system that works across the full range of its optical and Ethernet platforms. "It gives carriers the same look and feel as they have with SDH."
Where ECI finds itself agreeing with many of the other MPLS vendors is over the issue of connection-oriented Ethernet transport: ECI believes MPLS-TP (transport profile), rather than PBT/PBB-TE, is the way forward. (See Transport MPLS Gets a Makeover.)
"We're supportive of MPLS-TP. We have a pre-standard version of MPLS-TP, which is like a static version of MPLS, and we will follow the standard as it evolves," says Francis, who adds that, ultimately, ECI will support dynamic and static MPLS on its carrier Ethernet switches, with an integrated gateway enabling carriers to switch between the two.
All of which sounds as if it will attract the attention of operators as they migrate further towards carrier Ethernet platforms -- something they're increasingly doing: According to Heavy Reading, the carrier Ethernet equipment market is set to grow from $1.9 billion in 2007 to more than $3.4 billion in 2010, and then grow further to $4.5 billion two years later. (See Ethernet Gear Market to Double.)
And, at least on the face of it, Heavy Reading's Hubbard believes ECI is at least on the right technical track to have some impact on the market. He believes the vendor's 9700 switch "is the type of platform that defines the next-generation of CESR products, with a strong emphasis on system density and scalability, hierarchical QOS, Ethernet OAM integrated from the start (802.1ag), and IP multicast features for IPTV," plus the benefits of offering a single network management system for multiple product lines.
— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading
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