Optical/IP Networks

Ethernet Troop Hot on VOIP

Israeli Ethernet switch vendor, Telco Systems (BATM) recently acquired a softswitch manufacturer, ComGates. The exact details of the deal were not disclosed (see Telco/BATM Buys VOIP Supplier).

So what, you say? Not much has been made of the purchase, which, according to sources, only amounted to several hundred thousand dollars. But it’s another sign that the Ethernet switch vendors are keen to cash in on the rising popularity of voice over IP (VOIP).

Kevin Mitchell, directing analyst at Infonetics Research Inc., says it's an interesting acquisition and points to an important trend. “All this additional voice traffic creates upgrade paths for routers and switches… The infrastructure supporting VOIP has to meet the grade -- it’s why Nortel wants to sell Avici routers,” he says (see Avici, Nortel Get 'Strategic').

BATM executives say it's their customers that are behind the move, as they drive toward packet-based services.

"Our big customers -- MCI, Qwest, SBC, and others -- are doing lots of development for VOIP services... Right now they use us for Ethernet aggregation switches, but we want to sell them on the VOIP piece, too,” says Irit Gillath, Telco's VP of product management.

In addition to acquiring a softswitch in the deal, Telco Systems picked up Jacob Tirosh, formally the CEO of ComGates, whom Gillath says is well known in the VOIP industry.

Bigger players such as Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) and Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7) made noise with recent deals surrounding packet services (see Nortel Soars on Verizon VOIP Deal and Avici, Nortel Get 'Strategic'); but just about every Ethernet switching and packet routing player is looking for a big piece of the action. Riverstone Networks Inc. has partnerships with Sonus Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SONS) and Marconi Corp. plc (Nasdaq: MRCIY; London: MONI) (see Carrier Offers Convergence Twist); Avaya Inc. (NYSE: AV) and Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR) have married up (see Avaya & Extreme Team on VOIP); and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) has deals with Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE), LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERICY), and Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU).

So is there more than mutual appreciation going on here?

”Yes, very much so,” says Matt Kolon, senior technical marketing manager for Juniper. “Voice is a demanding application, you have to deal with fast rerouting and no delays when a link goes down… There has to be a protocol relationship so that the VOIP gateway can see when a link goes down to a router.”

All VOIP gateways have a Gigabit Ethernet port to connect to the IP part of the network, enabling them to take the VOIP traffic and pass it off to a router. Juniper points to a recent contract it won with Siemens to build Telefonica Brazil’s IP backbone, which includes Juniper routers and Siemens gateways. This contract wouldn’t have happened without the partnership, Kolon says (see Telefonica Picks Juniper Routers).

In the enterprise space, Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) are building major VOIP strategies.

Meanwhile, Cisco executives are driving very hard on VOIP, and more features are likely to go into Catalyst Ethernet switches.

“Cisco wants everything to revolve around its Ethernet switches… It moved VPNs and firewalls on to the switch. There’s no reason why CallManger couldn’t be there too -- it’s all software,” says Infonetics’ Mitchell.

— Jo Maitland, Senior Editor, Boardwatch

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