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Optical/IP

Euro VOIP Gets Edgy

VOIP's just about the hottest topic around these days, but most carriers in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) region are far from offering commercial IP telephony services to their end users (see VOIP: King of New Services). There are at last signs, though, that operators are preparing to replace existing Class 5 TDM switches with IP-based access systems.

Talking at the Carriers World event in London today, Neil Kinder, technical director for EMEA and Latin America at sofswitch vendor Sonus Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SONS) notes that the "many more RFPs hitting the market now are [for systems that] deliver packet voice over access networks."

He says the majority of revenues and current deals are for softswitches that sit in trunk networks, but that situation will reverse during the course of the next few years, a view shared by Infonetics Research Inc. (see Infonetics: VOIP Gear Sales Rise).

Indeed, Sonus has already had some success with its Class 5 replacement product in the U.S. and Japan (see Sonus: Whew!).

And on a smaller scale, LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERICY) is making some inroads. It has just announced the deployment of its Engine Integral Network and Access Ramp by Telecom Egypt (see Ericsson Networks in Egypt).

The national operator (and long-time Ericsson customer) will use the vendor's multiservice access infrastructure to replace its legacy TDM switches and provide broadband data and voice services across the same connection.

Ragnar Erkander, business director at Ericsson's wireline division, says the initial deployment is for a limited area in Alexandria, involving just 2,000 lines. But he says such a deployment is symptomatic of the willingness now being shown by operators to replace their existing networks with next-generation multimedia systems.

"There's definitely an increasing interest in Class 4 and Class 5 replacement systems. A lot of PTTs have ageing infrastructure, and need to do something about their access networks," he adds.

But that process is at a very early stage. While U.K. national incumbent BT Group plc (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA) has made a lot of noise about its ongoing VOIP service trials and plans to switch off its PSTN by 2009 (see BT Moves Ahead With Mega Project and BT Pushes for Flexibility), few other operators have been vocal about their strategies or the systems partners they'll work with to engineer such a transformation.

Erkander notes that the Telecom Egypt deal is the first access softswitch deployment it has announced, though he says there are a few others. But the majority of the 33 softswitch deals Ericsson has won around the world are for deployments in transit networks, with the recent contract at MCI Inc. (Nasdaq: MCIP) a prime example (see MCI Taps Ericsson).

And Erkander says Ericsson's Engine is already widely deployed in the backbone of BT's existing national voice network, where it has replaced Class 4 switches. "We have many millions of ports deployed there. Much of the transit network in the U.K. is using the Engine system."

Ericsson will be hoping for further direct softswitch business from its base of TDM switch customers, especially as it now has partnerships that enable it to provide IP Centrex and SIP capabilities (see Ericsson Integrates BroadSoft and Hotsip Snares Ericsson OEM Deal). And it'll be looking for new VOIP system business from its partnership with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO). (See Cisco, Ericsson Join Forces and Cisco Skips Class 5.)

But while that relationship has been announced, Graham Beniston, Heavy Reading analyst at large, notes in his recent softswitch report that Ericsson has yet to reveal what multiservice solutions will be built around the Engine softswich by its partners (see Heavy Reading Reports on VOIP).

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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