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Optical/IP

Infranet Seeks Image Change

CHICAGO – Supercomm 2005 – Juniper Networks Inc.'s (Nasdaq: JNPR) Infranet Initiative is undergoing a seismic shift that might goad archrival Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) into participating.



In a move likely to be announced today, the Infranet Initiative Council (IIC) has voted to work directly with a standards body, rather than acting as an independent group. Sources say the goal is to attract Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and Cisco to the party, as both have been noteworthy absences.

The group will meet on Thursday, here at Supercomm, to decide a new name and vote on a board of directors, a source says. The choice of standards body remains open, with groups such as the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) likely candidates.

Juniper always said the Infranet Initiative Council wasn't an exclusive club and that its purpose was to germinate ideas that would then be handed to the ITU or similar bodies. But Cisco, in particular, has steadfastly refused to join the IIC, noting that it would prefer such work to be hashed out within the standards bodies themselves. While neither side is saying it, the fact that Cisco and Juniper are competitors probably played into Cisco's position.

IIC members corroborate Juniper's story, noting that service providers have been calling the shots at IIC meetings. Even so, carriers weren't comfortable with the fact that two of their biggest suppliers were sitting out.

"Service providers went to Juniper and said, 'You can't be a vendor-driven industry initiative. You have to be one or the other,' " says Danny Briere, CEO of consultancy TeleChoice Inc. "It's an either/or situation, and they decided they'd rather be an industry initiative."

The IIC voted on the change last week, deciding to kick off its new effort with a meeting here at Supercomm, sources said.

Juniper officials could not be reached immediately for comment. When reached this morning, a Cisco spokesman reiterated that Cisco has no interest in joining the IIC. He couldn't confirm the changes happening at the IIC, however -- so it's possible Cisco's stance could change if the Initiative becomes less of a Juniper project.

The changes to IIC could end what promised to be a juicy battle between Cisco and Juniper, each trying to be the hero to bring new levels of service to the Internet.

The Infranet is Juniper's vision of a network that's intelligent enough to adjust security and quality of service (QOS) levels depending on the user and application involved (see Juniper Does Vision Thing and Juniper's Infranet Takes Baby Steps). For example, the network might detect someone running a videoconference from a laptop in a coffee house (goofy idea, but come on -- it's hypothetical). The network would then nail down the bandwidth necessary to stream the video while also applying security levels appropriate to remote access.

The Infranet concept came from Juniper, but company officials stress the Infranet Council is an industrywide effort. It's a tough sell, considering the use of the "Infranet" name and the fact that Juniper organized all this -- but even so, IIC membership reflects a wide swath of the industry, including major carriers such as BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) and applications providers like America Online and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM).

Cisco, while steadfastly denying it had Infranet envy, has begun describing a broader, but Infranet-like, concept called the IP Next-Generation Network (IP NGN). (See Cisco Scores CRS-1 Customers and Cisco Rolls Out Roadmaps.) The ungainly title has figured prominently in speeches, including CEO John Chambers's Supercomm keynote on Tuesday.

Both ideas could now give way to this new standards effort.

Alcatel and Cisco have been monitoring the Infranet meetings, Briere says. Cisco even sent emissaries to pitch the idea that standards bodies were a better fit for the IIC's work (see Cisco Heckles Infranet Initiative). But service providers wanted the two companies to take a more active role in the process, Briere says.

One disadvantage to the new-look IIC, then, is that it might bog down like a standards body, Briere says. "Whether they like it or not, it's probably going to have the effect of slowing things down. You'll have a situation where you'll have to build compromises."

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading



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