Optical/IP Networks

Juniper Gives Static to IPTV Critics

Following up on promises to answer critics of its IPTV strategy, Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) introduced further Ethernet enhancements to its E320 series yesterday.

The numbers aren't too shabby. The E320, taking up one third of a standard 7-foot rack, can now carry 192 Gigabit Ethernet connections or 12 10-Gbit/s Ethernet links, managing up to 128,000 sessions in total. (See Juniper Packs Ethernet.)

The idea is to beef up capacity to accommodate new services. That means piling more Ethernet density into a box, but it also means upping subscriber management numbers and sharpening quality of service (QOS). "These concerns are on service providers' minds. They impact how much revenue they can get for their services," says Gary Southwell, director of Juniper's IPTV efforts.

Critics have pestered Juniper about this all year. Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and Redback Networks Inc. have enjoyed increasing success -- or increasing publicity, at least -- with Ethernet-heavy IPTV deployments, while Juniper has been perceived as an Ethernet laggard. After months of taking its blows, Juniper fired an opening salvo in June, announcing a handful of new Ether-centric linecards -- but not for the E-series -- and promising more Ethernet/IPTV news to come. (see Juniper Tunes Its Ethernet, IPTV Stories.)

Some analysts say Ethernet should be Juniper's primary battle -- as opposed to core routers, where Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is turning up the heat with its CRS-1 platform but still lags the installed base of Juniper's T640. (See What's Up With Cisco at KT? )

Yesterday's upgrades appear to push the E320's specs past the Cisco 10000 series and the Redback SmartEdge 800, which handle 61,500 and 48,000 subscribers, according to the respective vendors. Juniper also claims it's got better Ethernet density than either of those, so there.

But that's on the subscriber management side. The E320 could also be seen as competing against Alcatel's 7750 Service Router or Cisco's 7600 series -- boxes with a heritage more in IP routing than subscriber management. Juniper's still playing catchup against those systems' switching capacity, although "the gap is narrowing," says Mark Seery, an analyst with Ovum RHK Inc.

Alcatel's 7750 Service Router has a 400-Gbit/s switch fabric, compared with the E320's maximum 160 Gbit/s (listed as 320 Gbit/s when counting ingress and egress traffic simultaneously, as router companies tend to do). So, while the 7750 does support just 64,000 subscribers compared with the E320's 128,000, it can provide 6.25 Mbit/s per subscriber versus 1.25 Mbit/s for Juniper, Alcatel officials point out.

Comparing different vendors' systems remains a bit awkward, because the edge network requires both Ethernet density and subscriber management -- and not every system is good at both. "There are weaknesses and strengths on both sides. The market will work itself out over the next two to three years," Seery says.

Ultimately, Seery thinks Juniper will have to drop everything into one box that amalgamates the E-series and its classic M-series routers. This creation would incorporate features aimed at both consumer and business customers, while also sporting Ethernet density, subscriber management features, and IP routing.

"That's the future of where the market's going, so Juniper's got some important decisions to make," Seery says. But he thinks the E320 boosters are a good step: "For the moment, this is an important upgrade that helps them compete against Redback."

Separately, the E320's upgrade might have a connection to the latest rumblings around Redback.

Analyst Simon Leopold of Morgan Keegan & Company Inc. speculates that the E320's new features might help cement Juniper's position as the edge-router incumbent at Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ). Earlier this week, Redback shares fell as some analysts said the firm might not get an anticipated win with the carrier. (See Redback Falls on Verizon Hopes and Redback Gets a Break.)

"We think Juniper pitched this functionality to Verizon but failed to deliver, which may have contributed to Juniper’s revenue recognition delays from the carrier," Leopold wrote in a note issued this morning. He's referring to a chunk of revenue, between $25 million and $35 million, that Juniper has had to defer due to an undisclosed technicality -- even though the equipment in question is already sold. (See Juniper Defends Core Business in Q1.)

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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