Laurel Joins B-RAS Pack
Up until this point, the ST200 has offered service providers the ability to aggregate and route various types of edge traffic, including ATM, Frame Relay, and Ethernet. Primarily, service providers have used the device to sell services via T1 leased lines.
By adding broadband aggregation and remote access support, Laurel has expanded its addressable market. It will now be able to go after new DSL build-outs that will serve business customers, as well as residential customers.
“Most carriers today want to deploy DSL,” says Graham Beniston, Principal at Beniston Broadband Consulting and presenter of a recent Light Reading Webinar on Next Generation Broadband Remote Access Servers (B-RAS). "The metro node, which is where Laurel would likely sit, is still the best place for a B-RAS.”
While regulatory uncertainty in the U.S. has delayed some DSL deployments, broadband competition from cable providers is forcing the hand of many incumbent carriers to roll out new services. And as DSL technology and service improve, businesses are requesting it as a replacement for their T1 connections. This makes perfect sense when the prices are compared. An average T1 connection running at 1.5 Mbit/s can cost roughly $600 to $800 per month. An ADSL service running between 640 kbit/s and 1.5 Mbit/s can cost anywhere between $200 and $400 per month.
Analysts say that B-RAS functionality is now becoming more common as part of an edge router or an IP service switch. As a result, it is no longer tracked as a standalone function. All of Laurel’s main competitors in edge routing currently support B-RAS in their products, including Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), and Redback Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RBAK). IP service switch vendors that also offer some routing functionality, like CoSine Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: COSN), Network Equipment Technologies Inc. (net.com) (NYSE: NWK), and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), also have incorporated B-RAS into their platforms.
“Subscriber management has become a necessary feature to have on an edge router,” says Kevin Mitchell, an analyst with Infonetics Research Inc. “Unisphere [acquired by Juniper last year] was the first to successfully pioneer this approach, and it has worked.”
To date, Laurel hasn’t provided market figures to analysts. It has only one announced customer, Level 3 Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: LVLT) (see Laurel Scores at Level 3). But Mitchell estimates the company has about 1 percent of the overall edge router market. For the calendar year of 2002, Cisco led the market with 63 percent market share. Combined sales from Juniper and Unisphere accounted for about 19 percent of the market. And Redback was third with 7 percent of the market. Overall, carriers purchased about $1.56 billion in edge routing gear in 2002. That number is expected to increase to $3.3 billion in 2006, according to Infonetics.
Some say that the new functionality of Laurel's edge router could be a good fit for Marconi plc (Nasdaq/London: MONI), which is currently in talks with Laurel about an OEM partnership (see Marconi and Laurel in Talks ).
Laurel is clearly not the first edge router vendor to offer B-RAS, so how has it differentiated itself?
For one, it says it provides higher-capacity interfaces, which allow service providers to deliver and aggregate DSL-based video and voice services. The biggest interfaces most competitors offer is ATM or Sonet OC12 (622 Mbit/s) and 1 Gbit/s Ethernet. Aside from Laurel, net.com is the only competitor that offers OC48 (2.5 Gbit/s) interfaces. And Laurel is the only one to offer 10-Gbit/s Ethernet and OC192 (10 Gbit/s) uplinks on its product.
Laurel also claims to offer more robust quality of service, along with a new feature it calls “service blending." Steve Vogelsang, vice president of marketing for Laurel, says these features allow the ST200 to rate-limit traffic, allowing carriers the ability to charge different rates for different services on one DSL connection. For example, it can offer a customer Internet access at a low bandwidth that can be upgraded to a higher bandwidth on demand to support a video-on-demand service.
Not all analysts are convinced that Laurel’s features are really that much different from its competitors.
“Speeds and feeds change so much,” says Infonetics' Mitchell. “It’s hard to differentiate yourself based on that alone.”
Mitchell acknowledges that rate limiting is an important feature. As carriers move more toward convergence, the ability to charge different amounts for different services is crucial. But he is not convinced that Laurel is the only one to do this.
“It seems like the ERX from Juniper also does this,” he says. “The Smart Edge router from Redback will also have B-RAS capability sometime soon, and that will probably rate-limit, too.”
If you want more information on the B-RAS market, check out this month’s edition of Light Reading Insider, due out soon.
— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading