Optical/IP Networks

Lucent Preps MPLS Infusion

Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) has yet to make its entry into the multiservice edge router campaign, but the company is at least preparing some baby steps for customers interested in Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS).

Sources say Lucent's CBX 500 will get an MPLS infusion later this year, in the form of a card built by Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR). The card is essentially the guts of a Juniper M7i router, sources say, and will let the CBX support popular features such as MPLS-based virtual private networks (VPNs).

The card is a precursor to the CBX 3500, a switch expected to bring Lucent's ATM and Frame Relay legacy more in line with the convergence of networks to an IP/MPLS core. Lucent declines to comment on unannounced products, but it's well known that the 3500 is being prepared for launch this year (see Lucent's WaveSmith Killer).

The new card for the CBX 500 is likely to "allow limited MPLS capability in terms of scaleability," says Kevin Mitchell, an analyst with Infonetics Research Inc. By contrast, the 3500 "will be designed with MPLS more from the start -- that's what it seems like."

Lucent has drawn criticism for the age of the CBX line, as no major upgrades have surfaced since the acquisition of Ascend Communications in June 1999. That's created some doubt about Lucent's viability in the new multiservice edge area, where major competitors have introduced new systems built from scratch. Among them are the 7750 from Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA); the M320 from Juniper; the MPE 9000 from Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT); and the 8800 line from Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA).

Critics say Lucent's answer is rather awkward at first glance. Being a Juniper creation, the new card looks more like a transplant than a plain upgrade. According to one source, it won't use Lucent's management system, and it may require awkward external cabling to get connected. In other words, it doesn't have the same smooth integration being claimed by competitors.

But is integration overrated? CIMI Corp. analyst Tom Nolle, who claims no knowledge of Lucent's future CBX plans, says an awkward-fitting card wouldn't be that big a deal in terms of sales. That's because Lucent's primary targets will be the company's present customer base: carriers already using the CBX for ATM and Frame Relay services.

"The value [of a CBX 500 upgrade] would lie in its ability to migrate a current user of Lucent products," Nolle says. "Issues like cabling and management are somewhat like aesthetic issues. Service providers are looking for the cheapest way to add functions; it doesn't have to be the most elegant way."

On Lucent's end, the creation of an MPLS card makes sense if it gives carriers one less reason to replace any CBX 500s as they gradually shift traffic to the MPLS world. For those insistent on building new MPLS networks, Lucent is reselling Juniper's routers through a partnership established last year (see Lucent Partners With Juniper).

The strategy mirrors Cisco Systems Inc.'s (Nasdaq: CSCO) addition of an MPLS card to its MGX line of switches. "It's probably the right way to do it," Nolle says. "If I wanted to add MPLS to an ATM switch, the smart thing to do would be to create an MPLS trunk card."

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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