Transport MPLS Gets a Makeover

Vendor support
Most vocal among MPLS-TP's vendor supporters is Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU). (See AlcaLu Likes MPLS Move.)

"Bringing together the work already done by the ITU under the umbrella of the IETF is a good step forwards and will allow the industry to have one set of specifications for the IP and transport world," says Lindsay Newell, VP of Product and Solutions Marketing at AlcaLu's IP Division (IPD), who notes that major carriers such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) have staffers involved in the standards process.

Newell, though, says it's a bit too early to say just how close MPLS-TP will stick to the ITU's existing T-MPLS work, and says things will be a lot clearer following the upcoming IETF meeting in Dublin (July 27 to August 1), where MPLS-TP is set to be discussed on the morning of July 30.

Newell, though, believes vendors will be able to start implementing MPLS-TP specification early in 2009, ahead of the standard's completion. "It's a rapid and aggressive timetable, but it's realistic because MPLS-TP will be an extension to the MPLS protocol that is already a standard, [while] the important OA&M [operations, administration, and maintenance] has already been addressed by the ITU. The standard isn't starting from a clean sheet of paper. We're very optimistic." So optimistic that Newell believes the standard could be completed in late 2009.

Newell notes that this particular standard is very important for AlcaLu as it will be utilized by two of the company's main telecom infrastructure divisions -- IP and Transport -- and enable seamless connectivity between routers and transport platforms, for example, in a wireless backhaul deployment. "We're seeing support from service providers for that," adds Newell.

That fusion of packet and transport platforms is key to next-generation network deployments, notes Alberto Valsecchi, VP of marketing at AlcaLu's optical division. "Everyone understands the transformation that is happening in packet growth and the convergence of IP and transport. It's important to make that happen," he adds.

Valsecchi says there has been market interest in T-MPLS, which is already implemented in AlcaLu's 1850 transport platform, and which has been tested by several customers. He believes it has been beneficial for vendors and carriers to have worked with an early version of MPLS transport specifications, and that his division will support and evolve to the MPLS-TP specs as they become available.

While Valsecchi had no hesitation is pledging full and complete support for the shift in control to the IETF, not all vendors have such complete faith in the move.

Vendor caution, support for PBB-TE
Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA) has been marketing a transport version of MPLS for several years -- one representative of the company jokingly referred to "Tellabs MPLS" during a T-MPLS debate at the Carrier Ethernet World Congress event in Madrid in 2006 -- and is keeping a close eye on developments at the IETF.

John Sauer, director of Technical Marketing at Tellabs, says his company "will build whatever carriers need to solve their problems. That's how T-MPLS came about -- in response to carriers' needs."

He says Tellabs had "what amounted to T-MPLS -- a simple version of MPLS for transport -- implemented on our 6300 managed transport platform before it was called T-MPLS. There was a need for it then, and there's a need for it now. T-MPLS is a very good solution."

Sauer says Tellabs currently supports T-MPLS, which is mature enough to be confidently supported and deployed, on its 6300 product and the 8600 platform for wireless backhaul deployments, and "we're glad to see the IETF and ITU working together on MPLS-TP."

But he notes that "if MPLS-TP retains the simplified approach of T-MPLS, then we will move to that, but it needs to have the same functionality. The main thing we are looking for is the simplicity and the same goals that the ITU had developed. We're confident the IETF will ratify the [ITU] standard, but there may be some small changes."

And with carriers' needs in mind, Tellabs is going to support PBB-TE too "as part of our carrier Ethernet offering. We see both as valuable tools for our customers. We need both."

Sauer says there are two ways to "tackle carrier Ethernet transport. One is with MPLS, including T-MPLS. That makes sense where a customer has an existing MPLS infrastructure, or if there are multiservice requirements. But there are customers that have requirements where PBB and PBB-TE would be most suitable, in pure Ethernet instances."

However, PBB-TE is "not a standard yet. We see promise, but it's not a proven solution," notes Sauer.

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