NEC Scores With ATCA Core

3G equipment vendor NEC Corp. (Nasdaq: NIPNY; Tokyo: 6701) today said it has shipped more than 100 xGSN mobile packet core nodes based on the modular Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture hardware platform.

The news is significant for what it reveals about NEC’s capability in the 3G core networking market and because it provides strong backing for the use of AdvancedTCA in high-availability carrier applications (see NEC Touts ATCA Core Node).

The xGSN product comprises a serving GPRS support node (SGSN) and gateway GPRS support node (GGSN). It's based on Intel Corp.’s (Nasdaq: INTC) ATCA platform and processors running carrier-grade Linux from MontaVista Software Inc. “The middleware and application is NEC's,” says spokesperson Akiko Shikimori.

Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) was the first, and so far still the only, publicly referenced customer for the product, but the system is now deployed in several more carrier networks.

When it was first introduced in September 2003, NEC said its target was to ship “500 unit systems” worldwide over a three-year period (see NEC Plots Router Push). Speaking to Unstrung today, however, Shikimori declined to reveal which countries outside of Japan the xGSN was deployed in. “If we say that, we confirm the operator.”

NEC is also assessing whether to port other applications, such as radio network controllers, IMS servers, and media servers, to ATCA. “At this moment we’re focusing on this packet node, but we’re considering all those other nodes,” says Shikimori.

AdvancedTCA defines an open hardware architecture for building telecom gear under the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG) 3.x set of specifications. The idea is that by using standardized hardware and platform software, network equipment vendors can gain time to market advantages and make more efficient use of R&D. (See this AdvancedTCA Report for more on the nuts and bolts).

The initiative is heavily backed by Intel and Motorola Inc.’s (NYSE: MOT) Embedded Communications Computing Group, and has been adopted to varying degrees by several major system vendors, including Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE) and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. (see ATCA Finds More Friends and AdvancedTCA Makes Headway).

Platform and board vendors have consistently identified wireless equipment manufacturers as the primary early adopters of ATCA. They argue that the relatively low volumes and immaturity of 3G edge and packet core products make these manufacturers the perfect targets for their wares.

Today’s announcement confirms the validity of this strategy, says Heavy Reading analyst Simon Stanley. “ATCA prices are higher than an optimized, custom chassis at the moment, and some people are saying ATCA is not commercially viable, but this is not such an important issue for low-volume units like the SGSN.

“The critical thing for ATCA is to be cost-effective in higher-volume platforms, and clearly as volumes go up, prices will go down." — Gabriel Brown, Chief Analyst, Unstrung Insider

Need to know more about the latest developments in AdvancedTCA? check out the coming Light Reading Webinar:

ATCA -- The Interoperability Revolution Continues
on Wednesday, December 08, 2004

See also this archived Webinar:

ATCA: The Architecture of Tomorrow's Telecom Systems

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