Netrake Puts an Edge on VOIP
The company makes a box it intends to sell to service providers in hopes of helping them regain revenues lost to VOIP (voice over IP). Recently, corporate customers have been able to bypass the public switched telephone network (PSTN) when making phone calls, by using IP Centrex services and IP Private Branch Exchanges (PBXs). In such cases, an enterprise leases a T1 line, using it for all its voice and data needs, thanks to VOIP technology.
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) recently partnered with IP Centrex provider GoBeam so it could provide services to businesses that were intent on saving money by using non-traditional phone services via T1 lines.
Netrake says its box gives service providers a way to fight back. The product helps them offer, manage, and bill for VOIP phone calls, and it routes those calls around the PSTN. This is important because the setup eliminates the gateways that normally are needed to separate the PSTN from the enterprise's private LAN. It also helps service providers connect islands of enterprises that now use VOIP within their companies, but have been using the PSTN to make calls to other companies.
A box that enables high-quality VOIP calls without going through the PSTN will also allow RBOCs to set up and compete within each other's territory. For instance, SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC) could offer VOIP phone service to companies in the northeastern U.S. without having to pay to use Verizon's phone network.
One thing hampering VOIP adoption, Netrake says, is that VOIP protocols tend to embed IP addresses in the packet's payload, rather than its header. This confuses corporate firewalls, which normally just look at the packet's header, and causes them to drop VOIP packets.
"The incumbents need to get a hold on what's happening to their T1 lines and get back in the VOIP value chain," says Micaela Giuhat, Netrake's assistant VP of product management.
Netrake says it solves this dilemma by using some souped-up network processors that help its box aggregate, switch, and label data automatically, based on its application. So once a set of packets is deemed to be a voice call, Netrake relabels the packets in a way that ensures they'll slip through a corporate firewall without being dropped.
The Netrake box is a 12-rack-unit chassis that hooks to the network via DS3, OC3, OC12, 100Base-T, Gigabit Ethernet, and OC48 connections. It's capable of handling up to 50,000 simultaneous calls at a rate of about 280 calls per second. In other words, it's roughly half the size of a Class 5 switch but can process calls at about the same rate.
Interestingly, making VOIP connections is just one application for an edge switch that analyzes and processes data at very high speeds. Other applications could include network security and high-quality video transmission on data connections (see Netrake Develops a Tool for the Edge). Therefore, Netrake competes with a wide variety of companies, including: Acme Packet, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Jasomi Networks, Kagoor Networks, NetScreen Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: NSCN), and NexTone Communications.
Timing will be a huge factor in Netrake's success or failure. The number of enterprises switching to VOIP phone services each year is increasing, but large carriers might prolong making infrastructure investments in the space, through partnerships such as the one between Verizon and GoBeam.
Still, some believe that when Netrake's product hits the market, it might be at just the time that service providers are deciding to get serious about VOIP. The market for devices such as Netrake's, often called session controllers, is about $10.4 million in 2002, according to Yankee Group analyst Mark Bieberich. He thinks the market will grow to $624 million market by 2007.
Netrake, now with 70 employees, has raised $22.5 million to date and says it will announce the closing of a Series C funding round soon. Evidently investors believe the company's odds are good, and Netrake itself is bursting with enthusiasm.
"We're excited about the market," says Caprice Martin, Netrake's director of corporate communications. "And we're not smoking crack, either."
— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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