New Networks Beckon Vying Vendors

LONDON -- This week's 21st Century Communications World Forum event here should leave no doubt that the telecom industry is serious about shifting to next-generation, converged IP networks on a grand scale.

Operators from as far afield as New Zealand, Russia, Namibia, and the U.S., as well as Western Europe, converged on London to check out the next-generation network credentials of the vendors exhibiting and presenting.

With BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) set to announce the lead contractors for its 21st Century Network (21CN) in the next five weeks, there was a lot of talk about the U.K. carrier's aggressive timetable to turn off its PSTN by 2010 (see BT Sinks Its Teeth Into IP and BT Has 21CN Shortlists).

But there was a lot of noise to be heard from the supplier side, too, so here's a roundup of some of the news snippets from the event.

Huawei Ups the DSLAM Ante
As we reported last week, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. unveiled its latest IP DSLAM, the SmartAX MA5600, here this week (see Huawei Unveils Newish IP DSLAM and Huawei Unveils New IP DSLAM). Huawei says the product is already being used in Asia by Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (SingTel) (OTC: SGTJY) and Thai broadband service provider True Corp. and claims to already have a German service provider customer (as yet unidentified) for this high-capacity box. [Ed. note: which kinda goes to disprove the old adage, "Nobody likes a SmartAx."]

Host With the Most
The concept of IP Centrex is gaining traction in Europe, and some of the vendors are rushing to develop and launch their own technology for hosted services so that they don't have to rely on third-party specialists such as BroadSoft Inc., Sylantro Systems Corp., and NetCentrex SA.

During a press briefing, Siemens Communications Group let slip that it is developing its own IP Centrex technology, and plans to launch it in the middle of this year. The vendor's president of fixed networks, Christian Unterberger, noted that Siemens is already working with partners in North America and won a deal at SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC) with Sylantro (see SBC Picks Siemens for VOIP Applications).

"But obviously we would prefer to sell our own systems," added Unterberger.

Siemens isn't alone in developing a home-grown solution. French softswitch vendor Cirpack is also a ways down that road, says the firm's marketing director, Fabien Maisl. Its Centrex platform is in trials with 12 service providers at present, he says, adding that the whole hosted services proposition is a tough nut for many Tier 2 and Tier 3 carriers to crack.

"It's quite hard to sell, manage, and install IP Centrex capabilities. Small carriers need to develop sales and reseller channels, and then figure out how to market and manage the service. It's not easy to access the small and medium-sized business user market," says Maisl.

Cirpack also announced standards-based software enhancements for its softswitch that will make it IMS-compliant and ready for operators looking to provide the same services over fixed and mobile networks (see Cirpack Adds IMS to Softswitches).

Marconi is also having a go at selling a hosted applications platform to service providers that are targeting the SMB market. It is peddling a new product, called Impact UltraKey, that it has developed with Mitel Networks Corp., and which is being put through its paces by U.K. competitive operator Gamma Telecom Ltd. (see Marconi Unveils Hosted Apps Tech).

Where's Alcatel
Why wasn't Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) exhibiting at this event, or even named as a sponsor? That was a question asked by many of the exhibitors here, especially the other access equipment vendors.

Alcatel says it decided to bring five key speakers to the event, including CTO Niel Ransom, instead of exhibiting. "That was our judgment call. We're happy with what we have achieved here and the coverage we have had from our speaking opportunities. We've met our objectives," says a spokesman (see Ransom Quits as Alcatel CTO).

Cisco, Italtel Land Incumbent Deal
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Italian softswitch firm Italtel SpA, both exhibiting here, announced a deal with Belgium national operator Belgacom (Euronext: BELG), which will use Cisco's routers and Italtel's softswitch to deliver IP multimedia services, including VOIP, for residential and business (see Belgacom Picks Italtel, Cisco).

The deal represents another significant scalp for Italtel, which has put itself at the top of the European softswitch league (see Italtel Tops EMEA VOIP Ranking, FastWeb Upgrades With Italtel, Cisco, Cisco, Telecom Italia Partner Up, and Marconi, Italtel Score at C&W).

The two vendors, already long-term partners, recently extended their relationship to cover business VOIP solutions (see Cisco, TI Team on Services). And there are still people in the industry who believe Cisco will increase its 18.4 percent stake in Italtel and take control of the privately held company (see Scuttlebutt: Italtel's Up for Grabs).

Sonus Beefs Up in Europe
Sonus Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SONS) has bolstered its European team to cope with the increasing demand for softswitch and VOIP gateway technology in the region (see Sonus Expands in Europe).

The vendor, which is hoping to get in on BT's 21CN contract action via its partner Marconi, also announced a new customer in Mexico (see Marcatel Picks Sonus for VOIP and HR Unties Sonus/Marconi Tie-Up).

Other news announcements from the show include:

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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