Nortel Scores in Alcatel's Backyard
Speaking at his company's stand at the CeBIT tradeshow, Fabien Maisl, Cirpack marketing director, soon skipped over his company's news to talk about recent next gen-developments in France (see Cirpack Struts its CeBIT Stuff).
Maisl says his company was involved in a recent softswitch tender process at Groupe Cegetel, and that he has the inside track on developments at Neuf Telecom (formerly known as LDCom). He claims that Nortel's softswitch was chosen at both operators, while Alcatel's proposals did not progress beyond the initial submission, despite being the major existing network equipment provider.
Apart from Cirpack, the parties involved are not commenting. Nortel says it can't comment on any contracts or customers that haven't already been publicly announced, while Alcatel referred Light Reading to the operators. A Cegetel spokeswoman says the operator does not reveal the identity of its equipment providers until services are launched commercially, and Neuf Telecom had not responded by press time.
Maisl says Neuf (or "nine" as they say in parts of Canada) inherited its Cirpack softswitches when in 2002 it acquired Kaptech, which had deployed a number of Cirpack softswitches countrywide. Nortel was chosen as the other softswitch provider ahead of Alcatel, he adds. Neuf's VOIP service is part of its triple-play of voice, broadband access, and video (see Neuf Telecom Plans TV Over DSL), a strategy shared by another Cirpack customer in France, Free (see Shares for Free!).
Now Cegetel wants to join the value-added broadband services pack, but is playing catchup with Neuf, Free, and even France Telecom SA (NYSE: FTE) (see France Telecom Intros TV Over DSL). That's why it conducted a lightning-fast RFP process for softswitch technology that could help it launch commercial VOIP services within months, says the Cirpack man.
Maisl says Cegetel issued its RFP in late January this year, and, only weeks later, has already chosen Nortel while suggesting that Alcatel's 5020 softswitch isn't up to the task.
So could Alcatel be under-equipped for the growing VOIP systems market? Graham Beniston, analyst at large for Heavy Reading, has spent a significant part of this year poring over the softswitch market, and he reckons Alcatel has a good product that will be popular among the vendor's large installed base of circuit switch customers.
Where the French vendor falls down, says Beniston, is in getting its convergence message across. "Alcatel's softswitch presentation leaves a lot to be desired. It's difficult to understand. Its approach to the market is similar to that of Siemens. They both want to migrate their existing voice switch customers into the VOIP world. But Siemens has a presentation and strategy for operators that's simple to understand. Alcatel doesn't."
Beniston notes that Alcatel is likely focused on its large Tier 1 customers and may not have put as much resource into winning smaller accounts, though its most recent announcement of a softswitch contract was with a small Russian operator (see Alcatel Tests VOIP Waters in Russia).
Cirpack's Maisl, though, figures Nortel is the only major vendor with a softswitch that can properly meet carriers' needs, as it has developed its technology "in a very smart way." He could, of course, be proved wrong.
Cirpack, meanwhile, is hoping it can make more impact on the market this year. It has fewer than 20 customers, and its 2003 revenues amounted to just €10 million, though Maisl has high hopes for his company's tie-up with IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and claims the privately held startup is working on multimillion-euro projects (see IBM, Cirpack Team on VOIP).
— Ray Le Maistre, International Editor, Boardwatch