Optical/IP Networks

Optical Taxonomy

There was a time when telecom equipment was easily defined. The basic plumbing was provided by Sonet kit, and services that ran over it each had their own dedicated devices -- telephone switches for voice, routers for Internet traffic, and so on.

Not any more. The opening of telecom services to competition and the arrival of optical networking technologies has led to a complex and confusing marketplace for equipment -- one that’s continually on the move as the service provider market itself evolves.

On the one hand, the vocabulary is changing as the fundamental architecture of telecom networks shifts from voice to data-centric, and as new developments like DWDM (dense wavelength-division multiplexing) and optical switches rewrite the rule books on how telecom networks should be designed.

On the other hand, the arrival of so many different types of carrier -- wholesalers, retailers, local carriers, long-distance carriers, ISPs, ASPs, and so on -- has led to a much wider range of equipment requirements.

Competition among carriers has also led to a much greater emphasis on cutting costs and offering higher-value services, and that's stimulated more product innovations.

The upshot is an explosion of new equipment categories, some of them genuine and some of them invented by marketing folk in their efforts to set their products apart from rival offerings.

And that’s leading to general confusion. It’s tough to keep track of all the new terms, like service-aware switches and optical packet nodes, and even harder to figure out what the differences are among them. To make matters worse, the names of product categories have a habit of changing as new buzz words come into fashion.

As a result, doing any sort of competitive analysis is tough, and that’s a big problem for everybody -- vendors trying to identify rivals, service providers trying to shortlist suppliers, and investors trying to pick winners.

That’s where this report comes in. It outlines a taxonomy for new-architecture telecom networks, identifying groups of equipment and showing where they sit in our view of things. Our goal is to help folk compare like with like, in the interests of oiling the wheels of competition.

The report starts by explaining our positioning matrix, which is largely based on the work of Sean Welch, vice president for marketing and sales at Tenor Networks Inc..

It then defines different product categories, shows how they fit into this matrix, and examines how issues such as the internal structures of some service providers might steer different types of operator towards different types of product.

The report then steps through each product category, defining it, showing where it fits in our positioning matrix, identifying key trends and giving our assessment of its prospects. Each page also lists vendors offering products and gives links to related Light Reading stories.

Links to the individual categories are given below:

DWDM Systems
(Metro, Enterprise, and Long Haul)

Optical Access

Multiservice Provisioning Platforms (MSPPs)
(Next-generation Sonet, Multiprotocol DWDM, and Optical Ethernet/IP).

Optical Switching

Service-Aware Switches
(Core MPLS Switches, Optical On-Ramps, and Multiservice Edge Switches)

IP Service Switches

Optical Packet Nodes
(Metro and Core)

Multilayer Data Switches
(Layers 2-3 and Layers 4-7)

Next-Generation Routers
(Edge/Aggregation and Core}

It’s important to realize that grouping products into categories like this is far from an exact science. We’ve done our best, but we would welcome input so that we can refine our assessments, add further companies to our lists, and possibly create new categories as the market continues to evolve.

If you want to do this privately, please send comments to [email protected]

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