Routers Answer IPTV Call

Light Reading
Supercomm News Analysis
Light Reading
5/23/2005



The clarion call of video is prodding one equipment vendor after another to spin an IPTV story, with Redback Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: RBAK) being the latest entrant.

The company's SmartEdge platform already pulls double duty as an edge router and a broadband remote access server (B-RAS). With enhancements being announced today, Redback is adding Ethernet aggregation, turning SmartEdge into a three-in-one deal (see Redback Smartens Up SmartEdge).

Redback officials say this is the biggest product news they've had since 2003, when SmartEdge got its B-RAS smarts, and the announcement further cements the four-year-old platform's role in the company's comeback attempt (see Redback Sharpens SmartEdge and Can Redback Come Back? ).

Redback already supports IPTV, of course -- that's a primary reason why the company won a recent BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS) deal (see How Redback Won BellSouth). By adding Ethernet aggregation, however, Redback hopes to entice carriers into handing over more of their IPTV infrastructures to SmartEdge.

To that end, Redback is giving SmartEdge 4-, 10-, and 20-port Gigabit Ethernet modules, a decision driven by IPTV. "The demand for high density comes with video," says Marco Wanders, vice president of Redback's Europe, Middle East, and Asia operations.

Other add-ons launched today include a 10-Gbit/s Ethernet module and software features like high-availability multicast, an area particularly important to TV deployments (see Alcatel Eyes Video Market). The enhancements are powered by a new spin of Redback's proprietary network processor, the Broadband IP Engine, which now includes hardware to investigate packets at Layers 4 through 7, opening the possibility of assigning quality of service (QOS) depending on application specifics.

Redback also is adding hierarchical QOS to SmartEdge's bag of tricks. That's important for services such as video, because it "enables per-subscriber QOS and per-service QOS to scale effectively as the number of services per subscriber grows," says Rick Thompson, senior analyst with Heavy Reading.

Wireline carriers in every major region are prodding equipment vendors for IPTV-related enhancements (see Europe Tunes In to IPTV, SBC: IPTV's Day Has Come, and China Shapes Up for IPTV Boom, and the LRTV segments Why the Future Is Now for Triple Play and Carrier Ethernet Services: Five Key Drivers). It's a survival thing. "One of the reasons the service providers are making IPTV such a big hype is that they finally found a place where they can differentiate themselves," says Dror Nahumi, vice president of business development at ECI Telecom Ltd. (Nasdaq/NM: ECIL).

In response, vendors are putting on the IPTV heat in preparation for Supercomm next month. For example, IPTV was the motivation for ECI to acquire Laurel Networks Inc., using that company's router and B-RAS platform as the foundation for future IP offerings (see ECI to Buy Laurel for $88M).

On the product front, Hammerhead Systems Inc. released a bevy of Ethernet products, some motivated by video (see Hammerhead Releases Ethernet Suite). The announcement included a density push, to 240 Gigabit Ethernet feeds in each of Hammerhead's HSX 6000 chassis. Separately, Anda Networks Inc. unveiled a high-density Ethernet aggregation platform today, targeting Ethernet services in general (see Anda Unveils Ethernet Aggregator).

"At the edge of the carrier infrastructure, what is most important is for the service provider to offer as many spigots to the customer as possible," says Houman Modarres, Hammerhead director of product management.

Redback expects carriers to embrace the SmartEdge's multifunctional nature, because they can expoit it to remove strata of the network, combining B-RAS with Ethernet aggregation and IP routing. "Carriers are trying to eliminate layers of the network, not because they want to, but because they have to," Wanders says.

Thompson agrees this could be a selling point for Redback. "The flexibility to either consolidate or separate aggregation from edge routing and next-gen B-RAS will be important," he says.

Still, there's a case to be made for keeping Etherent aggregation separate, an approach Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) supports with its 7450 Ethernet Service Switch and 7750 Service Router (see Alcatel Eyes Video Market).

As Thompson notes in his recent opinion piece about the ECI-Laurel deal, carriers undergoing large IPTV deployments might prefer to buy relatively cheap Ethernet aggregation boxes and have them feed IP routers. That keeps the Ethernet switching cheap and potentially simplifies the router requirements as well, since the routers would handle only aggregated flows of traffic (see ECI's Laurel Hedge) .

Redback officials say the platform is also suitable for doing one task at a time -- it could be used solely as an Ethernet aggregation switch, for example. SmartEdge would seem to be overkill in those cases, considering its other abilities would go unused, but Redback says the value in the box lies in its ability to add functionality such as B-RAS without having to swap out a chassis.

Even if a carrier never plans to add those features, SmartEdge is a worthwhile Ethernet aggregator because of the volume of traffic it handles -- 64,000 virtual LAN (VLAN) sessions per chassis, for instance. "It's the number of VLANs that makes it fundamentally different from what's out there," Wanders says.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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