Optical/IP Networks

RPR Finds Its Niche

CHICAGO – Supercomm 2004 – Resilient Packet Ring Technology transport is showing its own resiliency, as the technology appears to be gaining popularity thanks in part to the standard being ratified.

Vendors are targeting RPR because, during the past year, the technology has become ensconced in carriers' long-term plans. A survey by Infonetics Research Inc. of major carriers showed 28 percent are already using RPR-like functionality, and 63 percent expect to be using RPR after 2005.

"Compared to a year before, those numbers were more like 15 percent and 25 percent. People now think it's real," says Michael Howard, principal analyst with Infonetics.

RPR puts packet traffic onto Sonet or Ethernet rings more efficiently, putting more of the ring's theoretical bandwidth to use (see Resilient Packet Ring Technology). While entire rings can be built using RPR, the concept lends itself to line-by-line migration, with RPR cards being added to transport boxes as needed: That's how Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) have been deploying their pre-standard versions of the technology, Howard says.

That piecemeal deployment appears to be keeping RPR revenues relatively small in the short term, despite the buzz. Officials at Luminous Networks Inc. note that RPR is included in requests for proposal (RFPs) from six carriers, Colt Telecom Group plc (Nasdaq: COLT; London: CTM.L), France Telecom SA (NYSE: FTE), and WilTel Communications Group Inc. (Nasdaq: WTEL) among them. Assuming all those projects come to fruition, Luminous estimates the total take from the RPR portion to be $30 million.

Moreover, some of the customer interest, while earnest, remains vague. "A lot of the guys are issuing RFIs [requests for information] just to learn about it," says Mannix O'Connor, vice president of marketing at Corrigent Systems Inc.

Still, RPR seems to have caught on with carriers, and that's led to developments from most vendors in the optical space. Early this month, Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) announced its 1662 Packet Ring Switch, which uses RPR to deliver Ethernet services. Zhone Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: ZHNE) joined the market last week, adding a home-grown RPR blade to its Multi-Access Line Concentrator (MALC) equipment.

Beyond that, Marconi Corp. plc (Nasdaq: MRCIY; London: MONI) and Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE) have RPR plans in the works, Howard says. (See Alcatel Unveils Metro Ethernet Products and Zhone Announces RPR Support.)

Naturally, the startups that have championed RPR for the past few years had announcements of their own at Supercomm. Corrigent was demonstrating new channelized interfaces and Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) capabilities for its RPR boxes. And Luminous released a new management system and announced customers, including the city of Beverly Hills (see Corrigent Adds MPLS and Luminous Touts Customers, Products).

To add to the RPR buzz, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) standard for the technology was ratified this week, as expected (see 802.17 Standard Completed). For RPR, ratification marks the end of some controversy which, while settled more than a year ago, is still fun to revisit. The task force for a time had split into two camps: one led by Cisco, which had begun shipping a technology similar to RPR, and the other by a coalition that included Nortel, which had also developed an RPR-like technology (see RPR Divided and RPR: Deadlock Ahead?).

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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