Siemens Shifts Softswitch Strategy
Siemens's latest press release on the subject is unfathomable. [Ed. note: I dunno. Als erstes Mitglied der Surpass-Familie verfügt Surpass hiE 9200 über alle Leistungsmerkmale der TDM-Vermittlungstechnik EWSD als auch über alle IP-basierten Dienste... Seems pretty clear to me.] But, in a nutshell, the company has come out with a hardware and software upgrade of its EWSD switch that enables its users to offer the same services over packet-based infrastructures as well as over their existing TDM networks.
The goal is to allow EWSD customers to start using voice over IP (VOIP) selectively -- for instance, to extend coverage -- while continuing to use TDM elsewhere. Potentially, this is a big deal because Siemens has a huge installed base of EWSD equipment, equivalent to 270 million lines, according to the company.
"To a large extent this is an installed base play," says Christof Wahl, president of Siemens ICN Carrier Networks. However there are instances where VOIP operators might want to use the hiE9200 to interconnect with existing TDM networks, he adds.
The hiE9200 comprises new blades for the EWSD plus a new version of EWSD software. This incorporates software from the hiQ9200, Siemen's homegrown softswitch, which is being discontinued. Carriers will be able to configure their hiE9200s to steer some calls over packet-based infrastructure and other calls over their existing TDM networks. The service feature sets will be identical.
Using packet rather than TDM infrastructure will deliver big savings in operating expenditure, according to Wahl. "Carriers will be able to get rid of whole planning departments dealing with traffic engineering," he says. They'll also be able to centralize a lot of operations, administration, and maintenance functions, realizing further savings in terms of staff and space requirements. As the hiE9200 operates in both environments, carriers can make the transition to packet at whatever pace suits them.
Siemens won't be marketing the hiE9200 in North America, because it doesn't support the service features used there. So the North American market will instead see the hiQ8000 originally developed by Unisphere (and before that, Castle Networks; see Unisphere Trips, Stumbles and Siemens in Softswitch Stew).
The hiQ8000 doesn't boast all the features of the hiE9200 and addresses a different market, one where the delivery of new offerings such as hosted voice services is more important.
Siemens says the hiE9200 is already in trials with carriers, one of which is Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM). The product will be rolled out in stages, starting in September, according to Wahl.
Other vendors claim to have similar developments underway -- that is, upgrades for their legacy telephone switches so they can work in TDM and packet networks, as well as standalone softswitches.
Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) says it announced a "hybrid switch" upgrade for its Communications Server 2000 telephone switch at least six months ago and now has it working in an undisclosed number of customer networks. It claims to have the widest set of service features, addressing both the North American market and the rest of the world.
"There's a difference between trials and line deployments," notes Brian Day, Nortel's head of product marketing for wireline voice in EMEA. Day also points out that the devil is in the details with voice switches. For instance, when vendors roll out new developments they often stop supporting older features -- something that can end up landing carriers with unexpected extra bills for upgrading hardware.
Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) says it has some developments in trials that will enable carriers to upgrade their existing Alcatel 1000 telephone switches for dual use in packet and TDM environments. These developments haven't been announced yet but are likely to tap into a huge market. Alcatel has an installed based of 317 million telephone lines, serving 18 percent of the world's population, according to the company.
"The horsepower of [softswitch] technology is really happening on the broadband side anyhow," says Jean-Pierre Lartigue, vice president of business solutions for Alcatel's fixed network activities. In other words, the interesting developments in this field are really occuring in broadband, where carriers are looking to use softswitches to support multimedia services, not just voice. Alcatel already has a multimedia call controller that addresses this market, says Lartigue.
— Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading