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Optical/IP

Stoke Cashes In, Comes Out

After spending two years in stealth mode, Stoke Inc. Monday raised the curtain on its flagship "multi-access gateway" product and announced $20 million in new funding. (See Stoke Gets $20M, Launches Box.)

The cash injection is led by new investor Duff Ackerman & Goodrich LLC (DAG) , with support from existing investors Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital .

Stoke took $10 million in June 2004 and $20 million in September 2005. The latest round brings its total backing to $50 million. (See Stoke Gets Stoked With $20M.)

The vendor's Stoke Session Exchange (SSX) product is an access device that manages the voice, multimedia, and data sessions of users who are roaming between wireline and wireless networks.

A 2006 Unstrung Insider report, Mobile Network Security: The Threat of Convergence & IMS, describes the SSX like this: "It is based on an ATCA platform with a custom 1.2-Tbit/s backplane and custom-built high-performance linecards. Currently offered in a 5-slot chassis, the product delivers 16 Gbit/s of IPSec encrypted throughput capable of 256K concurrent IPSec tunnels."

Stoke says the SSX constantly dictates the fastest, most secure, and most cost effective way for users' devices to connect to the appropriate network. (See Stoke Says It's in Session.)

"All the new games and phones, like the Apple iPhone, [will] be WiFi enabled," says Stoke marketing VP Keith Higgins. "You need subscriber management for all those WiFi devices... You need to do stateful session management of thousands of subscriber sessions." (See Policy Control Heats Up.)

Heavy Reading analyst Rick Thompson says Stoke's niche is important and growing. "Understanding exactly how subscriber management will work in a fixed/mobile convergence environment is still up in the air, but nonetheless it's an important area to watch," Thompson says. "I would look for traditional wireline subscriber management vendors to roll out similar solutions as integrated components of existing systems or as new products."

Stoke believes its main competition currently comes from Starent Networks Corp. (Nasdaq: STAR), but expects Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) to be a major threat in the future. "This is an IP problem, so Cisco is often involved with three or four devices," says Stoke's Higgins.

He also expects competition from vendors selling "session-oriented legacy platforms in fixed networks that do DSL subscriber management."

But Higgins believes Stoke will have an edge over such legacy platforms because they weren't originally designed to support many different wired and wireless devices moving among various network types. He says many potential competitors will need to add new blades as new devices and networks emerge.

The company also claims deployment experience. Higgins says the company has been working closely for the past 18 months with an unidentified Japanese carrier to put the finishing touches on its product. There, Stoke's SSX is being used as a video session management device. Stoke says it first built its box to that carrier's specifications but has spent the past year or so broadening the capabilities of the product to suit other carriers' needs.

But Stoke remains vague about the total number of carriers with which it's already engaged. Higgins says the company is aiming to "find the top 10 operators that are most aggressively moving toward convergence to enable multimedia," and make them customers. The new funding, he says, will be used to boost marketing to those carriers and to hone the SSX to fit their requirements.

Stoke is based in Santa Clara, Calif., and employs about 65 people, of which about 80 percent are engineers, says Higgins. The company apparently hit some lean times while getting its product ready for market. When Light Reading checked in with Stoke last April, it had 85 people on the payroll.

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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