Things haven't gone quite as planned. Turns out that ATM, not IP, forms the basis of one of the telecommunications industry's hottest "new" equipment categories.
According to "Retro Chic: Multiservice Switches," the latest report from the Optical Oracle, Light Reading's paid subscription research service, carriers not only like ATM, they're expanding its use.
Based on in-depth interviews with AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T), BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS), and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), the report finds that ATM's endurance is due to the fact that it makes money.
One of the dirty little secrets of the networking industry, the report finds, is that IP services lose money. It's data services running over existing ATM and Frame Relay networks that are currently paying the bills for many carriers.
Accordingly, products based on ATM are back in vogue. But these aren't your father's ATM switches. Instead, they're substantially improved models (or entirely new designs) featuring greatly improved ATM scaleability and a migration path to next-generation IP networks and services via Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS).
Multiservice switch vendors say their approach protects carriers' investments in their existing infrastructures, while reducing the risks involved in building out those networks. Service providers get to hang onto the ATM infrastructure they know and love (and which their staffs are trained to support) and make incremental improvements to it. At the same time, MPLS allows them to future-proof their networks and roll out new services.
It's supposedly the best of both worlds. But the service provider interviews in the Optical Oracle toss some cold water on several pleasant assumptions that have become conventional industry wisdom (if anything in this industry can be said to resemble wisdom, except in the loosest possible sense of that term).
For one thing, it's clear that MPLS is stalled, or at least delayed. Despite what vendors say, most carriers are not ready to deploy it. "MPLS is a longer-range objective," says Larry Tiedt director of broadband switching and routing at Verizon. Others echo this thinking: "When MPLS proves itself, we'll see mission-critical customers consider it," says Trent Long, ATM national product manager at AT&T.
If it turns out that enough service providers drag their heels on installing MPLS, either for capex reasons or concerns over MPLS's immaturity, the decision of some vendors to standardize on packet-based architectures could backfire.
Further, it seems carriers will resist buying from startups. Two of the three carriers interviewed (AT&T and BellSouth) said they wouldn't consider buying from startups at all. "The viability of some of these companies is in question," says Chris Noll, research director for science and technology at BellSouth. "When you get down to choosing a product, it may not be the best can opener." AT&T completely rejects the idea of going with a startup; only Verizon seems open.
Clearly, a competitive market's shaping up. And as usual, vendors are playing games with product specifics. One vendor exaggerated its capacity by a factor of 40. Other claims center on the relative merits of cell-, packet-, and bit-based architectures (all outlined in the report). Also in question is provision for IP routing, which isn't even supported by some multiservice switch vendors.
The report, compiled over three months, profiles nearly two dozen products from the following companies:
- Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA),
- Aplion Networks Inc.,
- Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO),
- Équipe Communications Corp.,
- Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU)
- Marconi PLC (Nasdaq/London: MONI)
- Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT),
- Vivace Networks, and
- WaveSmith Networks Inc.
— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com "Retro Chic: Multiservice Switches" is available for $400 as a single report, or included as part of an annual subscription to Optical Oracle. To subscribe to the service or purchase a report, go here.
Want to know more? The big cheeses of the optical networking industry will be discussing this very topic at Opticon 2002, Light Reading’s annual conference, being held in San Jose, California, August 19-22. Check it out at Opticon 2002.
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Editor's Note: Light Reading is not affiliated with Oracle Corporation.