Wavesmith: Giant Killer?
That continues to be the speculation following last week’s announcement of the contract, which was followed by WaveSmith’s first Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) product announcement yesterday (see WaveSmith Wins at SBC and WaveSmith Adds MPLS to DN).
"In any contract win, [a carrier is] cutting somebody out and putting somebody in," says Sam Greenholtz, senior analyst at Communications Industry Researchers Inc. He says sources close to SBC told him WaveSmith's gear was picked because Lucent's didn't have some features SBC was looking for -- though his sources said the win is relatively small, about $50 million over a three-year period. Bottom line? The deal may be small, but it’s a nudge in the ribs for bigger players.
Neither SBC nor WaveSmith would comment on these revelations, and both have refused to reveal either the amount of the deal or the list of vendors evaluated. An SBC spokeswoman said yesterday, though, that Lucent continues to be the preferred provider of mid- and high-end Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) switches at SBC, and that it has a significant installed base there. The WaveSmith switch will be used in rural areas with small central offices having six to eight remote terminal connections.
Lucent echoes this. In a statement emailed to Light Reading, a spokesman wrote last week that WaveSmith's win is "a niche play for the rural, low-density aggregation points. Lucent remains the incumbent multiservice switching vendor with SBC... Lucent also continues to develop new features and capabilities for the CBX 500 and GX 5500 Multiservice WAN Switches, including adding standards-based MPLS features. SBC is actively engaged with Lucent on driving added features and functionality on these product lines."
But even if WaveSmith’s present job at SBC is small, that doesn’t mean it will stay that way, according to some observers.
"DSL aggregation is probably not a crucial application... What's potentially huge is WaveSmith's chance to be a player in the [RBOC] environment, where planners are looking at nationwide Frame Relay/ATM infrastructure for the enterprise market," says Tom Nolle, president of network consultancy CIMI Corp.
In Nolle’s view, as SBC and other RBOCs roll out nationwide services, particularly Frame Relay ones, they’ll look to use a different kind of gear than they used in the past. The Lucent switches, like those of other ATM incumbents, were designed to provide sophisticated ATM traffic-management features to a relatively small number of customers with big-pipe needs. In contrast, "next gen" boxes like WaveSmith's dispense with high-end ATM functionality but offer the ability to handle lots of small virtual circuits per interface.
"It boils down to smaller, faster, cheaper," says Erin Dunne, director of research services at Vertical Systems Group. Getting into SBC for a relatively small DSL application means WaveSmith's on the "short short list" when it looks to roll out nationwide services, ones in which the carrier will need to turn up multiple customer connections (for Frame Relay, DSL, and other services) from a central office quickly and easily.
WaveSmith says its MPLS announcement this week has nothing to do with the SBC contract win announced last week. But the addition of MPLS clearly enhances the vendor's ability to handle lots of virtual circuits, which was key to winning at SBC.
"The problem is that every DSL customer is a little circuit. Lots of little circuits fill up virtual paths quickly. MPLS fixes this because it has variable length label size... Not as much traffic engineering is needed,” said Brian Silver, WaveSmith's director of products and technology, in an interview last week.
WaveSmith has long promised to add MPLS to its gear, but Monday's announcement is the first concrete action it's taken. The vendor has unveiled a module for its existing Distributed Node platforms that supports MPLS at rates to OC48 (2.5 Gbit/s). The vendor also unveiled a new MPLS-equipped DN 8100 switch, with a fabric capacity of 40 Gbit/s in and out of the box -- four times the capacity of its existing DN 7100 switch.
The new gear won't be in beta test until next quarter, and it's not set to ship until the fourth quarter of this year.
Meanwhile, the progress of the SBC rollout will be interesting to watch. Will WaveSmith extend its reach? Will Lucent fight back? Time will tell. But it can't be denied that SBC's choice has set loose a flood of questions about the value of different approaches -- and of looking to startup solutions.
— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading