WaveSmith Too Good to Be True?

Startup WaveSmith Networks Inc. hopes to give heavyweight telecom equipment manufacturers something to chew on next Monday when it announces details of its first products: the DN4100 and DN2100.

The boxes aim to help incumbent carriers address a big problem: how to deal with a capacity crisis in their existing ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) networks without buying gear that might become obsolete when -- and if -- MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) becomes a viable alternative.

WaveSmith’s solution looks impressive on paper. Its boxes pack a huge amount of switching capacity into a tiny space and give carriers a lot of flexibility in deciding when and where to shift services onto MPLS infrastructure.

WaveSmith also claims that its software will avoid a recurrence of recent outages on ATM backbones (see In Qwest Outage, ATM Takes Some Heat) and will tie in seamlessly with existing signaling and management systems.

It all sounds too good to be true, according to Geoff Bennett, director of technology at Marconi Communications PLC (Nasdaq/London: MONI), an established manufacturer of this type of gear. Bennett finds it hard to believe that a small startup like Wavesmith could have done so much in so little time with limited resources .

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Three carriers -- among them Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Genuity Inc. (Nasdaq: GENU) -- will start testing WaveSmith’s gear in their labs at the end of May, according to Chad Dunn, WaveSmith’s director of product management. First customer shipments are scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year.

Capacity Crisis

One thing's for sure. Regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs) and other incumbent carriers are in desperate need of equipment like WaveSmith's.

Right now, most of them rely on ATM networks to carry money-spinning services such as leased lines, frame relay, and telephony. A significant proportion of them are using Cascade’s switch, the CBX500 from Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), to handle this traffic (see WaveSmith Targets Cascade Switch).

The CBX500 is beginning to show its age. A particular problem is that it can’t support sufficient virtual circuits to keep pace with the rollout of DSL (digital subscriber line) connections, which typically require a couple of ATM virtual circuits apiece. As a result, carriers need to upgrade their switches and are looking for something that’ll work in an ATM or MPLS environment so they can shift from one to the other at their own pace.

Enter WaveSmith. It’s developed a couple of chassis and a set of modules that address these requirements. The DN4100 accommodates five modules and is 7 inches high, while the DN2100 accommodates three modules and is 3.5 inches high. Each has a switching capacity of 30 Gbit/s.

Three of WaveSmith’s modules are used for handling different types of traffic -- ATM, frame relay, and IP/MPLS. Each one can be equipped with a single OC48c (2.5 Gbit/s) port, four OC12 (622 Mbit/s) ports, 16 OC3 (155 Mbit/s) ports, or 32 DS3/E3 (45/34 Mbit/s) ports. As the chassis backplane is protocol agnostic, carriers can shift from ATM to IP/MPLS by simply swapping modules.

A fourth module enables multiple chassis to be linked together using optics so that they operate as one large switch. Eventually, WaveSmith expects to offer aggregate switching capacities of up to 320 Gbit/s. Right now, however, only five chassis can be linked together. “The sweet spot is 40 to 150 Gbit/s,” says Dunn.

High-speed serial connections are used, so the chassis can be separated by distances of up to 50 feet. In this way, they can be tucked into small spaces in different racks that might otherwise be wasted.

WaveSmith’s boxes pack a big punch. A fully populated DN4100 is one fifth the size of Lucent’s CBX500, uses one tenth the power, and has six times the switching capacity, according to Dunn.

A single module can handle 128,000 virtual connections, and a complete assembly can handle 1.92 million. Equally important, each module can set up and tear down 5,000 calls a second. This ensures rapid rerouting of traffic around failures, Dunn adds.

Marconi says it can match this performance, but only because it’s spent many man-decades developing and refining its own ATM software stack. Startups like WaveSmith would almost certainly buy an off-the-shelf ATM stack rather than develop their own -- and such stacks couldn’t deliver anything like these figures, according to Bennett.

WaveSmith’s other claim to fame is that it’s bringing telephony-grade reliability to data networks by adopting a “microkernel” software architecture. In essence, processes don’t share memory, which reduces the risk of problems propagating and causing widespread outages.

The architecture also enables carriers to upgrade software without interrupting traffic and to revert to older software versions if they encounter problems. The inability to do this with Lucent’s software led to the recent ATM outages experienced by AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T) and Qwest Communications International Corp. (NYSE: Q), according to WaveSmith. Lucent was unable to field anybody to comment on this.

WaveSmith says it's got yet another ace up its sleeve: a way of supporting multiple call control methods simultaneously. This "Open Call Model” hasn't been available in data switching gear before, according to Dunn. It enables engineers dealing with different services, such as voice and frame relay, to set up connections using the processes they're familiar with.

The same architecture also allows carriers to control the DN4100 and DN2100 using existing operational system support (OSS) tools. The company plans to secure Osmine compliance certification next year, once it’s got purchase commitments from carriers (see Telcordia's Osmine Gold Mine).

The price of an entry-level WaveSmith switch is $28,000.

— Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading
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wildcard 12/4/2012 | 8:23:54 PM
re: WaveSmith Too Good to Be True? I agree, WaveSmith should abide by the same forthright and honest business practices that have been hallmarks of the Lucent tradition. ;-)


Or if that doesn't work, there is always the high road cisco often takes with its strong arm tactics. But point well taken, honesty indeed, there is money involved here people.

Try the Prawns...

gladysnight 12/4/2012 | 8:23:54 PM
re: WaveSmith Too Good to Be True? "Oz is the next step up the line if it ever sees the light of day."

Not a question really of whether it sees the light of day - it almost certainly will.

The real question is will anyone buy it?

Will it be worth buying?

One would hope so, but right now you'd be hard pressed to find many people prepared to bet on it.
gladysnight 12/4/2012 | 8:23:54 PM
re: WaveSmith Too Good to Be True? "People decades! Goodness me, what will you Americans think of next...vendor financing perhaps :-)"

You raise a good point. One thing I've often wondered is how much clout the vendors have over their vendor-financed companies.

Effectively they have often become major stockholders in the business ventures they've financed, but they (SEEM TO) have had no representation at board level, which any prudent large scale investor would want, in order to protect their investment.

Given the "no taxation without representation" history of the US, this seems ironic at least, and possibly even insane.

Anybody have any thoughts or information on this angle?

Much Obliged
wildcard 12/4/2012 | 8:23:53 PM
re: WaveSmith Too Good to Be True?

Mad shrimp disease?
right_leading 12/4/2012 | 8:23:52 PM
re: WaveSmith Too Good to Be True? >Author: kupfi
>However, just because old man LU has problems
>does not mean that all the telcos will flock to

Where then? Telica?
Dredgie 12/4/2012 | 8:23:51 PM
re: WaveSmith Too Good to Be True? or +ëquipe?
silent mariner 12/4/2012 | 8:23:35 PM
re: WaveSmith Too Good to Be True? I think that it will a long road to the first sale to a carrier for this box. Why would a carrier buy a start-up box to fit into critical, revenue generating networks, especially one designed essentially by the same crew that built the LU boxes mentioned in the article. Since Wavesmith is in need of funding soon, beating the hype drum can't hurt at this point.

Does anyone have an opinion on whether LU is just waiting for this thing to see the light of day before pursuing some legal action against those that left LU to build it? Just a thought....
fk 12/4/2012 | 8:23:34 PM
re: WaveSmith Too Good to Be True? I don't think you can argue both sides of the argument (at least not successfully.) On the one hand you are attacking the product because it is produced by a start-up, and presumably therefore must not be as good because the start-up doesn't have the expertise to make it comparable in quality to that of the existing vendors. On the other hand, you note that many of the people on the team were responsible for designing and implementing the very product that they seek to replace. So by this measure, it would seem that they have sufficient expertise. I also get the impression that because they (some of them) designed the existing standard box, which is now getting long in the tooth and is showing its limitations, they are somehow limited by this history in your opinion. Who among us has grown with each product we've designed? Who wouldn't change some things about any design they've ever made? It's called learning and growing, and if your mind is open, is a lifelong process.

I haven't the slightest idea whether they will make it or not, but this habit of groundlessly criticizing every single start-up (and every large company as well) is both meanspirited and more reflective of the criticizers than the criticizees.
silent mariner 12/4/2012 | 8:23:33 PM
re: WaveSmith Too Good to Be True? My point is that the carriers won't commit to large networks from start-ups at this point.
chubbabubba 12/4/2012 | 8:23:33 PM
re: WaveSmith Too Good to Be True? I would argue that many of the WaveSmith folks have NOT built this product before - SOME of the engineers might have, but many are from enterprise/vpn/edge plays, like New Oak.

More importantly, look at the management team - heavily weighted with enterprise, edge/access experience - not what it takes to succeed in the distributed multiservice "carrier class" space. This ain't no VPN dialup box.
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