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Optical/IP

What's Behind Spirent Spate?

Spirent Communications released ten product announcements at once today (see Spirent Unleashes Product Blitz), in a move that demonstrates what's happening to the market for telecom test gear.

Spirent has enhanced a range of its performance test wares, including the Adtech AX/4000 Broadband Test System, SmartBits network analyzer, and Abacus voice tester. The upgrades and additions are focused on routing, Gigabit Ethernet, and mobility, all areas in which the vendor's made other recent moves (see Spirent Enhances Router Tester, Gig-E Testers Wear Two Hats, Spirent Puts Xilinx in Ethernet Tester and Metro Ethernet Showcased in Demo).

While it's tough to nail the highlights of this ranging release, a main theme appears to be the testing of metro edge and access products and services, especially those that use quality-of-service via Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) or Internet Protocol (IP), or both.

Spirent's added automation features for testing of Layer 3 Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) VPNs, IP Multicast, VLANs, IPv4, and IPv6, for instance. It also has doubled from 16,000 to 32,000 the number of individual network subscribers it can emulate on one AX/4000 chassis using Point-to-Point Protocol over a range of physical connections. PPP is used as a data link in most popular access services, such as DSL, cable modem service, and ATM.

More announcements relate to security, IP telephony, streaming media, and 10-Gbit/s Ethernet.

Why so much at once? There seem to be several reasons. Spirent says its customers are having to address a lot of issues at once, so it's important to demonstrate that Spirent's also developing new test gear on many fronts simultaneously, according to VP of technology strategy Mark Fishburn. It's also practical: Spirent likes to improve several products at once, because tools and software are meant to be interoperable.

Spirent isn't alone in its do-all approach. Chief competitors Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) and Ixia (Nasdaq: XXIA) also use a "one-stop shop" pitch with system makers, carriers, and enterprise customers (see Ixia Gooses Its Testers).

The blitz approach helps these test vendors signal their interest in more than one segment. According to research firm Frost & Sullivan, for instance, Spirent has traditionally shared a particularly strong position in the markets for telecom R&D and product manufacturing, coming second only to Agilent. But Spirent's eager to show it's involved in hands-on installation and maintenance, too, where Frost & Sullivan says near-term market growth is likeliest (see Test Market Goes Metro). The vendor touted its hands-on test expertise last month in an MPLS announcement (see Testers Testing More MPLS ).

Bottom line? It looks as if the telecom test market, never very large, continues to suffer and consolidate -- evidence of ongoing dryness can be seen in Agilent's quarterly earnings yesterday, which showed communications test gear revenue reductions (see Agilent Posts Monster Q3 Loss). Meanwhile, the vendors with strongholds, like Spirent, are looking to build up and outward on them, while smaller fry fight bankruptcy, merge, or seek safe niches (see Acterna Default Points to Testing Times and Digital Lightwave Avoids Eviction).

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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