Neptune Nears Earth

One year after its much-anticipated launch, Nortel's MPE 9500 router still awaits general availability

June 14, 2005

3 Min Read
Neptune Nears Earth

Did Neptune get eclipsed?

A year after launching its Multiservice Provider Edge router, the MPE 9000 (code named Neptune), Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) still hasn't gotten the box shipping for general availability. But the MPE is alive and well and has found its way to customer trials, Nortel officials say.

The MPE 9500, the flagship product of the family, was on display at Supercomm last week, with general availability slated for later this year.

Originally due for late 2004 shipments, the MPE 9500 was Nortel's entry in the multiservice edge space, comprising routers using MPLS to carry multiple types of traffic across an IP network. The idea was to give carriers a means of converting their networks to a single IP core -- as opposed to the multiple network cores in use -- without having to give up their legacy traffic (see Nortel's Neptune Surfaces and Neptune Arrives).

The undeniable demand made multiservice edge routers the chic category of mid-2004. Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN), and Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA) all made acquisitions to get multiservice edge routers, while Nortel, Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), Riverstone Networks Inc. (OTC: RSTN.PK), and startup Hammerhead Systems Inc. developed systems on their own (see Alcatel & TiMetra Seal the Deal, Ciena Nabs WaveSmith, Tellabs Snags Vivace for $135M, and Juniper Hatches the M320).

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) participates here with the GSR 12000 but never produced a separate router for the multiservice edge. And then there's ECI Telecom Ltd. (Nasdaq/NM: ECIL), which did acquire a multiservice edge router vendor -- Laurel Networks Inc. -- but did it this year. So, ECI's purchase can be listed under IPTV hype rather than multiservice edge hype (see ECI to Buy Laurel for $88M).

Amid all that comptition, what happened to Nortel?

"It's just the complexity of a few things happening in the market, and trying to meet the Nortel standards of carrier-grade reliability," says John Beatty, a member of Nortel's technical marketing staff. "We really feel that with this entrance in the market, we cannot sacrifice anything."

According to one analyst, the delay came from hardware. Nortel designed the box to use the APP550 high-end network processor from Agere Systems Inc. (NYSE: AGR.A), but troubles with the processor -- and the fact that it works with only certain types of memory chips -- led to stalls in production, the analyst says.

Could the delay hurt Nortel, especially with rivals shipping already? Not necessarily, Beatty contends, citing the obsession around broadband and IPTV these days (see Sources: RBOCs Are Gawking at GPON, Routers Answer IPTV Call, and IPTV Alters Network Landscape).

"Everybody is figuring out how they can develop triple-play services," he says. "It seems the service providers are trying to figure out a strategy for how they can deploy broadband to the masses, and that's seemed to delay the MSE market."

"In the public's view, it might be a little overshadowed by IMS, VOIP, and triple play, but I don't think that diminishes the need for it," says Kevin Mitchell, an analyst with Infonetics Research Inc. "Most carriers are looking to do some type of MPLS interworking this year."

Another "whatever happened to" candidate is the Lucent CBX 3500. Officials say their box is shipping into production networks, although they haven't yet named any live-network deployments. Lucent also added a Gigabit Ethernet card to the 3500 in time for Supercomm last week. While Lucent officials say the box is still a multiservice edge play, they're also pushing the it for wireless backhaul, a market Lucent already serves with its PacketStar PSAX gateway.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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