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Optical/IP

Alcatel Unveils 'Universal' Metro Switch

MADRID -- Broadband World Forum -- Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) unveiled its new optical metro switch here today, claiming the box represents a breakthrough in multiservice switching based on a new "universal switch" fabric.

The 1850 TSS (Transport Service Switch) pulls together Layer 1 and Layer 2 Ethernet, TDM, and WDM switching capabilities on a single platform, and allows carriers to deploy the platform for any combination of traffic types: It can be deployed as a 100 percent circuit switch, a 100 percent packet switch, or become a multiservice provisioning platform (MSPP) by mixing and matching TDM and packet processing cards with WDM support, says the vendor's product marketing executive, David Waterhouse.

Alcatel had tried to keep the launch completely under wraps, but Light Reading discovered the vendor's plans several weeks ago after the switch was put through a Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) certification process. (See Alcatel, Others Prep for Spanish Splash.)

Waterhouse says the switch has been developed to counter the current limitations of existing MSPPs, which lack the packet scaleability carriers now need, and the limitations of Ethernet-based networks that lack adequate TDM and WDM support or the OA&M (operations, administration, and maintenance) capabilities carriers need. (See Ethernet Growing Pains .)

This capability, he says, meets the specific demands of carriers that know they will need flexible switching capabilities in their metro networks as they migrate towards converged fixed/mobile network architectures and move from legacy to next-generation services, and as triple play and carrier Ethernet traffic volumes ramp up.

The product, which will become commercially available later this quarter, comes in two chassis sizes – 320 Gbit/s, with 32 traffic card slots, and 40 Gbit/s, with 6 card slots. Both products, currently only available for the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) market, are being trialed by (NYSE: TI), says the vendor.

Scott Clavenna, chief analyst at Heavy Reading, reckons this is a "pretty big deal, though not necessarily because of the universal switching technology," the fine details of which Alcatel is keeping very close to its chest, he says.

"Other vendors have hybrid switch fabrics too, but Alcatel's positioning here is spot on. The box is somewhat similar to the Nortel OME 6500, though with the advantage of the new switch fabric, more scaleability, and a real focus on carrier transition from SDH to Ethernet," says Clavenna.

He notes that as triple-play and Ethernet traffic grows, so existing SDH/Sonet networks come under increasing strain, with "lots of TDM-based crossconnecting required as you backhaul through the access and metro networks, the deployment of expensive TDM interfaces on routers, limited scaleability per node, and so on."

As a result, carriers want to migrate to Ethernet-based networks to tackle these issues, but they still need to support their TDM customers, and they have concerns around OA&M issues, says Clavenna, so they can't just shift to an all-Ethernet infrastructure overnight.

Current MSPPs can deliver some of these capabilities, but have notable limitations, such as multiple switch fabrics and limited Ethernet trunking.

Alcatel stresses that the 1850 TSS is built around a customized multiservice ASIC, and is not based on an overlay of TDM and packet processors. Waterhouse adds that there's clear and vocal demand from carriers such as (Nasdaq: LVLT) and (OTC: XOXO) for such a product. (See Level 3, XO Rethink MSPPs.)

He insists that no other company can deliver the same capabilities at present, saying "they'd need to pair an Ethernet switch with an MSPP." But he declines to comment on whether Alcatel believes any other vendor is set to deliver a similar product to the carrier market, adding only that "we're sure to see copycat products."

Waterhouse says Alcatel plans to launch other chassis sizes and a version for the North American market in 2006.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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