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April 3, 2002
Not all edge routing devices are created equal. At least that's what Tahoe Networks is trying to convince the networking industry.
The Silicon Valley startup is one of four new startups that is developing an edge aggregation router specifically designed to link wireless networks to wireline IP backbones.
Today, the company announced that it has entered marketing and technology agreements with Xacct Technologies Inc., an accounting and billing provider and Kabira Technologies, a software company focused on integrating personalized data services to improve deployment and provisioning times (see Tahoe Announces Partnerships). By integrating software from these two compannies, Tahoe says it will be able to help its wireless carrier customers bill and better manage IP data services like wireless Internet access and instant messaging.
The company, launched in January of 2001, was founded by Anthony Alles and Arthur Lin, two former Cisco execs who also founded Shasta Networks, an IP service switch company that was bought by Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) in 1999. Shasta was developed to provide network-based IP services like VPNs and firewalls to wireline networks. Alan Cohen, vice president of marketing for Tahoe Networks, says the Tahoe founders took the expertise they developed in their years at Cisco and Shasta to create an edge router focused on the problems of the wireless market.
Edge routing players have also seen the need for a new class of product, but most have taken a different approach. Instead of building new platforms, companies like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), and Unisphere Networks Inc. are adding enhancements to their current platforms. Juniper has teamed up with Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERICY), and the two have recently announced a jointly developed product called the J20, a wireless edge router that is based on Juniper's M20 20-Gbit/s routing platform (see Juniper Unveils 'Wireless Router'). And Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) purchased Amber Networks last year for $432M (see Nokia Nabs Amber for $421M).
So what are the requirements for a router connected to a wireless network? Cohen says that ASIC-based high-speed packet forwarding is not necessary for wireless routers, where current users connect at data rates of 56 Kbit/s or below. What such routers do need is much more software-processing power to do things like manage highly volatile user activity, provide rich IP services like IPsec VPNs, network-address translation, and unique accounting information, and integrate into operations systems of both wireless providers and IP data providers.
"Juniper and Cisco have built routers to forward packets fast," he says. "And that isn't what's needed in the wireless edge. The requirements are different." Cohen says it is important for a wireless aggregation router to be able to handle thousands and tens of thousands of simultaneous sessions because of the nature of wireless connections. These routers must also be able to handle a rich suite of IP services like virtual private networks (VPNs) based on IPsec, because as these networks handle tens of thousands of users, it will be necessary to provide security to its customers. And finally, integration into the wireless operational systems will be crucial as service providers try to track and manage usage on their networks.
Kevin Dillon, director of product marketing for Juniper, agrees that wireless applications require different features. But he says that it is still important to be able to handle large amounts of traffic.
"Individual wireless subscribers may be using lower rates to connect to the network," he says. "However, that device is supporting large numbers of those subscribers and it's important for them to have the capacity to aggregate that traffic."
He also says that through Juniper's joint development with Ericsson, the company has been able to focus on offering services that wireless providers find important, such as IPsec VPN.
Tahoe isn't the only company trying to build a router specifically for the wireless market. There are currently at least three others focusing on this area: Cambia Networks, Megisto Systems, and WaterCove Networks. WaterCove has raised $50 million and Megisto $60 million. Tahoe has secured $50 million from top VCs like Redpoint Ventures and Accel Partners. Cambia is the only one that seems to be struggling. It has only announced an $11 million round, which closed January of 2001.
Analysts following the space say that wireless router startups are definitely companies to watch.
"I think these companies may be on to something," says Hilary Mine, executive vice president of Probe Research Inc.. "There are different requirements for wireless and they're trying to address them."
- Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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