A telecommunications industry looking for the light at the end of the tunnel is converging here this week at the annual Supercomm conference and trade show.
Hard times and consolidation in the telecommunications industry since late 2000 have not stopped the arrival of new technology, although much of it may sit on the shelf for a while as conservative strategies rule the day, according to analysts. Among the advances on display at Supercomm will be next-generation equipment for backbone, metropolitan and access networks, as well as new software for deploying and managing new services.
A need for new revenue sources and lower costs dominates the industry in the wake of the explosion of new carriers and backbone network capacity in the late 1990s, analysts and carriers say. Vendors are holding out the promise of new, lucrative services such as high-quality voice and video over IP data networks, and over high-speed wireless systems, but those remain unproven as revenue generators.
As a result, technology is fading as the driver of industry trends, according to Allan Tomulillo, an industry analyst at Probe Research Inc., in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey. The former Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs), left dominating the carrier business in the wake of competitors' failures, are calling the shots.
"In the boom days, people were very concerned with what the vendors defined as the way technology goes," he said. "The big Bell companies, if they do remain supreme, are going to shift the balance of power back in their direction."
For enterprises, the wide variety of emerging network options soon will be narrowed down, Tomulillo added.
"If enterprises wait before coming back into the market, a lot of decisions will be made for them by the big telcos," he said.
Looking toward the day when either carriers or corporations start to make those choices, many vendors will be using Supercomm as a showcase.
In the access end of the network, optical access equipment maker Iamba Networks Inc., in Alpharetta, Georgia, will announce Monday that its iAxelent platform is available for customer trials. The startup also will show off two products based on that platform: the XL1000 modular concentrator, which can simultaneously support a mix of packet, frame, cell and circuit interfaces and services, and the XL200 optical network terminator, with user network interfaces to connect subscribers to a core network.
Appian Communications Inc., in Acton, Massachusetts, will use the show as a stage for its OSAP (Optical Services Activation Platform) 1600, an access device for small multi-tenant buildings, and its Virtual Ethernet Rings technology for linking multiple corporate sites via Ethernet over a carrier's existing network. Both were announced last week. Optical equipment vendor Sycamore Networks Inc., in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, also will unveil advanced Ethernet capabilities for its products.
New tools for running networks and managing services also will be on show at Supercomm. System Management Arts Inc. (SMARTS), in White Plains, New York, will introduce and demonstrate a new version of its InCharge software suite for ensuring high-quality service over a multivendor WAN (wide area network). The InCharge ATM/Frame Relay Availability Manager extends InCharge's management capabilities to ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) and Frame Relay networks. SMARTS will also introduce and show off InCharge Service Assurance Manager 5.0, an update to its flagship product, which offers more views of network performance information.
Also at Supercomm, Internet domain registry and security company VeriSign Inc., in Mountain View, California, will unveil its plans for the telecommunications industry following its acquisition of wireless billing and customer service vendor H.O. Systems Inc. and telecommunications services vendor Illuminet Inc. The acquisitions will help VeriSign offer new services, such as registration services for Enum, a standard recently approved by the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) that should let users reach a Web site or other online resources using a phone number.
Supercomm also will be a showcase for a new generation of equipment for long-haul optical networks, according to Michael Howard, principal analyst at Infonetics Research Inc., in San Jose, California. The new devices integrate several functions that have required separate boxes, and also make it easier for carriers to set up services and modify their networks, he said. Among the vendors in this class is Innovance Networks, in Piscataway, New Jersey, which will show off its AgileCore suite of optical network products that began shipping late last month. Other next-generation systems on show in Atlanta will include products from Ceyba Inc., in Ottawa, and Altamar Networks, a subsidiary of Ditech Communications Corp., in Mountain View, California. The Ceyba C420 Dynamic Optical Networking System offers 40G bps (bit-per-second) long-reach (1,500 kilometers or 932 miles) and 10G bps ultra-long-reach (4,000 km) capability along with software to simplify and automate network operations. Altamar says its Titanium optical transport and switching platform can scale up to thousands of 10G bps interfaces.
The gear these vendors are rolling out will save carriers the cost of sending engineers to make changes in networks, Howard said.
"When changes are made or new circuits are added to networks, it requires (technicians) to visit a whole string of equipment across the route .... that expense is going away with this new generation of optical gear," he said. "You tell it what you want, it figures out what it needs to do and does it."
Although the long-haul networks already in place are underutilized now, by the end of next year carriers will turn to these kinds of products to reduce their capital and operational expenses, Howard said.
"Backbone bandwidth has become a commodity, and in order for carriers to be competitive, they have to get the cost of their backbones low," he said.
Supercomm runs Sunday through Thursday at the Georgia World Congress Center.