Marconi spells out its MPLS plan

In another attempt to show that it has a plan in mind for carrier Multi-protocol Label Switching networks, Marconi Corp. PLC has detailed how its gear can fit into service provider networks as they migrate from ATM core networks to IP-based backbones.

Marconi's latest outline, called IP/MPLS Infrastructure Solutions, ties together its hardware and software offerings as a collection of products that providers can deploy independently or as IP migration add-ons to existing networks. This plan is a follow-on to an MPLS rollout strategy articulated two months ago.

"What they're trying to get at is important," says Fintan O'Halloran, an analyst with Current Analysis Inc. But the network architecture they describe may be just more of what service providers are already hearing from competing vendors Alcatel SA, Lucent Technologies Inc. and Nortel Networks Corp.

Beyond getting word out about new features on individual switches, Marconi is now trying to piece its MPLS work together in a coherent fashion.

The company describes how its gear fits into three areas of carrier networks: the multiservice core, the interface between the packet core and traditional service-delivery access networks, and core MPLS networks that support frame relay, ATM and circuit-emulation services. One key is that Marconi software and hardware are shared by all its switch/router platforms.

At the core, Marconi's ASX 4000 supports MPLS switching as well as packet over SONET ports. Smaller Marconi ASX switches can support MPLS switching with a software upgrade, making them suitable for use in multiservice core networks.

These capabilities will play into regional networks run by local carriers looking to gain permission to sell long-distance data services, says Jarrod Sikkes, Marconi's director of strategic planning. Such carriers include regional Bell operating companies, service providers that are already strong Nortel and Lucent customers.

Marconi's biggest switch, the BXR-48000, could perform similar functions in the backbone core networks, the company says. The BXR-48000 will be generally available later this year.

Linking existing ATM-based local networks to an MPLS core can be accomplished with the same devices using software capabilities that make them label edge routers, which assign MPLS labels to customer traffic coming in from ATM, frame relay and DSL devices.

Marconi gear can also support multiple services, such as frame relay and ATM, using ATM as the control plane for the backbone while simultaneously supporting MPLS and Layer 3 routing.

Even with this detailing of how its gear offers flexibility carriers might want, Marconi might be a tough sell, O'Halloran says.

"Marconi, financially, is having troubles and that's going to be a concern to carriers," he says.

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