Starent wheels out gateway for mobile providers

Starent Networks Corp. this week announced shipment of an IP gateway introduced late last year that's designed to support voice and data services for wireless devices, including PDAs and cell phones.

When it is fully developed, Starent's ST16 Intelligent Mobile Gateway will be able to deliver services such as voice instant messaging, in which voice traffic is packetized and sent to members of a buddy list as either voice or as text messages.

The routing intelligence of the ST16 will make it possible for service providers to decentralize service support, the company says.

"The question is how they compete with Lucent and Nortel," the most entrenched vendors in service provider networks, says Michael Doherty, a senior consultant with Ovum. Starent's focus on Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) wireless technology will put it in good stead with two major U.S. wireless carriers, Verizon and Sprint, he says.

And the company's concentration on voice support before data puts it in a better position than its upstart competitors Tahoe Networks and WaterCove Networks, Doherty says, because voice seems to be the immediate interest of end users. This concentration is an apparent reversal of Starent's plans as of late last year when it emphasized the data-only capabilities of the ST 16.

At the unveiling late last year, Starent said it would roll out its ST16 in three phases, starting with an IP routing platform and then adding a media gateway. The media gateway will bridge between voice and data networks.

The phased development will culminate with the combination of voice and data software to create new services. The company has reached phase 1 and expects to reach phase 2 in about six months, according to Starent President and CEO Ashraf Dahod.

Starent says it designed ST16 to handle the high call volumes of wireless network service providers. It claims that a single ST16 can handle 500,000 calls on a CDMA network and up to 3 million calls on a General Packet Radio Service or Universal Mobile Telecommunications System network. Competitors such as CommWorks and Cisco top out at tens of thousands per chassis.

As wireless PDAs are used more by corporations, the need will grow for using voice prompts to navigate data applications rather than pressing dial pads or PDA keyboards, Starent says. This will require speech-recognition software in provider networks that can interact with IP data, the company says, and this is part of what the ST16 will offer.

The company says the ST16 will cache streaming video and audio for handheld devices that lack the memory for significant caches.

Founded in 2000, Starent has received $32 million in venture capital from the likes of Matrix, North Bridge and Highland Capital. It has 90 employees in the U.S. and 40 in India.

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