There's a hot new product category emerging in the industry, but no one seems to know exactly what it is.
Some call it next-generation SONET, while others call it the Multi-Service Provisioning Platform (MSPP). And because neither term has been clearly defined, vendors are making up their own definitions and claiming to be market leaders.
MSPPs combine transport, switching and routing platforms into an integrated system with which service providers can offer new bundled services flexibly and at lower cost. By incorporating many service interfaces in one box, MSPPs are said to eliminate the need for extra devices to deliver intelligent optical services.
Vendors also claim MSPPs improve SONET's efficiency in transporting multiservice traffic.
However, next-generation SONET platforms are touted to do much the same thing, depending on whom you ask. International Data Corp. Research Analyst Sterling Perrin says MSPPs grew out of the next-generation SONET market.
"The MSPP category is really an umbrella category that includes next-generation SONET," he says. "The lines are blurry between the two and because of that, there's a lot of confusion within both spaces."
Perrin says original next-generation SONET boxes were single-platform SONET add/drop muxes (ADM). They were all time-division multiplexers (TDM) with an integrated cross-connect capability, and Ethernet capabilities made possible through a service interface, he says.
"Then MSPP start-ups started emerging and taking this model and throwing all kinds of other functions into it, like Layer 2 switching and Layer 3 routing," Perrin says. "That's when the question of where to draw the line as an MSPP came up."
Marian Stasney, senior analyst with Yankee Group Inc., says there are a couple of criteria a box has to meet before qualifying as an MSPP.
"An MSPP box has to have a separate circuit for each service and a switching fabric for each type of traffic," she says. "A next-generation SONET box operates strictly at Layer 1: ADM, optical cross-connects and dense wavelength division multiplexed [DWDM] back end. MSPPs include switching and perhaps routing functions."
Some vendors, including Astral Point Communications Inc., say that MSPP and next-generation SONET are two different categories.
"MSPP is a shopping mall of services that can be used to access the carrier network," says Bill Mitchell, Astral Point's chief marketing officer. "Next-generation SONET only encompasses commonly occurring transport elements."
"It's like a limited access highway," he says. "It's not ambitious in adding new technologies into well-known products like SONET ADMs."
Asked what category the company falls into, Mitchell says Astral Point's ON7000 Integrated Optical Transport Node qualifies as a next-generation SONET platform.
Nortel also views next-generation SONET and MSPP as separate and distinct markets, and clearly favors the former.
"Next-generation SONET works with what speeds are out there and drives them into a single, cost-effective aggregation point," says Joe Padgett, Notel's director of marketing, optical markets.
"What we're seeing are these God-boxes in MSPP. They're not granular, they don't support higher speeds, and they don't offer a smaller footprint," he adds.
On the other hand, Cisco Systems Inc. says the two terms define the same category, but the categories are also a function of the definitions used. It claims its ONS 15454 metropolitan optical system qualifies as an MSPP and a next-generation SONET platform.
"There's an industry trend that's moving from SONET to multiservice and then embracing wavelengths in metro DWDM," says Rob Koslowsky, Cisco director of marketing, optical transport. "The driver [is] to embrace existing TDM services and handle higher bandwidth needs, but also to transition from voice-centric to data-centric."
Appian Communications Inc. says there's a subtle difference between MSPPs and next-generation SONET devices. MSPPs tend to support packet services more efficiently than next-generation SONET platforms. Next-generation SONET equipment has more port density, integrated ADM, grooming and cross-connect capabilities predominantly for TDM, the firm says.
Another optical access vendor, Coriolis Networks Inc., says MSPPs typically integrate packet switching into its platforms and can handle ATM, Ethernet and frame relay circuits. Coriolis' OptiFlow system is apparently one such platform in that it integrates a packet-switching fabric and ATM-switching fabric in the same box.
Next-generation SONET equipment improves ATM circuit density, says Greg Wortman, Coriolis vice president of marketing.
"The Cisco ONS 15454 is the first of the next-generation SONET boxes," Wortman says. "Both Cisco and Ciena plug packet modules into their chassis. They don't actually integrate that service into their platforms. That's why neither is an MSPP."
Ciena's next-generation SONET box, the MetroDirector, integrates grooming and switching elements, and "provides basic SONET/TDM functionality in a higher-density rack-space and a lower cost while also providing support for Gigabit Ethernet and [ATM]."
Grier Hansen, optical and carrier infrastructure analyst for Current Analysis Inc., sums up the ambiguity:"There is a lot of overlap," he says.
"That's why this has been such a problem. This is an impossible story to write, but one that needs to be written to help comb through the confusion," he adds.