Softswitches to Take Center Stage

SAN MATEO (06/02/2000) - As the boom in data traffic demands increased flexibility in service provider networks, companies including Marconi PLC, Xybridge Technologies Inc., GNP Computers Inc. , and Comgates Ltd. will showcase developments in softswitch technology at Supercomm next week in Atlanta.

Softswitches are designed to replace proprietary, low-bandwidth CO (central-office) circuit switching with a faster packet-switching model. They offload call-control capabilities to standard servers, which are also populated with signaling and routing code. Distributing the functionality reduces the switch footprint and can add the speed and flexibility necessary to handle voice, data, and multimedia traffic, which in turn allows service providers to react quickly to customers' needs.

Marconi at the show will take the wraps off its Intelligent Packet Networks (IPN) softswitching solution, which consists of a softswitch call agent, media and signaling gateways, integrated access devices, application servers, and element management software. The IPN also features a media firewall for enhanced security.

The IPN servers consist of a firewall, a media gateway, a call-control server, and a signaling gateway.

"We saw this trend a couple of years ago. Marconi at that time decided to suspend further product development of its class 5 switch and began to migrate toward our intelligent softswitch architecture," said Rich Kushner, senior director of carrier marketing at Marconi.

Kushner added that softswitches eventually will bring enterprises "less-expensive services delivering more feature-rich solutions."

The IPN is being tested in Europe and will enter trials in North America in June, Marconi officials said.

Also at the show, softswitch technology will move into wireless networks as Xybridge Technologies will license its softswitch to Motorola Inc.: Motorola will use Xybridge's Universal Services Suite softswitch to build a switch for its Aspira architecture used in third-generation wireless networks. Motorola will also invest $15 million in Xybridge, and the two will co-develop new products and additional softswitch technology for wireless infrastructure markets, Xybridge officials said.

Other companies touting softswitches include GNP Computers and Comgates. GNP will announce its Continuant Softswitch, which integrates softswitch architecture with its clustering and management technologies, GNP officials said. Comgates will unveil its CMG/CSS 2000 softswitch, which it said has the capability of switching traffic between existing and emerging standards.

According to one analyst, softswitches are emerging as a faster and more robust alternative to CO switches.

"This is the year the softswitch will come into prominence," said Tom Valovic, research manager at International Data Corp., in Framingham, Massachusetts.

"The public network is being reinvented and softswitch is the centerpiece for next-generation networks."

Valovic said a key benefit of softswitching is that it facilitates multivendor integration.

"Softswitches open up the development of new services so services are no longer under a proprietary umbrella," Valovic said. "The telecom market has been closed. Now we will take the same theory of openness that served so well in the computing market and apply it to telecom. That will create new services and innovation in an area that has been stagnant."

Marconi Corp., in Pittsburgh, is at www.marconi.com. Xybridge Technologies Inc., in Richardson, Texas, is at www.xybridge.com. GNP Computers Inc., in Monrovia, California, is at www.gnp.com. Comgates Ltd., in Herzeliya, Israel, is at www.comgates.com.

Switching gears

Emerging softswitch technologies can help overcome some of the limitations of traditional carrier CO equipment.

* Whereas CO switches are proprietary, softswitches offload call processing to industry-standard server hardware.

* Softswitches' open APIs give carriers the flexibility needed to deploy new services quickly in response to customer demand.

* Unlike the centralized CO model, the distributed softswitch architecture allows carriers to choose best-of-breed products and opens doors to innovation.

* Whereas CO equipment is expensive and has a large footprint, softswitches cost less and take up less valuable central-office space.

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