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LUCENT STAKES NEXT-GEN CLAIM WITH RURAL SWITCH ROLLOUT

Lucent will unveil a new product this week aimed at migrating low-teledensity networks found in rural telcos and developing nations to packet-based traffic, replacing small Class 5 switches with a single 23-inch shelf.

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Lucent is touting its new iGen compact switch, which will not be available until January, as a “switch on a pack.” The vendor claims the product can serve 32 to 10,000 subscribers at 10% of the operating costs of a traditional small Class 5 and deliver next-generation services using voice over IP.

How the device should be classified, however, depends on whom you ask.

“It's not a [time division multiplexing] switch. It's truly a next-generation product,” said Ken Arndt, vice president of marketing for convergence solutions at Lucent. “You could call this a very compact softswitch, but we're trying to stay away from that nomenclature.We're being very careful in how we craft the story.”

Some analysts see the story differently. “This is not what I'd describe as a true next-generation product,” said Tom Valovic, director of IDC's IP telephony program, who added that he considers the iGen to be TDM-based. “It has IP, SIP and GR-303 interfaces, but those are line cards or circuit packs.”

The iGen will compete with gear from softswitch start-ups like Taqua, as well as Nortel Networks' CS2000 Compact, which already has been deployed internationally and in the U.S. cable market but has not made much progress with the 1200 or so rural telcos in the U.S. In the small Class 5 replacement game, Nortel may be the team to beat. Sprint, the largest carrier to commit to Class 5 replacement, is using Nortel gear (see story on page 10).

“Nortel has incumbency,” said Kevin Mitchell, an analyst for Infonetics Research. “They own most of the small Class 5 switch accounts, but they're certainly vulnerable.”

Case in point: The first U.S. customer to test Lucent's iGen is Valley Telecom, a rural carrier cooperative in Arizona that traditionally was a Nortel customer. Among the reasons Judy Bruns, Valley's CEO, said she started shopping the competition was because she felt abandoned by her main supplier.

“Over the last couple years, we've been very surprised and a little disappointed in the customer support [Nortel] is giving us,” Bruns said. “A lot of what's leaning us toward Lucent is the support we're going to get from D-Tel [one of Lucent's regional business partners].”

Nortel claims to be “absolutely committed” to packetizing rural telephony, citing recent software upgrades for its DMS-10 switch and a roadmap for rural packet migration launched last fall.

But commitment to the space is something Nortel's competitor will have to prove as well. Last October, Lucent CEO Pat Russo vowed to curtail softswitch development because “our customers are not going to undertake a massive replacement of Class 4s and Class 5s with softswitches in the near term,” she said. That sentiment may not be wholly inconsistent with the release of iGen (if it's not a softswitch), but the overall picture analysts get is a fuzzy one.

“Lucent's approach to next-gen telephony has been all over the map,” said Mitchell. “They just need to clarify what they want to do and stay on that path for more than a couple months without veering off.”

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© 2011 Penton Media Inc.

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