In search of port density in COs and collocation spaces

Vendors of integrated-access devices for the customer premise face an inherent challenge. IADs are not the kind of thing that end users just wake up one day and decide to buy. The very idea of "integrating" access implies that the customer is looking for a single carrier to handle voice, data and Internet connections, either at the access level or (less frequently) in a totally converged, end-to-end network service.

So IADs are usually sold and installed by the carrier as part of a managed service, putting the burgeoning number of IAD vendors in tight competition to sign up those service providers. That's why it's interesting to see one of the early innovators in ATM-based IADs, Vina Technologies, now broadening its service-provider relationships with a push into central office equipment.

At last week's ComNet 2001 trade show in Washington, D.C., Vina for the first time showed off its initial CO-class product, the Multiservice Broadband Xchange 1000, or MBX-1000. Housing six T-1 service modules in a three-rack-unit chassis, the MBX-1000 is first of all an unusually dense access concentrator, supporting up to 96 T-1 ports.

The port density is key when you consider that Vina's typical target customer is not an incumbent carrier that owns its own COs, but an alternative carrier seeking limited collocation space or using common wiring closets of multi-tenant units.

Equally important to those service providers, the MBX-1000 integrates other key functions within the same platform. It acts in much the same way as a digital loop carrier system to concentrate lightly loaded phone lines onto efficient backhaul connections using the GR303 protocol. That allows oversubscription of voice trunks and enables the competitive local provider to minimize the number of expensive ports on Class 5 telephony switches. (Though woe to any carrier who doesn't take into account how many of its ordinary dial-up lines might be used for long-hold Internet access!).

The MBX-1000 also acts as a DS-0 cross-connect and frame relay switch, with plans for supporting DSL multiplexing, ATM switching, T-3 and optical connections, though initially it's just for T-1 aggregation. For successful carriers in larger markets, Vina is promising an upcoming 10-rack-unit chassis called the MBX-2000 that will hold up to 288 physical T-1 ports.

Vina's foray into the CO and collocation arena shows a clear understanding of the needs of its existing customer base. Vina tends to serve a lot of the kinds of CLECs that led with voice service and T-1 service and now must address broadband data needs for even mid-market customers if they want to survive and thrive.

But Vina also faces vulnerabilities in pushing into the CO/collocation market. Like other players in the IAD market with limited sales and service support, Vina actually derives much of its revenue from distributors and OEM agreements. Its most recent SEC filing indicates that for the first nine months of 2000, it derived 37% of revenues from a distribution agreement with Lucent. Lucent's own woes in selling to cash-strapped CLECs and getting them to pay up could have a backlash effect on its equipment partners. Vina went public last August at a price of $12 a share and doubled in a month before falling back to a recent trading range around $4.

One hedge for Vina is that last October it agreed to buy IP-based IAD maker Woodwind Communications and, even before closing the transaction later this quarter, has begun marketing a Woodwind premises device under the name Multiservice Xchange-400. The MX-400 is one of the first such devices to support VoIP with the Media Gateway Control Protocol (MGCP). That opens up Vina's opportunities for some of the emerging CLECs selling pure IP voice, data and VPN services to small and medium-sized businesses. For more information about the MX-400, click here.

I said at the top that Vina was one of the early innovators in bringing the bandwidth efficiencies of ATM, as opposed to straight TDM channelization of voice and data streams, to the premise. You can get a sense of where this market stood 18 months ago in a comprehensive article I authored about integrated access featuring Vina, Mariposa (which is now being acquired by Marconi) and other vendors in the 1999 Network World "Buzz Issue."

Also see the development of further competition in the ATM IAD market in this recent column about start-up Mariner Networks.

Finally, if you haven't had a chance to check out all our check out our ComNet coverage, click here. Among other things, you'll find a replay of a session I moderated about collocation issues with folks from Equinix, Colo.com and Probe Research.

This story, "In search of port density in COs and collocation spaces" was originally published by Network World.

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