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Comms Suppliers Living On The Edge

CHICAGO " Debate over how to bring broadband data services from the metropolitan network out to the "edge"-or all the way home to the consumer - was the topic on most minds at last week's Supercomm trade show. Engineers gathering here for the annual conference discussed new prospects for unifying the packet-oriented worlds of Ethernet and Internet Protocol with the time-division multiplexed worlds of Sonet and T1/T3 private lines.

Vendors are attacking the problem with Ethernet, Internet and Sonet technologies.

Ethernet now has become the ubiquitous framing method for the enterprise out to metropolitan networks, and is even being applied in some long-haul networks. Traditional Ethernet switch vendors serving corporate markets are selling environmentally hardened versions of their Layer 2 switches to specialized carriers and Internet service providers concentrating on Ethernet traffic in isolation.

Over time, the switches from vendors such as Riverstone Networks and Extreme Networks have added support for advanced routing protocols and queue-based quality-of-service methods, turning the platforms into Layer 3 switches by default and causing many market analysts to refer to the resultant products as routers.

At Layer 3, these OEMs address the second converging market force: the ubiquity of Internet Protocol (IP), particularly in snaring functions from the mainstay telecom protocol of the 1990s, asynchronous transfer mode. ATM was designed to handle low-latency, high-priority traffic such as voice by creating virtual circuit connections that emulated a true time-division multiplexed (TDM) network. By treating data and isochronous traffic as equally partitioned, 53-byte cells, ATM made it easy to carry a mix of traffic types.

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