Westwave takes Class 5 switch to the access network

Westwave takes its Class 5 switch to the access network.

With new CEO Michael Jeye at the helm, Westwave Communications finally seems to be coming out in the open.

It will use the signaling and call control capabilities of its access softswitch to allow digital loop carriers (DLCs), like those from its investor Alcatel, to deliver basic Class 5 services over a converged network.

Context

CEO Jeye arrived at Westwave from Cisco, where he was involved with product development for the incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) market. Jeye had come to Cisco in April 1999 with its $320 million acquisition of Fibex, a next-generation DLC. He replaces founder and CEO David Ehreth, who will move to the positions of chairman and CTO. The company has so far kept a low profile, but Jeye's appointment indicates that investors are keen to step up Westwave's foray into the realm of revenue generation. Employees number about 64, but that will grow to 85 over the next 18 months or so.

Westwave has so far raised $51 million in three rounds from Morgenthaler Ventures, Sevin Rosen Funds, Mont Reuil Investments, Alcatel USA, Berkeley International Capital and Goldman Sachs, with the most recent funding in April 2000. Morgenthaler partner and former Alcatel USA COO Krish Prabhu sits on the Westwave board. Ehreth has known Prabhu from his days as general manager of the communication access division at DSC, which Alcatel acquired.

Competition

Westwave has taken the unprecedented step of not identifying its competitors. The company will say it faces a mix of startups and incumbents. In terms of startups, Taqua is also targeting independent operating companies and can connect directly with digital loop carriers. Gluon and sentitO are building similar equipment but have yet to reach commercial availability. Nortel, Cisco, Sonus and Lucent are all building softswitches, and Sonus features prominently in the PRI offload market that Westwave is concentrating on initially. Sonus as a pure-play softswitch maker is scrambling for business, and its SMARRT Access platform has GR-303 interfaces to connect to DLCs and integrated access devices.

Technology

,p> Softswitches have predominantly been used in the past for Internet offload of modem traffic from access networks to IP networks, and for trunking, or Class 4 replacement, in the long distance network. The access network is still relatively underpenetrated, in part because softswitches need to comply with regulatory requirements before they can be used in access networks. Plus, they have to have the ability to terminate copper lines and support GR 303 interfaces for legacy equipment.

Westwave isn't pitching its access softswitch as a Class 5 replacement. Rather, its initial focus is on Internet offload, as well as on offloading some of the Class 5 basic services from digital loop carriers. DLCs bundle phone line signals and some data services into a single signal from the remote terminal to a telco central office. Next-generation DLCs integrate DSL multiplexing functions. The attraction of that approach is that there's no need to rip out existing equipment, and service providers can phase in Class 5 features. Also, the gear can handle plain old telephone service (POTS) along with data on a converged network.

So far, the only next-generation DLC with which the access softswitch will interoperate is Alcatel's Litespan. While Alcatel and AFC account for the lion's share of the DLC and DSLAM deployments in remote terminals in the US, it's obviously no coincidence that Westwave has put initial efforts into interworking the Alcatel gear. It also hints at a more intimate relationship than the companies will admit to, and goes to explain why Westwave is complacent despite its uneven progress. Jeye did tell the451 that securing good partners is half the battle, and, for the record, said Westwave is looking into interworking with other next-generation DLCs. The Litespan boxes use a proprietary version of the GR 303 protocol.

Products

Westwave is keeping the details of its technology close to its chest. In terms of features, such as Media Gateway Control Protocol (MGCP) and H.248 support for media gateways and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and MGCP support for feature servers, it is largely comparable to gear from rivals targeting similar markets. Its architecture has some nuances, however. The switch is broken up into three logically separate layers that separate physical control from logical control. In other words, Westwave is a proponent of the decomposed model, but has integrated the layers into a single device.

The media layer of its open access architecture controls interaction and service delivery with edge devices – DLCs, DSLAMs and media gateways. The control layer handles call control through SIP and MGCP and signaling with SS7 gateways; it also creates the connection between the IP network and public switched telephone network. The applications layer interfaces with application servers, application service providers and feature servers.

The softswitch already supports Internet and PRI offload, but the switch's access capabilities will only go out for trial in the fourth quarter. The company expects to have the access softswitch generally available by the first quarter of next year.


the451 (www.the451.com) is an analyst firm that provides timely, detailed and independent analysis of news in technology, communications and media. To evaluate the service click here.

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