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Alcatel's new switches styled for convergence

Alcatel hopes to boost its midmarket presence with new convergence gear, but with plenty of competition one expert says before the company can find customers, it must find itself.

Alcatel recently unveiled two new switches that integrate power over Ethernet and promise the high availability required by converged networks, but convergence has yet to help to buoy the company's fortunes in the competitive switching market.

The Paris-based telecommunications company announced the OmniSwitch 6602 Layer 3 workgroup switch, the OmniSwitch 6600 U24 fiber to the desk switch and power over Ethernet (PoE) capability for the 6600 switch family.

"We are driving three requirements to the edge of the network: network availability, security and manageability," said Brian Witt, Alcatel's director of product marketing.

The 6602 workgroup switch can be managed like any chassis switch. It offers virtual LAN support and quality of service, and it supports Alcatel's Automated Quarantine Engine that is designed to contain viruses. The switch is targeted at medium-sized enterprises and starts at $2,140.

The 6600 U24 fiber-to-the-desktop switch is designed for a more specialized market: the military and some campus environments; those workstations are located too far from the switch to be supported by copper. It supports the same functions as the 6602 and starts at $3,495.

With these additions to its product line, Alcatel, which does most of its business in voice communications, is expanding its switching product line to cover more of the enterprise networking market, said Max Flisi, an analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based research firm International Data Corp.

But Alcatel is taking on one of the most competitive market segments. The 6602 switch is designed for medium-sized enterprises, a market segment that other vendors also covet.

"Any time a company goes after large and mid-sized enterprises, there tends to be a lot of gear already installed," Flisi said. "It's competitive and displacement has to happen."

Alcatel may have better luck with its 6600 U24 switch, which is targeting a small but relatively uncompetitive market segment. If it can get a toehold in the military market with this product -- currently one of a few fiber-to-the-desktop switches -- Flisi said Alcatel may be able to develop inroads to government users as well.

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Convergence has become one of the key selling points for Alcatel, Flisi said, as it branches out from its voice-centric roots. Like others in the market, it is offering gear that supports voice, wireless and video, expecting that such a convergence will help drive sales of more specialized networking and VoIP gear.

For example, the addition to PoE to the 6600 family of switches will enable Alcatel customers to deploy VoIP phones and wireless access points without the added expense of running both power and data cables. Most vendors are announcing PoE capability in their switches. By next year, it should be ubiquitous, Flisi said.

Alcatel has also introduced high availability into its switches by enabling failover from one switch to another in the stack in the event that one should go down. That way, Witt said, video or voice communications on the network will continue uninterrupted.

But Alcatel's push with convergence has yet to result in significant gains, Flisi said. Between Q2 2003 and Q2 2004, according to IDC, Alcatel increased it port sales of switches by just 6% and its revenue was flat.

"They really need to carve out a market segment where they can be the strongest player," Flisi said.

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