Alcatel-Lucent is charting a course to the next generation of carrier routers with new silicon that is focused today on delivering services from the edge of a network but could also power a massive packet engine for the core.
The company's FP3 chip, the latest in a series of packet-processing chips from the rising router vendor, can route traffic at 400Gbps while meeting the special needs of many kinds of services. From its Tuesday launch, it will leap ahead of the fastest silicon from Alcatel's rivals and is expected to power a core router to take on Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks in the near future.
Alcatel is starting at the edge of service-provider networks to take on the explosion of IP (Internet Protocol) traffic generated by wired and mobile services for both consumers and enterprises. With a team of about 10 engineers that has now developed three generations of edge routing chips, the company has developed a processor that can handle packets at full speed for two 100-Gigabit Ethernet ports. Using just two FP3s, Alcatel plans to build a line card with four 100-Gigabit ports that each can operate at full line-rate in and out. This will provide twice the 100-Gigabit ports of any existing module, saving carriers space and energy.
The first line cards coming with the FP3 will have two ports and will be commercially available in the middle of next year, according to Lindsay Newell, vice president of marketing for the IP division at Alcatel. They will be compatible with all the Alcatel services routers shipped since 2004, he said. The company hasn't disclosed when it will deliver four-port cards.
The 100-Gigabit Ethernet standard was approved last year, but fewer than 1,000 ports using the technology have been shipped to carriers, according to Infonetics analyst Michael Howard.
By packing more speed and ports into the same space, Alcatel will cut the costs of deploying 100-Gigabit, analysts said.
"The big shift here is going from single-port cards to multiple-port cards," said Dell'Oro Group analyst Shin Umeda. "You're going to be getting a much more efficient cost structure."
Alcatel's services routers can be used with all forms of networks, including DSL (digital subscriber line), cable, business Ethernet and mobile systems. Although few 100Gbps ports will serve any one customer directly, they provide a more efficient way of aggregating traffic from thinner pipes closer to subscribers. Each line card in a carrier's router takes up valuable space, power and cooling, and the more bits it can process, the more efficient the carrier's operations will be.
Cisco, Brocade Communications and Huawei Technologies all have at least shown line cards with two 100-Gigabit ports, Howard said. However, all of those cards use at least two circuit boards, where Alcatel's will use just one, he said. This should further increase efficiency while also aiding reliability and simplifying management, he said.
Alcatel has made major strides in edge routers over the past several years, growing from 5 percent of the worldwide market in 2005 to 22 percent in 2010, Umeda said. It is now the second-largest seller of such routers, having surpassed Juniper Networks. Over the same period, market leader Cisco Systems fell from 58 percent to 42 percent of the market. New silicon is driving growth in router capacity at all the vendors, but Alcatel has gained the top spot for now, Umeda said.