US start-ups are on the verge of delivering a different breed of hybrid switching products that bridge the gulf between the voice and data network worlds.
Castle Networks, which has just received $11 million in venture capital funding, revealed this week that its C2100 Services Mediation Platform would go into beta testing this month and was on schedule to start shipping in July.
Analysts said the product, which combines time-division multiplexed buses with packet switching fabrics to handle circuit and packet assignments, would be of interest to customers such as competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs), incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) and ISPs.
Achmad Chadran, analyst at Aberdeen Group, said: 'The C2100 platform brings players closer to true voice-data convergence and next generation services. It also bridges the voice and telephony worlds and combines the cost advantages of packet switching and routing with the robustness of circuit switching.'
ISP Rocky Mountain Internet (RMI), which is known to have ambitions to become a CLEC, will begin field trials of the C2100 later this month.
Douglas Hanson, chief executive of RMI, said: 'We are quickly moving towards the day when most businesses and consumers will receive their voice, data and video services from one company providing one bill.'
But cost is likely to be a factor in the adoption of such products. Priced at about $150,000, products such as the C2100 provide a cheaper alternative to conventional multi-million dollar, mainframe-based telephone switches known as Class 4 or Class 5.
Tom Burkardt, chairman and co-founder of Castle Networks, said: 'In the short term, the C2100 SMP lets service providers introduce differentiated services very quickly and with a whole new cost model that translates to much higher margins.'
He added: 'Carriers that can rapidly expand into regional markets by unbundling voice switching from the Class 5 and deploying a product that also supports data have a tremendous opportunity to capture these sectors.
'In the long term, the value of the C2100 is its next generation architecture that mediates signalling, transport and management functions to deliver next generation applications.'
But Castle is not alone in its desire to chase the hybrid switch business.
TransMedia Communications, Dynarc AB, Salix Technologies and Advanced Switching Communications all plan to unveil their implementations of the technology at the ComNet trade show to be held in Washington DC at the end of January.
But the rash of companies emerging in this market has led to concerns that there are already too many players chasing a relatively small CLEC customer base and that a shake-out is inevitable.
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