Micro-MSPPs can’t be boxed in

Sept. 1, 2005

A multiservice provisioning platform (MSPP) enables carriers to consolidate different types of traffic-including data, traditional TDM, and storage-on a common infrastructure. It is a fully redundant device with a rich feature set and wide range of protocol support. A micro-MSPP, by contrast, has a smaller feature set, but how small the feature set varies from vendor to vendor.

By most definitions, a micro-MSPP is between 1 and 2 RUs high-a “pizza box” footprint, as it is known in the industry-and is priced between $5,000 and $10,000. From there, the similarities end.
While the definition of a micro-MSPP varies from vendor to vendor, most agree that the devices are less expensive and smaller than traditional multiservice provisioning platforms. ECI's Broadgate-40 (shown here) is typical of the micro version, available in a 1-2-RU "pizza-box" footprint.

“Micro to us really means a small, probably non-redundant platform,” explains Alan Repech, senior product manager at Cisco Systems (San Jose). “It’s delivering multiple services, but it’s not a plug and play, flexible, gives-you-a-lot-of-options type of system. You could have any color as long as it’s black.” Support for 2.5 Gbits/sec is the line in the sand for Cisco. Anything below it is a micro-MSPP; anything above it is a regular MSPP.

Avner Amran, associate vice president of marketing and product development for ECI Telecom’s (Petah Tikva, Israel) Optical Network Division, defines the micro-MSPP as a CPE product that enables carriers to connect traffic at the customer premises to the network. Amran’s definition stands in stark contrast to that of ADVA Optical Networking (Munich, Germany, and Mahwah, NJ). ADVA’s FSP 150 is designed to enable legacy networks to carry packet-based services, using generic framing procedure (GFP), link capacity adjustment scheme (LCAS), and virtual concatenation (VCAT). It hits the same price points as other micro-MSPPs, but it is more like a regular-sized MSPP in terms of functionality.

While the definition of a micro-MSPP varies from vendor to vendor, most agree that the micro-MSPP does not include all the functionality found on a regular-sized MSPP; something must be sacrificed to achieve a smaller footprint and lower price. Typically, the first feature to be sacrificed is redundancy, notes Tom Fuerst, vice president of market positioning within Alcatel’s Fixed Communications Group. “The typical MSPP...has full redundancy in the matrix cards,” he explains. “You might have standalone matrix card A and a fully redundant matrix card B that are full-time, always on, always there, backing each other up. In a micro-MSPP, you don’t have the real estate to do that board-level redundancy. There may be inherent redundancy within the micro-MSPP, a separate matrix processor and things like that, but they are not discrete components you can pull out and replace the way you can with a regular MSPP.”

In addition, the micro-MSPP does not support the same variety of interfaces found on the typical MSPP. The typical micro-MSPP might have an E1, maybe a DS-3, and the Ethernet and Fast Ethernet interfaces.

The micro-MSPP has seen much of its adoption outside the United States, prompting many vendors to release their devices exclusively in those markets where deployment is most likely. “The prevalence of that type of system, the ability to accept the non-redundant common equipment, and the lack of flexibility-those types of issues are much more popular and accepted in SDH forms than they are in SONET forms,” notes Cisco’s Repech.

Micro-MSPPs are more likely to be embraced by CLECs, which tend to embrace new technologies faster than incumbent carriers. Moreover, CLECs are often more concerned with first costs as opposed to lifecycle costs, making the micro-MSPP more attractive.

ECI Telecom offers a basic non-redundant micro-MSPP, the Broadgate-40, which has seen traction in the Far East, reports Amran. “They are not willing to invest a lot of money in these machines,” he says. “If I’m a carrier, for me it’s hard to understand why carriers would put a non-redundant machine with their business customers. It’s weird, but in the Far East, they are doing it on a daily basis.”

Mobile operators are also taking a closer look at micro-MSPPs. In 3G markets especially, there is a need to manage data services closer to the switching center, notes Fuerst. “Most mobile service providers lease their backhaul from someone else. They don’t own it, so the more they can do to groom and fill and consolidate traffic at the edge of the network, the more they can save on their backhauling costs, especially as things get more and more packetized,” he says.

The North American operators have not shown much interest in the micro-MSPP for several reasons, admits Fuerst. First, North America does not have the strong CLEC base that still exists in Western Europe and other parts of the world. Second, when compared with Western Europe and parts of Asia, North America does not have as much fiber deployed to the enterprise except in very urban areas. There simply isn’t enough fiber to justify a micro-MSPP deployment in the enterprise, he notes.

“The mainline carrier of the RBOC, what I would call their shared infrastructure, their ability to adopt such a system as a micro-MSPP is pretty much zero,” adds Repech. “I don’t see any traction at all.”
System vendors like Alcatel, which launched the 1642 EMC micro-MSPP in May, are marketing their devices outside of North America, where there is a larger base of CLECs that tend to be more innovative and faster to market with products that target the enterprise Ethernet market.

The incumbent carriers in other parts of the world are eyeing micro-MSPPs, however. Alcatel has seen traction among ILECs in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region that view the micro-MSPP as a means to deliver Ethernet services out to the enterprise. “It gives them a way to get their foot in the door and get a product into that multitenant unit, that enterprise, and begin to offer services and build up the business case,” says Fuerst. “It’s kind of a walk-before-they-run approach.”

Based on the simplest definition of a micro-MSPP-a 1-2-RU non-redundant platform with few bells and whistles-how does a vendor differentiate its device from others in this already crowded space? If you take out all the flexibility and value-added features, what remains to set one device apart from the rest?

According to Sterling Perrin, senior research analyst at IDC (Framingham, MA), the micro-MSPP segment has set itself up as a market that can only differentiate on price. By labeling these devices micro-MSPPs, the vendors are essentially saying, “We are not an MSPP. We are a smaller and less expensive version of the MSPP.” The expectation of a lower price point is built into the definition of the device.

“As a supplier, we’re actually being squeezed into a commodity situation for the micro-MSPP in its truest form, which is that single-purpose, does-one-thing box,” agrees Cisco’s Repech. “[Micro-MSPPs] are much less expensive and moving more so to the ever-popular free equipment category.” Cisco does not offer a does-one-thing box; instead, the company has chosen to enter the market with the 15310 CL, a micro-MSPP with a little more functionality to keep it in a slightly higher price range.

Beyond price, vendors can differentiate themselves by touting the micro-MSPP as part of their overall SONET/SDH product suite. “I don’t really see the micro-MSPP coming out as a product that the service providers will look at completely separate from the rest of the SONET/SDH network,” says Perrin. The value for the service provider comes from being able to select one or two vendors’ product suites for the entire network build.

So which vendors among the nearly two dozen with a micro-MSPP offering hold a competitive advantage? The Chinese vendors-Huawei and ZTE most notably-may have a leg up in this market, says Perrin, since they can leverage the low-cost manufacturing facilities available in China. “But if you’re looking at the market outside of price, where it’s the relationship [that matters], I think that is going to lend itself more to the established MSPP vendors like Alcatel, Nortel, Lucent,” he says. “ECI is also doing well. But if the micro-MSPP market tends to be something that’s outside of North America, then Cisco might not really have a leg up there in terms of relationships. They are still strongest in the U.S. market and trying to get their foothold outside of the U.S., so it may or may not favor them. That should be way the landscape goes.”

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