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Agere debuts integrated networking chip

The company says the chip combines functions that allow carriers to deliver IP-based services more cost-effectively.

Agere Systems has come out with a new chip that it said will make it easier and cheaper for carriers to deliver services like Internet telephony and video on demand.

On Monday, Agere, a spinoff of Lucent Technologies, announced a chip that integrates traffic mapping with an IP (Internet Protocol) switching and routing function, called traffic management, on the same piece of silicon.

Traffic mapping chips have been around for the last couple of years from a variety of vendors. These chips allow any type of traffic to be carried over Sonet, a transport technology. Agere, which was one of the first companies to develop such a chip, leads the market in this category, said Allan Armstrong, an analyst at market research firm RHK.

Most carriers today use SONET/SDH (Synchronous Optical Network/Synchronous Digital Hierarchy) to transport all of their voice and data traffic. Using these traffic-mapping chips, equipment makers have developed products that allow IP traffic to be mapped onto a Sonet infrastructure. This means that carriers can use their existing infrastructure to deliver new IP-enabled services like Internet telephony and IP-based video.

To make efficient use of the Sonet infrastructure, some IP switching and routing functions need to be integrated into the equipment. One key feature that's needed is traffic management, which allows carriers to classify and prioritize traffic. This means that time-sensitive traffic such as voice or video could get a higher priority than e-mail or Web surfing traffic.

Typically, equipment makers use different chips to provide traffic mapping and management functions. But integrating two chips into a product is more expensive than bringing in just one. Integrated chips that provide more functionality on a single piece of silicon can cut costs dramatically.

"This is good news for traditional carriers using Sonet," Armstrong said. "This helps them offer new services over their existing infrastructure. It's also good news for equipment makers like Nortel Networks and Lucent Technologies, who make Sonet infrastructure equipment."

About a dozen companies make traffic-mapping chips. Like Agere, many of these companies, such as Infineon Technologies and Applied Micro Circuits, are starting to add switching and routing features onto their chips. So far, none of them has developed a product that integrates the exact same features that Agere has chosen.

"There's a lot of innovation going on right now," Armstrong said. "The chipmakers are still figuring out which specific functions need to be integrated on the same chip."

Agere's new chip is being shipped, and the company has already announced a customer: Mangrove Systems, a small start-up that is developing a multiprotocol label switching technology for access and metropolitan area networks. Agere and Mangrove will show off the chip at the Supercomm trade show in Chicago later this month.