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Ground zero for convergence

Ground zero in the ongoing convergence of voice and data networks will be the SuperComm '98 telecommunications trade show this week in Atlanta.

Ground zero in the ongoing convergence of voice and data networks will be the SuperComm '98 telecommunications trade show this week in Atlanta.

Cisco Systems, Northern Telecom, and Ascend Communications are among several networking firms attempting to address the multimedia needs of service providers and, in the process, up the speed ante for voice, video, and data traffic.

The continued focus on support for multiple types of traffic across networks that once were dedicated to voice or data services only has prompted an acquisition feeding frenzy among various players. The long-rumored acquisition of Bay Networks by Canadian telecommunications giant Nortel continues to dominate grapevine discussion, with unsubstantiated reports pegging public disclosure of the deal at this week's SuperComm show.

Among the rollouts is new technology from Cisco that will allow companies to tie traditional phone-based network systems to high-speed data layouts. The new Signal Controller 2200 essentially acts as a gateway between the two network types and allows telecommunications firms to offload traffic from their voice-based switches to data pipes via support for Signaling System 7 (SS7), a powerful way to connect voice and data systems within the company's universal access server hardware and AccessPath dial-access system.

Cisco's introduction is based in part on technology it acquired last December from LightSpeed International.

"It looks pretty good for a data company," said Craig Johnson, principal analyst with the PITA Group, a technology market watcher. "Everybody's going in this same direction."

Cisco is also expected to roll out enhancement network management software capabilities to allow service providers to provision their bandwidth for services.

Avici Systems, a start-up with backing from Nortel, will publicly disclose details concerning its TSR routing device that reportedly can support 320 gigabits per second of IP-based traffic over a single fiber link. The company claims it can speed multimedia traffic at 320 billion packets per second rates.

Nortel, on the other hand, will round out its universal access hardware strategy with a new device called the Universal Edge 9000 that supports multimedia traffic and stakes the firm's claim in the emerging market for all-in-one access equipment.

Ascend, with a large presence in service provider accounts, will hype its attempts to combine technology that was once found in several different types of devices in a telephone network in one switch, called the GX 550. The support is accomplished via use of new modules that slide into the 550 and allow for centralization of multiple functions.

Tulsa, Oklahoma-based service provider Williams Communications said it has saved 80 to 85 percent in capital expenses by combining several functions within one switch. The company has purchased 68 GX 550s so far and has 12 deployed in its production network.

"We can offer better services and wider variety of services," said Wayne Price, manager of network development for Williams.

Struggling Cabletron Systems is expected to roll out service provider-focused management software options for its Spectrum package.

3Com, meanwhile, will continue to lay its foundations as a player in emerging market for technology based on digital subscriber lines (DSL), a high-speed alternative for the home that uses the existing telephone infrastructure.

Separately, Bay will debut L2TP-compliant products, another step in the company's strategy for virtual private networks, or VPNs. The added support will cover the company's BayRS routing software and accompanying hardware, Verselar 5399 and 8000 access devices, and Contivity line of extranet VPN switching equipment, according to company executives.

L2TP is an emerging VPN protocol based on work from Cisco and Microsoft that has been handed over and adopted by the Internet Engineering Task Force as a standard.