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Ascend builds the backbone

The company is looking to boost sagging earnings with new all-in-one Net gear that incorporates recently acquired technology.

Ascend Communications (ASND) hopes a new strategy incorporating technology acquired this summer will lift it out of its financial doldrums.

The company next week will launch a new addition to an existing box that will allow for the simultaneous support of Frame Relay, asynchronous transfer mode (ATM), and Ethernet-based Internet protocol (IP) schemes. Ascend acquired the technology through its $3.7 billion acquisition of Cascade Communications in May.

Ascend also will roll out a new piece of networking hardware for layouts based on ATM that offers higher speeds for data flows.

The moves offer the first concrete evidence of how the company plans to both incorporate technology derived from the Cascade acquisition and roll it into an overarching strategy targeting enterprise wide-area backbone networks, which are the interconnection points of the Internet and carrier networks.

It may come at a good time for the company, due to the recent announcement of reduced expectations for its fiscal third quarter. The company said in a pre-announcement that earnings would fall about 33 percent for the quarter, which ended September 30.

Ascend is coping with an increasingly crowded field in its core remote-access hardware business, which may be taking a bite out of revenue as it incorporates Cascade into its operations, according to industry observers.

Ascend officials said the new Cascade gear will help service providers as businesses turn to the public network to fulfill their wide-area connection needs, since implementing private wide-area links between sites can be financially prohibitive.

To augment an existing CBX 500 box, the company will introduce capabilities that allow support for frame-based packets in the form of new modules that fit into the chassis that support Frame Relay and Ethernet-based IP layouts. The new support for frame-based data networks is intended to allow service providers to augment current offerings for customers without having to add a new infrastructure to support it.

Multiservice support for the CBX 500 is due in the first quarter of next year, with prices per port coming in at $10,000 for the six-port Frame Relay module and $12,500 for the four-port Ethernet-based module.

The new switch, called the GX 550, transports data at OC-48 rates, the latest and fastest speed level for gear of this type. Ascend officials claim they are the first to offer this speed in ATM-based gear.

The new gear, which will ship in the first quarter of next year, will cost $110,000 for a box configured for 25-gbps (gigabits per second) speeds. Cards that fit into the GX 550 chassis are the same type, no matter what speed a network administrator desires, making it easy to incorporate a variety of links within one box.