Both companies this week introduced new strategies to transform their technologies to support Internet standards. Furthermore, Cisco got a ringing endorsement from Baby Bell SBC Communications, which plans to launch Cisco's digital subscriber line (DSL) equipment in the Midwest region of its network.
But analysts expect new Internet-based DSL equipment to be used predominantly by the relatively new entrants such as Covad Communications or Rhythms NetConnections and others that only want to maintain one network, rather than also building duplicate layouts for alternative technologies.
"AccessLAN came out with their IP-based (DSL equipment) about two weeks ago. Now with Copper Mountain and Cisco you've got three and it's a valid market space," said Beth Gage, a DSL industry analyst at TeleChoice, a communications consulting firm. "(IP-based DSL systems) fit nicely into the new players who only want to operate one network."
The SBC deal and associated technology improvements come as Cisco attempts to gain growth in the DSL equipment market. Depending on how you slice analyst market data, Copper Mountain is leading in providing equipment for business DSL lines, while French giant Alcatel maintains a lead in providing technology for consumer lines. Both sell gear called "DSLAMs."
Network equipment providers are scrambling to tackle an explosion of interest in accessing the Internet over high-speed, or "broadband," lines like those offered through cable networks or telephone systems using DSL technology--a way to soup up existing phone lines.
Cahners In-Stat Group recently predicted that DSL will become the leading choice for high-speed Net access worldwide next year. In a February report, investment bank US Bancorp Piper Jaffray predicted 12.9 million U.S. DSL lines by 2002, with the DSL equipment market worth $4.4 billion by the same time.
"We believe we're headed in the right direction," said Tim McShane, senior director of marketing for Cisco's DSL integrated access device business unit.
In a recent research report, market watcher Current Analysis said the new Cisco DSL strategy was important to round out the company's overall broadband access portfolio, which includes routing and optical gear. The IP (Internet protocol)-based technology will help differentiate Cisco from some of the other DSL equipment makers, Current Analysis said.
The new Internet-based gear and software announced this week by Copper Mountain and Cisco signals an uptick in their battle for customers, which is expected to include smaller competitive local phone companies and regional DSL providers.
"It's kind of hard to place any bets against Cisco," Gage said. "I think they'll (AccessLAN, Copper Mountain and Cisco) all run into each other in the CLEC market."
Analysts say many communications equipment makers are fighting for contracts to provide backup gear to the Baby Bells. In most cases the local phone companies already have locked down "preferred provider" deals, but secondary contracts can be lucrative.
"I think Cisco, Copper Mountain, Nokia, Lucent, Nortel--they're all going after the same players," said Gage. "Everyone's jockeying for position on these second-source contracts with the (local phone companies)."
Copper Mountain said it would take its existing base of technology and add use of the IP standard to its software, providing a means for service providers and phone companies to tap into new types of communications services for customers.
Cisco debuted a similar strategy for its technology, updating existing equipment and adding DSL-based switching and Internet-based software to its gear.