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Cisco router aims to meet high-end demand

The networking giant unveils a new optical networking device for carriers and ISPs to help fill a hole in its network strategy.

Cisco Systems today unveiled a new high-speed optical networking device for communications carriers and Internet service providers, filling a hole in its strategy to build technology for even the most demanding networks.

Qwest Communications International already has deployed Cisco's new routing device and America Online plans to test the technology as well, according to the company.

Cisco and its primary competitors are in a furious race to provide high-speed links for sprawling telecommunications networks, so customers can to keep up with demand for voice and data. Telephone companies and ISPs are eager to deliver new services to businesses and consumers.

Both Lucent Technologies and Nortel Networks also have announced ambitious plans for tackling one of the most lucrative battlegrounds in the networking market: High-end devices for long-distance networks based on fiber-optic technology. Lucent plucked start-up Nexabit Networks to fill its gaps earlier this year. High-flying upstart Juniper Networks is another entrant in the market.

Cisco's GSR 12000 Terabit System is currently in tests and essentially serves as a speed upgrade to the company's fast-selling 12000 routing device.

The new technology, called the GSR 12016, can zip traffic across a network at speeds of 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) on each of 15 possible interfaces. Cisco claims the device can handle a total of 5 terabits per second (Tbps) worth of traffic, putting it on par with forthcoming technology from competitors as well as a slew of well-funded start-ups.

Cisco executives said the new technology, shipping this month, will solidify the networking firm's place in the market while ISPs work on the best strategy to expand network capacity.

"The market is still quite early in its lifecycle," said Graeme Fraser, vice president and general manager of Cisco's optical internetworking group.

Fraser said it won't be until 2002 when customers will need terabit-class systems on a wide scale. "We intend to be well ahead of that," Fraser said.

Although Lucent dived into the high-capacity networking market with its Nexabit purchase and Nortel has disclosed plans for its own technology, Cisco has been relatively silent about its strategy--until now. Upstarts like Avici Systems and Pluris among others are also vying for a piece of the high-end market.

"With the GSR 12016, Cisco is finally responding to the latest competitive threats from the terabit routers vendors, Avici, Nexabit/Lucent and Nortel," said Chris Nicoll, director of infrastructure analysis at market watcher Current Analysis.

"This announcement should either open the doors into the service providers for the terabit competitors, or close them," Nicoll added. "Many service providers have been waiting to see what Cisco was going to do to get into the terabit range, and now they know."

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