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Fore readies network concentrator

Taking on Cisco, Fore readies a new product to manage voice, video, and data traffic from a single box.

Fore Systems (FORE) will ship a new device next month that handles a variety of wide area traffic.

Fore's move is intended to shore up the company's support for a variety of next-generation technologies like Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) that service provider customers might want to offer users in the future.

Next month Fore will ship a new version of a "concentrator," a device intended for Internet service providers and large enterprise networks that want to manage several different data types from a single piece of hardware.

"Concentrators are just becoming de rigueur for the industry as a way to maximize [hardware] port investment," said Dan Taylor, senior analyst for the Aberdeen Group. "The concentrators are really a good way to bring in a variety of different services."

Concentrators give telecommunications carriers and ISPs the ability to handle a variety of traffic and thereby let them offer a longer list of revenue-generating services.

For instance, a school district that has signed up with an ISP to provide Internet access to various sites may want to also provide a video-based distance learning service over the public network. An ISP could provide this service most easily by using a concentrator at the same location as the Internet access service.

Cisco Systems made a splash earlier this month when it announced the 3800, a similar device for consolidating traffic. Both companies are following the lead of telecommunications giant Northern Telecom, which has been shipping such devices for some time.

Fore's box, the MSC-900, differs from Cisco's in that it provides an aggregation function for ATM traffic to non-ATM traffic while the Cisco hardware includes support for wide area routing and local area protocols. The Cisco box is more likely to be sprinkled across a variety of ISP sites while the Fore box is bound to be used more effectively in a central office headquarters.

The box also assumes a reliance on ATM, which is not necessarily the case in many backbone networks, though the reality of ATM's benefits has caught up that came along with its introduction a few years ago.

The concentrator market is expected to heat up as large enterprises and network service providers continue to focus on firms that sell "total solutions" packages with support for multiple types of network traffic, according to analysts.

"This is a very good move for Fore. This is something they have to do," Taylor said. "We're clearly talking about carrier-class products."

Fore's new concentrator, the MSC-900, will be priced at $57,950.

Fore is also adding to its line of ATM switches. The TNX-210 and the TNX-1100 are designed for use in ATM-based networks that may also deploy the MSC-900. All of the gear is intended for the "backbone" of the network--the point at which a variety of sites are connected.

The TNX-1100 starts at $55,995 and the TNX-210 is priced at $26,995. Both will ship next month. All of the new gear is tied together by enhancements to Fore's ForeThought internetworking software for the service provider market.