China gears up for flexible networks

Two Chinese telecommunications equipment makers have lined up with a U.S. maker of remote-access equipment modules to create new systems that can evolve with China’s telecommunications infrastructure – including a phone with e-mail and text-messaging capability.

Mapletree Networks Inc. on Monday will announce deals with China’s HandyInfo Technologies Co. Ltd., maker of the newly developed IT Phone, and Long Bridge Systems and Technology (China) Ltd., which is developing equipment for networks of point-of-sale terminals.

Both Chinese companies will be using Mapletree remote-access server modules that allow network operators to provide different services through any port simply by making a change in software. Mapletree’s products, which it supplies to companies that design and build remote-access devices, are designed to take voice and data calls off the public switched telephone network and move them on to packet-based IP (Internet Protocol) or ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) networks.

China’s telecommunications networks need to grow quickly to serve increasing numbers of Internet users – official estimates in January put the number at 22.5 million, a 33 per cent increase in six months – as well as demand for less expensive VoIP (voice over IP) calls. Putting Internet access and voice calls on packet-based networks can provide more efficient and less expensive transport as well as opening up the possibility of new multimedia services in the future.

HandyInfo’s IT Phone is a fixed-line phone with a display panel that can be used for Internet access, short messaging, e-mail and public directory information as well as conventional voice calls, according to Brian McCormack, senior product manager at Mapletree. It is a possible alternative to full PCs in China, where few homes yet have PCs. China Telecom, the country’s incumbent fixed-line carrier, plans to immediately roll out those data services along with conventional voice services, beginning in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone near Hong Kong. A later phase will bring VoIP over the IT Phone, according to a Mapletree statement.

HandyInfo will use Mapletree’s MTN2100 Series PCI communication card in its HandyInfo Access Server, which takes IT Phone calls from China Telecom’s network.

Also on Monday, Mapletree will announce that Long Bridge will use the Mapletree MTN5000 module in remote-access servers that process calls from point-of-sale terminals. Long Bridge will build remote-access servers especially for a Chinese customer company, which will provide a network service to link bank-card point-of-sale terminals in China. Long Bridge’s remote-access servers will be provide “virtual modems” on the Mapletree cards that can emulate many types of different connections as needed, such as an analog modem or an E-1 connection from a carrier network, according to Erich Theurer, chief technology officer at Long Bridge. The flexibility of the virtual modems will allow for new types of connections as the telecommunications infrastructure evolves, Theurer said in an interview Monday.

“We are able to connect to basically any telecommunications network,” Theurer said.

China’s slow start in telecommunications could allow the country to surge ahead of more developed countries to new types of network technology, Mapletree’s McCormack said.

“They have the ability to leapfrog the technology. They haven’t built the same kind of infrastructure we have in Europe and the United States,” McCormack said.

All of Asia is a promising market for Mapletree, which sells its modules worldwide, McCormack said.

“A lot of the (carriers) over in Asia still build a lot of their own equipment. (It’s) like what was going on in the U.S. in the past, where AT&T was not only providing services but also providing the equipment,” McCormack said.

Mapletree, in Norwood, Mass., can be reached at