Word of a next-generation “super router” from Juniper Networks has been growing steadily throughout the North American telecom industry over the last few months. The core router, code-named Gibson, is said to increase network core capacity two-fold, allowing for higher-bandwidth services to be rolled out with ease by carriers.

Gibson, a rumoured 320Gbps, eight-slot, half-rack chassis, is expected to support 40Gbps of bandwidth per slot and 32 interfaces at 10Gbps per chassis according to a report published last October by Network World (U.S.). Be it fact or fiction, Juniper Networks is keeping tight-lipped and would neither confirm nor deny the rumour.

However, the debate among industry analysts, competitors and customers alike is whether there is indeed a need for an increase in capacity.

Most carriers are currently running OC-192 and, according to Ariane Mahler, director of equity research with Dresdner Kleinwort & Wasserstein in New York, the present levels are at an over-capacity level as it is.

“There is a lot of over-capacity in the backbone,” Mahler said. “Why would anyone in their right mind buy this product? [Carriers] would look at it, but Internet traffic is a very strange animal. You can’t predict it.…It doesn’t surprise me that a company like Juniper wants to have [Gibson] in case demand suddenly explodes, but you really have to look very hard at applications that would make demand explode. Napster went away. Frankly, many of those (applications) are not around anymore.”

Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Melissa Phillips, research analyst, WAN networking for Cahners In-Stat Group, agreed with Mahler, and added that from what she has discerned from her clients, OC-192 is the most capacity carriers need at present.

“[Carriers] will eventually need to scale up their networks to handle the broadband access increase, VPNs and videoconferencing – all the new technology like that,” Phillips said, adding, “I can’t really say that carriers or providers are actually going to buy it. I don’t really see that it would be anything substantial until the end of this year or more likely next year.”

Mahler said that what will drive increased capacity are services including streaming video, Web casts, and household broadband, none of which are taking off right now, she added.

Charles Fleckenstein, a spokesperson for Sprint Corp., said the Westwood, Kan.-based carrier is satisfied with the current capacity offered with OC-192. Fleckenstein offered that once you start to get into speeds above the current capacity, the platform becomes unstable.

However, AT&T tells a different story. According to Bill Leighton, vice-president of development for AT&T Labs in Middletown, N.J., the company has been tracking the development of Gibson for almost two years. He said that AT&T has taken a keen interest in the product as the carrier claims its traffic has continued to grow despite the poor economy.

“We haven’t seen any slack-off in demand.” Leighton said. “We continually have to add capacity into the network to keep up with demand.”

But Leighton admitted that in the broad industry, demand has lessened.

“Some companies built a lot of capacity and didn’t have any customers,” he explained. “That creates a lot of over-supply in the industry, but the reality is that our network continues to grow despite everything that has been going on in the economy. I have been tracking [Gibson] very closely for that very reason. It would be something we would be looking to evaluate for potential use.”

From at least one competitor’s standpoint, the Gibson threat is empty. Cisco Systems Inc. in San Jose, Calif. claimed that it has been number one in the core router space for quite some time. According to Rob Redford, vice-president of marketing for Cisco, even the release of a 320Gbps core router would only put Juniper up to where Cisco already stands.

“Our largest systems are 320Gbps,” Redford said of the Cisco 12000 series of Internet routers, which have been available since last year. “The next step up from OC-192 is OC-768. That is a 40Gbps connection. There are a lot of physical problems just with running an interface at that speed. You can’t even buy parts for that yet.”

In terms of the Gibson hype, Redford offered this analogy:

“It’s like when the Ferrari Modena 360 came out. It was on the cover of all the car magazines. It was not like everybody was going to go out and buy one. It generated a lot of hype and interest, but it was more on an academic level than on an actual purpose level,” he said.

Canadian carriers need not get their hopes up just yet, according to Lawrence Surtees, telecom analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto. Although he said that every North American carrier is faced with constantly reassessing the speed and capacity of their networks, Canadian incumbents should not expect to see Gibson anywhere from 18 to 20 months after the U.S. carriers begin trials.

“I agree with some industry people that have said that toward the latter part of this year, there will start to be a bigger demand for more stuff to boost networks,” Surtees said. “A lot of people have found that a lot of the [gear] is unlit and unused. My response is ‘duh,’ it’s supposed to be.

“On a superficial level, one can say that there are gobs of capacity. But that doesn’t take into account that most of those fibres are supposed to be unlit and will be unlit for years. They are there for way future growth…so that people don’t have to keep ripping stuff up.”

Juniper’s next-generation Gibson router is anticipated for release sometime this year, but Dresdner Kleinwort & Wasserstein’s Mahler said she sticks by her predictions.

“Carriers have already realized that there is no need for additional capacity,” she said. “My prediction is that we won’t have this need for the next six or even nine months.”