Jim Duffy: A few things to keep an eye on in 2002

As we gladly – and none too soon – usher out a tumultuous 2001, we raise a timorous toast to 2002 expecting more of the same: sharply reduced capital expenditures, leading to slumping equipment sales, sagging profits, layoffs and the usual “challenging” conditions that accompany it.

While we’re expecting to take our lumps again this year, here are a few things to watch for, and perhaps gain some measure of optimism from:

1) Lucent Technologies Inc. returning to profitability. Can they do it? Henry Schacht says 2002 will be another “challenging” year for Lucent, just as 2001 and the latter part of 2000 was. But Schacht claims to have the horses and the plows, and he’s made the promise. Let’s see if he can deliver.

2) Cisco acquiring a softswitch company. Tired of seeing the carrier voice over IP business being won by Nortel in 2001, analysts think Cisco will jump into the game big time in 2002 in preparation for a 2003 market. Who will they buy? How much will they pay? Answers to these questions may indicate just how far we’ve come or have to go in the telecom turnaround.

3) Juniper’s next-gen. “Gibson”, the company’s code-name for its new high-end routing technology, was expected last month. Now it’s looking like the first quarter of 2002. In any event, Juniper usually announces a handful of customers along with its new products. That means somebody’s buying, somebody’s running into capacity constraints. Gibson will be one of the most anticipated product launches of 2002.

4) Next-gen ATM. If carriers aren’t buying the new stuff, they’ll buy more of the old. We should see a slew of new ATM core switches this month and this year from all major vendors. One thing these switches will all have in common besides an ATM cell fabric is a migration path to Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS), which means…

5) MPLS uptake in carrier nets. Slow to take hold up to now, MPLS cores will still be scarce in 2002. But the regional Bell operating companies in the U.S. are expected to issue requests for proposal for major build-outs this year, and those builds will include next-gen ATM switches with MPLS capabilities. And some RBOCs have recently stated intentions to turn up MPLS-based services or pilots this year. But all that progress depends on the fickle economy.

Duffy is a writer for Network World (U.S.). He can be reached at jim_duffy@nww.com.