Sonus/TTI deal expected to expand softswitches

As carriers push toward building single networks that carry voice, video and data, suppliers of key gear find they need to buy competitors to keep pace.

The recent purchase of Telecom Technologies Inc. by Sonus Networks Inc. is the latest example, bringing Sonus a raft of telecom engineers as well as an access switch that has proven interoperable with other aggregation equipment from other vendors.

This comes after Sonus competitor Convergent Networks Inc. bought TCS, Unisphere Networks Inc. bought Broadsoft Inc., and Coppercom bought DTI.

The purchases bring talent and products to these vendors more quickly than otherwise possible, and in Sonus’s case, helps keep its place as an early leader in the softswitch market.

“Sonus is the market leader. They have contracts and keep getting contracts [to sell their equipment],” says Grier Hansen, an analyst with consultancy Current Analysis Inc.

The race is far from over. Sonus has promised to deliver an access switch that can take in voice traffic from customer sites via packet access networks and switch it across packet or traditional circuit-switched voice networks. That switch will be the TTI IntelligentIP softswitch, which TTI and Sonus say interoperates with many vendors’ access devices that sit at customer sites.

But Sonus can’t sell the switch until the TTI deal goes through early next year, which is after Sonus said it would deliver its access switch, Hansen notes.

These customer-site integrated access devices gather data and voice from customers, turn it into IP or ATM packets, and send it to service provider networks on a single access line. The softswitch then processes setting up the call and adding features such caller ID. These features are not added by the switches, but instead by servers that are peripheral to the switches.

It is this modular architecture of softswitches that has their makers claiming it will be easier and quicker to write software to offer new and innovative phone services. Most vendors admit that these new services have yet to be conceived, but say they are confident they will come.

The softswitch vendors list unified voice, fax and e-mail as examples of the service softswitches could enable.

At this stage in their development, softswitches are used for specialized functions, such as off-loading Internet dial-up traffic from traditional circuit switches to keep them from bogging down.

Sonus’s PSX6000 softswitch handles such off-loading as well as trunking between packet and circuit networks, but does not yet offer full features such as caller ID, call waiting and call forwarding. The company is starting to add rudimentary features such as 911 and operator services, and plans to add more each quarter, says Hassan Ahmed, president and CEO of Sonus.

TTI brings Sonus 150 engineers who can help develop this software, Ahmed says. The TTI engineers have a leg up.

“We will put the Sonus softswitch in the [trunking] core and the TTI softswitch in the access part of the network,” he says, where it will handle packet voice calls from voice-over-cable modem and voice-over-DSL customers.

The company’s goal is for its gear to be interoperable with enough other network elements so it can become a workhorse in converged carrier networks. The TTI purchase helps.

“We do very, very high scalability and reliability, but we need to connect with a variety of third-party equipment, so we need some features and interoperability,” Ahmed says. “We want to build as much of the public network as we can.”

In addition, TTI brings a professional services group that will let Sonus install and turn on its softswitches in carrier networks.

This turnkey service is vital if carriers are expected to experiment with the new technology, Hansen says.