Nuera Communications, Inc., is one of the pioneers in digitizing voice and transmitting
it over packet networks in fact, they were producing voice-over-frame relay (VoFR)
products long before the term Internet telephony became fashionable. They are industry
veterans, and have a great deal of hands-on experience at packetized telephony. Of course,
the small market niche that Nuera once filled VoFR, has grown immensely as the
benefits of transmitting telephony over IP networks have been realized, and VoFR gateways
were replaced with gateways transmitting voice over IP networks.
As the market has grown, Nuera has seen competition
from a host of new players including Cisco, Lucent, Nortel Networks,
and other giants. Although the Internet telephony gateway market is relatively new, in a
short time almost every Internet telephony gateway vendor seems to have staked a claim in
the enterprise and service provider spaces. Many of the smaller gateway vendors have built
carrier-class gateways simply by augmenting their existing products until they are able to
reach the large port densities needed by service providers.
Companies like Lucent, Nortel, and Cisco have separate divisions that are devoted to
service providers making products designed to handle the rigorous demands of a telco
environment. Making the market even more competitive are new entrants into the service
provider space such as Castle Networks and Sonus Networks.
Recently Nuera announced that they will be offering a brand-new gateway named
ORCA targeted at the service provider market. As Nuera is an industry pioneer, and
ORCA represents a departure from the architecture of their previous products meant
to go head to head against the largest and most scalable gateways I thought it
worthwhile to ask them some questions regarding their new offering and strategy.
Tell me how your ORCA product line compares with those of other vendors and what is
the product lines strengths?
Our approach to the VoIP telephony requirements is different architecturally than
almost every other system that weve seen. We use non-switched DSP access for every
channel within the system. That means every provisioned channel has full DSP resource
availability for voice compression (dynamically switching between any provisioned
vocoder), VAD, jitter buffer management, fax relay, modem relay, tone relay, or echo
cancellation. Many of these functions are continuously required for providing real-time
VoIP, and many need to be switched in/out for access to the API. We need not make any
distinction since we provision the resources for full-time availability.
What are the benefits of Nueras history in IP telephony? Did your experience
in developing smaller gateways help you with the development of ORCA?
We started shipping F200ips in April 1997 and have several thousand in the field. We
have many F200ips working across the open Internet at speeds as low as 4,800 bps. This has
provided Nuera a lot of experience on how to optimize the voice quality while minimizing
the delay across the network. Nuera has patented our Lost Packet Recovery procedures,
which play a key part in bandwidth-limited networks. We have moved all this technology
into the ORCA GX21 in a carrier-class system.
Also, our experience with the IXCs using the F200ips helped us understand the advanced
features needed for the best Class 4 switch market. In developing the SSC-3 Call Agent we
are able to provide the best least cost routing on the market in terms of carrier/carrier
What are the benefits to a customer to buy products from your company as opposed to
the following competitors: Lucent, Nortel, Cisco, Castle, and related carrier class
only companies like VocalTec with PC-based designs? (Realizing that you are
Unix-based, perhaps an NT versus Unix comparison makes sense.)
We feel that the voice quality provided by the ORCA will be unmatched by any other
company, regardless of the compression rate required by the application. In addition, we
started with the premise that this product will operate non-stop with no single point of
failure. All aspects of the system are redundant, swappable, and fault-tolerant (i.e.,
even a fan can fail and the other will continue to cool a full system very
difficult with this many DSPs). The unit will be NEBS-3 certified, and stores multiple
versions of code for easy (non-disruptive) upgrades/rollbacks. The ORCA Gateway does not
have a general purpose OS such as Unix; it uses an embedded micro-kernel (Thread-X), which
is much more stable than Unix or NT. It is the SSC-3 Call Agent that runs Unix. This
centralized system can be made redundant and fault tolerant as well, and functions with
non-stop applications. It handles the least cost routing, user profiling, QoS monitoring,
network monitoring, and billing system interfaces. We can simply and easily route calls to
NT-based systems for applications support as needed.
What challenges did you face in developing this product?
A LOT! We have been pushing the limits of available technology in several areas. On the
hardware front, we are using the latest (smaller, faster, fewer watts) of the TI C6201B
Rev 3.1 chip in order to increase density. We are also using the latest BGA version of the
Motorola 68860T (also smaller, faster, fewer watts) for the same reason. With both chips,
weve discovered unknown bugs, which weve worked around, but which took time to
On the software side, weve migrated along with the various versions of MGCP,
SIP+, and H.323. Our choices have been based on functionality and market directions, but
it has required a few changes of code to accommodate modifications to proposed standards.
What is the future of this product line?
We want to increase the packet interfacing options to include packet over SONET OC-3
connections, as well as gigabit Ethernet. The next releases will add more circuit
telephony protocols to the SSC-3: V.52, GR-303, and Q-SIG are needed for new applications.
Well scale the system down with a 4- and 8-slot version (same cards, new chassis).
And well add RAS functions to the DSPs for modem termination.
How will ORCA interoperate with other products in its product category? What about
We can interoperate with other MGCP devices (MG-MGC or MGC-MGC) for full compatibility.
We can also use SIP+ to interface into value-added application servers. Finally, we can
connect to smaller devices (PC, routers, un-PBXs) using H.323.
How do your open APIs work and how do they fit in with this announcement?
We are using an API that provides complete call control and application functions.
Weve abstracted the underlying network and hardware architecture from the
application completely. It is similar to S.100, but not as complex.
What enhanced services is ORCA capable of providing?
Our initial thrust has been for IVR and unified messaging application partners working
over our API.
How many deployments do you have? Any trials underway?
By the time this is published we will have installed equipment at 3 major carrier
What is next after this announcement? What other areas are you positioned to get
into as a result of this announcement?
We feel that this will enable us to provide a large part of the next-gen carrier
infrastructure. We will push the technology base overseas into developing countries that
can leapfrog and completely bypass their existing systems. It flattens the carrier network
by being able to support Class 4 and Class 5 applications cost effectively.
Additionally, please let me know what features are implemented better than your
competition and what makes your product a must buy for next-gen service providers.
In addition to providing the best proprietary vocoders, we also support the widest
number of ITU standard vocoders. All can be switched in/out dynamically to best fit that
particular calls application. We also provide voice frame optimization (VFO) to
minimize the number of packets being sent, and lower latency. VFO also minimizes the
bandwidth required for VoIP by multiplexing multiple channels into single IP/UDP packets.
It will be interesting to follow ORCAs progress against its giant
competitors in the carrier-class market. Based on their success in the small gateway
space, it looks like Nuera may have a killer product on their hands.