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August 29, 2006

GenBand: Retooling for IMS

By Richard Grigonis, Executive Editor, IP Communications Group

IMS (the IP Multimedia Subsystem (News - Alert)) is at the moment a tantalizing blueprint of a common service architecture for both wireline and wireless networks. IMS will allow any fixed and/or mobile operator to easily and quickly develop, deploy, provision, control and charge for advanced multimedia services capable of roaming along with their subscribers. Both Voice-over-IP (VoIP) and traditional circuit-switched systems are to be supported.

As the telecom world begins the enormous process of converting its infrastructure to accommodate IMS, the RBOCs, CLECs, ISPs and cable operators/MSOs look to their existing vendors for a new generation of IMS-capable hardware and software. Unsurprisingly, such vendors are drastically revamping their product portfolios in an effort to capture a piece of the soon-to-be-burgeoning IMS migration business.

As you’d expect, nimble companies with flexible, scalable equipment and the ability to find top-flight applications programmers will have an advantage over its competitive brethren as things heat up in the IMS arena.

One such company dropped by TMCs offices in late August 2006 - GENBAND (known as General Bandwidth prior to March 2006), a Plano, Texas-based company long known for its application, signaling and media gateway communication infrastructure products.

GENBAND was about to reveal some major parts of its IMS strategy: the acquisition of BayPackets (a founding member of the IMS forum) and increased efforts to develop and deliver IP multimedia applications globally.

BayPackets’ IMS expertise took the form of both IMS-friendly multimedia services (such as Agility VideoMail) and a high-end IMS compliant multimedia creation and delivery platform for voice, video and data services called the Agility SIP Application Server (Agility SAS (News - Alert)).

Jodi Bennett, vice president of marketing and corporate development at GENBAND (and the former Vice President of Marketing at Taqua) says, “BayPackets’ platform will now become the GENBAND M5 Multimedia Applications Server. So that it won’t be confused with GENBAND’s own S4 SIP Applications Server, we’ve renamed the latter as the S4 Telephony Applications Server.”

Bennett continues: “Our BayPackets acquisition provides us with a software-based, IMS compliant service delivery platform as well as applications for delivering enhanced consumer and business communications services over broadband, IP and converged networks. The GENBAND M5 Multimedia Applications Server can take GENBAND further into such markets as fixed-mobile convergence [FMC], multimedia messaging, baming, service creation for TDM and IP networks, pre-paid, voice VPNs and voicemail / unified messaging. In fact, we already sell pre-paid and unified messaging solutions to wireless carriers, and some of our FMC functionality will be making its debut later in 2006.”

GENBAND’s Senior Director of Marketing, Frederick Reynolds, says, “BayPackets was founded with the same vision as GENBAND and it experienced a similar evolution; it focused on a product deployable with the world’s largest carriers. You can find BayPackets equipment in some of the largest networks in the world, such as AT&T Long Distance, Deutsche Telekom, SoftBank Broadband, and so on. It’s a company that’s been very progressive in high bandwidth applications. GENBAND has also been successful in that area too, since today our technology is in three of the four RBOCs.

“So BayPackets has a very similar heritage as GENBAND in terms of industry focus,” says Reynolds. “Thus, we can leverage the channels of both BayPackets and GENBAND, and boost the M5’s popularity among the more than 150 large carriers around the world. Additionally, a scaled-down version of the M5 would be applicable to smaller carriers. Of course, we want to continue to leverage our Tier 1 equipment vendors’ channels and utilize our distributor channels that we’ve put in place for the Tier 2 market. GENBAND itself is pretty diverse across cable, RBOCs, CLECs. The BayPackets acquisition actually further diversifies the company.”

“What’s interesting is that BayPackets may have had only about 11 active customers,” says Reynolds, “but the key factor here is that they have some extremely large customers, spanning North America, CALA, EMEA, and Asia Pacific regions, and some of these are global top tier customers that GENBAND doesn’t have, including the former Lucent, IBM, General Dynamics, and Sonus Networks (News - Alert). BayPackets has very good channels through Lucent and there are some pretty good-sized customers that we won through Lucent. Sonus can also open up some doors for us.”

IBM (News - Alert) and General Dynamics were certainly very appealing to us,” says Reynolds. “IBM is into the OSS [Operations Support Systems] space and they want to move more toward the applications side of the business, so they see us as a very close partner from an applications development standpoint. Indeed, it’s terrific that IBM can put such applications on their platform. Moreover, their huge sales force can help us out.”

“General Dynamics is a different kind of partner than GENBAND has dealt with in the past,” says Reynolds, “but they’ve been awarded a large percentage of a U.S. federal telecommunications revitalization project which runs into the billions of dollars. They awarded BayPackets a contract to replace some antiquated voicemail systems at military bases with unified messaging systems, since BayPackets has long sold solid unified messaging technology and they continue to evolve the product by adding such things as video-type features. It’s a huge opportunity for BayPackets and it opens the door for GENBAND proper to sell into the U.S. Government too.”

Links with the Past

GENBAND’s M5 Multimedia Applications Server may be stealing the show today for what it can do when IMS gets up and running, but GENBAND’s current workhorse is long-time super-flexible, super-scalable G6 Universal Media Gateway (News - Alert). Standards-based and IMS compliant, the G6 can be used for everything from connecting PBXs, to sending TDM over IP, to acting as a Class 5 access gateway--which is how it has been deployed with AT&T (News - Alert), Qwest (News - Alert) and various CLECs and cable operators. Verizon also recently announced vendors for their efforts regarding GPON [Gigabit Passive Optical Network], and Alcatel (News - Alert) is the lead vendor on the Verizon GPON project for at least the first year.

“Since we’re Alcatel’s voice partner,” says GENBAND’s Frederick Reynolds, “we’ll be the voice integration gateway for Verizon’s GPON deployment. In this case, the G6 acts as a trunking gateway as well; it’ll handle devices using MGCP [Media Gateway Control Protocol]. Also, we’re now doing a certification with Nortel (News - Alert) on their version of H.248/Megaco as well as the traditional specification version, so around October 2006 the product will be available as another alternative to Nortel’s gateway solutions for their CS2K Carrier Softswitch [which itself can handle SIP, NCS, and MGCP protocols].”

“The G6 will be around for quite a while, since it will take 15 or 20 years for the world’s communications networks to completely convert over to packets,” says Reynolds. “The G6 has a lot of legs, and will continue to be viable over the coming years. The G6 supports SIP today. We have some pretty good deployments with it. Indeed, by the end of 2007 the G6 will be installed in over 1,000 RBOC central offices in the U.S. That alone is a huge installed base that we can take advantage of in terms of revenues off of future upgrades. By then we’ll have introduced a strategy of how you can utilize that box for doing something else, so it remains productive and in the network and generates revenue for us. Hopefully, it’ll just be a matter of swapping out software, perhaps something in conjunction with the BayPackets products.”

The G6 is complemented by GENBAND’s C2 Signaling Gateway Controller and S4 Telephony Applications Server. Whereas the standards-based, IMS-compliant C2 enables SIP-to-PSTN connectivity and access to legacy databases, the S4 sports a Class 5 residential feature set, small business features, IP peering, PacketCable compliance and it supports a VoIP overlay over the network.

“Some of our signaling products can do SIP and SIP / SS7,” says Reynolds. “Service providers deploying SIP-based, hosted VoIP services must at some point deal with expensive PRI gateway connections to the PSTN. Our SS7 Extension to SIP Networks resolves these problems. The GENBAND C2 Signaling Controller can connect a SIP network directly to SS7 network, enabling the PRIs to be quickly replaced with less expensive Intermachine Trunks [IMTs].”

“I see the network needing those kinds of gateway and signaling devices for many years to come,” says Reynolds. “An additional synergy occurs when you bring in BayPackets. For example, when we sell a softswitch or gateway, the customer will want applications to run in conjunction with it. To be honest, all the cool stuff in the future will be applications. That’s where we’re investing a good portion of our efforts. BayPackets has some pretty neat applications both done and in development: unified messaging, video mail and things like that. Applications appears to be the cool, fun area to be in. And then there’s another synergy: Every time we sell a BayPackets hardware or software product, the customer needs a GENBAND gateway or some sort of network signaling component that the carrier traditionally would obtain from AudioCodes (News - Alert) or some other vendor.”

To the Future

GENBAND’s Jodi Bennett says, “We’ve really set upon a course to ‘build beyond VoIP’. That’s a tagline we’ve been running with for a while. The acquisition of the Syndeo product line that we accomplished earlier in 2006 was the first step. Acquiring BayPackets is the second step. In all likelihood, you’ll see us do another step or two acquisition-wise.”

“With this BayPackets acquisition, we get a lot of mindshare in the IMS area,” says GENBAND’s Frederick Reynolds. “We will never compete with the hardcore softswitch vendors in the big carriers, against the Lucents and the Nortels of the world. But we can be a nice complement on the infrastructure side and on the application side, and so we can sort of sandwich ourselves into that position. For smaller carriers we can do everything ourselves, but for large carrier networks we need to be able to fold in and cooperate and interoperate with the large softswitches and IP/SIP-based devices that are going to play a huge part in the IMS world.”

“We did over $17 million revenues in 2006 and we’ll do $33 million in 2006,” says Bennett. “The vast majority of that income is in the gateway business. Hopefully, BayPackets and our other strategies will help achieve around $60 million in revenues in 2007. An additional acquisition we’re considering may get us to $100 million in revenues and then we can think harder about our ultimate intention of going public.”

In short, with the BayPackets acquisition, GENBAND is preparing to grab a piece of the enormous business generated as the world’s wireline and wireless networks convert to IMS. It appears that GENBAND will become a major IMS player and IMS will occupy much of its activities, yet GENBAND’s existing technology will continue to allow its solutions to run in today’s pre-IMS world.

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Richard Grigonis is an internationally-known technology editor and writer. Prior to joining TMC, he was the Editor-in-Chief of VON Magazine from its founding in 2003 to August 2006. He also served as the Chief Technical Editor of CMP Media’s Computer Telephony magazine (later called Communications Convergence) from its first year of operation in 1994 until 2003. In addition, he has written five books on computers and telecom (including the Computer Telephony Encyclopedia and Dictionary of IP Communications). To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

(source: http://ipcommunications.tmcnet.com/hot-topics/ims/articles/2409-genband-retooling-ims.htm)

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