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August 1999

rich.gif (5262 bytes) Killer Carrier-Class Splash


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 line’s strengths?

Our approach to the VoIP telephony requirements is different architecturally than almost every other system that we’ve 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 Nuera’s 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 switching.

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, we’ve discovered unknown bugs, which we’ve worked around, but which took time to diagnose.

On the software side, we’ve 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. We’ll scale the system down with a 4- and 8-slot version (same cards, new chassis). And we’ll add RAS functions to the DSPs for modem termination.

How will ORCA interoperate with other products in its product category? What about smaller gateways?

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. We’ve 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 customers.

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 call’s 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 ORCA’s 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. 

At CTI EXPO Fall ’99

Regardless of your implementation of Internet telephony, be it corporate, SOHO, or service provider, one fundamental problem still needs to be solved before the benefits of this new technology can be fully exploited. The most important issue facing the Internet telephony industry is that of standards — specifically the ability for IP telephony products from disparate manufacturers to work together seamlessly. Standards like H.323 are wonderful paper standards, and they are being augmented almost continuously by standards such as iNOW! and others.

In an effort to demonstrate the latest industry standards, we will be hosting ConvergeNET — a live, open, on-site, next-generation IP telephony network — in conjunction with industry leading vendors to show that disparate products from various vendors can indeed work together in harmony. You can expect to see ConvergeNET at all future TMC events such as INTERNET TELEPHONY EXPO™, Oct 6–8, San Diego, CA, and CTI EXPO™ Fall, Dec 7–9, Las Vegas, NV.

There has been so much interest in Internet telephony that we will devote an entire conference track to it at CTI EXPO Fall this December in Las Vegas. Here is a summary… please visit www.ctiexpo.com for details.

Introduction to IP Telephony: How to take advantage of the next generation of telecommunications.

VoIP Primer: Learn the elements necessary to set up and maintain an Internet telephony network: Gateways, gatekeepers, service level management solutions, IP phones, and more.

FoIP Primer: Fax traffic is ideally suited to the Internet, as it requires no QoS guarantees. Come learn how you can save big money by implementing an Internet fax strategy.

Internet Telephony Standards: This session will focus on H.323, MGCP, SIP, and other standards that serve as the ingredients that go into the making of what we like to call the “acronym soup” of Internet telephony.

Prognostications and Presumptions: Learn the history and future trends, the advent of enhanced services, and the impact of Internet telephony on the telecommunications world of the next millenium.

Selecting and Implementing IP Telephony Gateways: Learn what features to look for (scalability, reliability, interoperability), and of course, how to go about implementing and maintaining a solution, once you choose one.

The Role of IP Telephony Gatekeepers: Learn all about the role of the gatekeeper, including authentication and authorization of users and network elements such as gateways, call routing, quality of service, least-cost routing, enhanced services, and much, much more.

Interoperability Essentials: Sorting through the Standards: This session will focus on what it will take to truly reach a widespread level of interoperability, as well as the steps being taken today, with industry associations and initiatives such as iNow! paving the way.

It’s All About the Applications: This session will focus on the first wave of applications already making their way into next-gen networks, and the future of what will be an incredibly lucrative market.

Billing: This session will cover each of the key requirements for a complete Internet telephony billing and customer solution.

The IP-Enabled PBX: This session will focus on what the old guard is doing to protect and evolve their leadership position while startups of all shapes and sizes try to break into the market by offering switching platforms of their own — with the ability to deploy enhanced services on a large scale.

Collaborative Computing/Video Conferencing: Attendees will learn about the various whiteboarding, conferencing, and other collaboration products and applications available, the benefits they can expect to gain from their use, and the special considerations related to their successful deployment.

We have so many new things to introduce at CTI EXPO in Las Vegas, December 7–9, that I can’t even begin to cover all of them here. Please sign up for the show for free today at www.ctiexpo.com and save $25. Once you have done so, we will make sure to keep you posted on the latest developments as they happen via e-mail. For further information, you can always visit our Web site at www.ctiexpo.com for the details.

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