Session Border Control

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Rich Tehrani

[See other articles by David Sims]


[March 23, 2005]

Session Border Controllers To Live (A While) Longer


Session border controllers are those devices that make it possible for IP phone calls to easily cross firewalls. Theyre relatively new little gizmos, but as recently as a year ago their future prospects were bleak.

Rather than sitting in carrier networks as a standalone device, their software belongs within softswitches that are used to set up and control calls in IP phone networks, according to Network World Fusion.

There is pressure to put more functions of session border controllers onto routers and switches, and its not a question of if, but when, said Dan Freedman, CEO of session border controller maker Jasomi Networks a year ago during a trade show.

Some vendors said then that the devices perform some unique functions. For instance, carriers whose networks need to peer want to mediate traffic across network-to-network interfaces and keep track of how much traffic goes in and out, said Bruce Hill, CEO of Netrake.

Media gateways could absorb the functions of session border controllers, however. A media gateway converts traffic from one protocol to another as it goes from one type of network to another. But Hill predicted that as IP takes over for TDM in carrier networks, there will be less need for converting between the two protocols, and so media gateways will become less necessary.

Yet as Light Reading has suggested recently, the players in the niche session border controller market can breathe a little easier:

Larger VoIP softswitch players have no firm plans to incorporate session border control features into their products, even while service provider customers are starting to ask for them, according to a report released recently by Heavy Reading, the market research arm of Light Reading.

This should come as good news to session border controller purveyors. One of the big questions about that market has been whether the products would eventually just turn into features of larger products. For now, the Heavy Reading report says, that isnt so.

Most major softswitch vendors are not ready to address session border control as a strategic part of their next-generation network plans, says Graham Beniston, the Heavy Reading senior analyst who wrote the 117-page report.

The softswitch vendors, Beniston says, are relying on partnerships with smaller SBC specialist companies to deliver SBC functions to their customers. Rather than develop their own expertise, he says, those vendors are likely to acquire smaller specialists when the time is right.

The SBC space has been referred to by some in the investment community as the last frontier of products in the VoIP infrastructure. The mean age of the main players in the SBC space is probably around five years.

Then again, the market isnt huge. Infonetics Research Inc. expects revenues from SBC sales to grow to more than $430 million per year by 2007.

Yet there was enough buzz in mid-March for some SBC vendors to speculate about and IPO. We wont do an IPO in calendar year 2005, Acme Packet CEO Andy Ory told Light Reading. We have had some inadvertent months of profitability, Ory said, and any given quarter we could be profitable, but now we are just trying to build the business.

Kagoor Networks Marketing VP Jim Greenwood said An IPO is the holy grail of startups. We are going to be looking at it its just a matter of timing, but youve got to prove market dominance before you start talking about public monies. Kagoor has not reached profitability yet, and Greenwood said it has set no specific date to break even.

Theres likely to be interest from the investment banking side to take some of these companies public. Meanwhile, service providers and others definitely seem to be acknowledging the need for SBCs in their requests for proposals. Service providers are now asking vendors to help us deal all our edges, as Acme Packets Ory put it.

Session Border Control

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