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Back to the video future for ATM
Industry groups are looking to retrofit existing technologies through standards developments to make them more suited to the delivery of broadband telco services.
At a recent California conference, organised by the ATM Forum, strategies were mapped out for the development of standards for delivering streaming media and the like more reliably over existing carrier infrastructures.
During the Delivering Video over Packet-based Networks event the MPLS Forum initiated several new schemes, most notably Frame Relay, Ethernet, and ATM Service Interworking over MPLS Networks.
MPLS is an important traffic management protocol for service provider core networks.
The ATM Forum initiated work on ATM/SIP interworking, to address technology gaps in video over packet highlighted during the meeting.
Work to push ahead with standards for the delivery of MPEG-4 streaming media over ATM networks, for the provision of video on demand services, was also pushed forward.
Considered the technology to deliver converged video, voice and data networks in the late 1990s little has been heard of Asynchronous Transfer Mode ((ATM) of late.
That brash upstart, Gigabit Ethernet (GigE), now carries vendors' hopes of extracting investments from cash-strapped telcos.
Gigabit Ethernet is becoming commoditised and revenue generating services can more easily be set up over GigE, the pitch goes.
However there's an awful lot of ATM kit out there and in situations where bandwidth is restricted and quality of service is an important concern using existing kit makes more sense than a forklift upgrade to GigE.
Andy Bray, of the ATM Forum, told us that means ATM-based products will continue to find use as access equipment (in DSL kit) and within the core of service provider networks for some time to come.
Bray concedes that ATM "doesn't have much of a direct role" in Metropolitan Area Networks where the technically inferior, but cheaper, upstart Gigabit Ethernet reigns supreme. Enterprises, unless they're very big, are unlikely to invest in new ATM kit either, he admits.
Many leading vendors in the ATM space - Nortel and Marconi, for instance - have had a torrid time of late - but ATM equipment is still been sold even by those most enthusiastic in evangelising Gigabit Ethernet. Bray points out that Cisco accounts for 30 per cent of ATM switch sales.
"ATM equipment continues to be sold but it's not sexy and seldom talked about," he said. "Some vendors look to a future of building services on an IP network with almost infinite capacity but we're not in that situation yet."
Bray points out that service providers have already made a substantial investment in ATM kit and that it remains the best technology over which to combine video, voice and data networks.
"For service providers, reinvesting in a technology they've already got represents a low risk strategy to squeeze the most out of what they already have," said Bray.
The battle for telco mindshare between ATM and GigE has been fought out with the kind of intensity more characteristic of OS wars. ATM's detractors, like one telco executive we spoke to last week, describe ATM as a dead duck technology.
A duck can walk, swim and fly but do none of them very well. ATM can so voice, video and data but doesn't excel at any of these content types. So ATM's detractors compare the venerable protocol to a duck, and suggest its quackers to back it for future service deployments.
Really that's a bit below the belt and, particularly for DSL, "safe and mature" ATM will remain the daddy for some time to come.
The way ahead
The ATM Forum, whose members hail mainly from service providers and networking equipment manufacturers, holds quarterly Broadband Exchange meetings aimed at keeping members up to speed on specific segments of the networking market.
The next meeting will look at 3G/4G wireless broadband and takes place in Madrid, Spain on April 28. ®