Cisco, Juniper take rivalry to mobility, Barcelona

Unveil deliverables and timelines for LTE Enhanced Packet Core at Mobile World Congress

Cisco and Juniper are taking their router rivalry to Spain next week as they unveil new and acquired products for wireless operators at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. This market will be hotly contested by the two router leaders, and others, as the percentage of IP data traffic from mobile devices explodes. 

Citing its own Visual Networking Index research, Cisco says global mobile data traffic increased 160% percent over the past year, to the equivalent of 23 million DVDs.  It is growing 2.4 times faster than global fixed broadband data traffic, the company says.

And many in the industry believe Cisco trumped Juniper by acquiring Starent Networks, a maker of mobile packet core gateways for transitioning 2G and 3G networks to 4G/LTE. A Juniper/Starent partnership was already underway and some thought Juniper might acquire the company to fill out its mobility strategy, especially in the enhanced packet core (EPC) of operator networks.

D'OH! Cisco last fall grabbed Starent instead with a $2.9 billion dowry. And this week, Cisco unveiled the ASR 5000, a Cisco-branded version of Starent's ST40 mobile packet core gateway.  The ST40/ASR 5000 has been augmented with what Cisco calls the Mobility Unified Reporting System for the product. This application is intended to provide mobile operators with a set of reporting and management tools to help them optimize network performance, offer customized services and improve the consumer's mobile experience.

Juniper counters by announcing the availability of three products under its Project Falcon mobility initiative. Project Falcon, unveiled last fall, is intended to develop products for the mobile packet core and subscriber management of 4G networks, as well as "universal edge" applications integrating wireline and wireless networks.

Among the first deliverables from Project Falcon are software applications for policy-based network congestion control, and efficient video and media delivery. These will be available in the second quarter. 

But the real key to the success of Project Falcon is a product that won't go into beta until the fourth quarter -- Juniper's Mobile Core Evolution, a mobile packet core system supporting 3G and 4G services on the same network and the chief combatant to Cisco's currently shipping ASR 5000. 

Is timing an issue to success in the enhanced packet core? Dell'Oro Group says the mobile infrastructure market is still hamstrung by the 2G to 3G transition, and that the 3G-based WCDMA is expected to be the prime contributor to the market over the next 5 years, when it reaches $42 billion -- still shy of the record revenue of over $43 billion reached in 2008.

But the firm also says that initial LTE deployments will begin in 2010 and that LTE revenue during the same period is forecast to be nearly equal to aggregate revenue from the GSM, CDMA and WiMAX markets.

"The timing on the EPC stuff is probably not a critical thing for (Juniper)," says Tom Nolle, president of consultancy CIMI Corp. in Voorhees, NJ. "I don't see any significant EPC deployments until 2011. I don't think you'll see anything more than the early deployments in 2010. But if you don't have enough of the total EPC picture to participate fully in an LTE deployment in 2010, you're going to have to unseat the guy who does."

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