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Startup softswitch providers target second-tier players

As softswitch technology continues to upstage circuit-based standards, some new companies have launched forays into the space.

They do not look forward to dueling the big players like Nortel Networks Ltd., Siemens AG, Alcatel Alsthom and Lucent Technologies Inc., but they want their place in the wireless sun.

Winphoria was one of the companies to snag the attention of major vendors. Motorola Inc. responded by consummating its relationship with the softswitch startup by buying the company to shore up what industry saw as the vendor’s major drawback in carrier contracts: the absence of a good switch.

But the yearning for softswitches coincided with the telecom meltdown, and the major players focused on cost cutting and survival while new players entered the market.

One of them was the Emergent Networks Solutions Inc., which has announced a new softswitch known as Entice, which it describes as part of its portfolio of open solutions.

Other players in this space include Sonus Networks and Telica Inc.

“A lot of players have come to this market and can make money on anything,” remarked Nathan Franzmeier, chief executive officer of ENS. “The big companies were worrying about fixing their immediate finances and they put their engineering on hold.”

Another company, Stratus Networks, will announce this week a partnership with a major Asian player. The Asian player will leverage Stratus’ softswitch platform for its next-generation network infrastructure. The platform facilitates the working together of circuit networks and packet networks, according to Ali Kafel, director of the telecom business unit for Stratus.

“We allow the softswitches of the various companies to run in a fault-tolerant environment that provides building blocks,” remarked Kafel, adding that Stratus facilitates the softswitches that are developed on a general-purpose computer.

Analysts think that the big players are beginning to notice the smaller players, whose solutions may be smarter and more scalable than those offered by bigger vendors.

“The emerging ones don’t have the technology baggage of the big ones,” said Kafel, but noted further that the Alcatels and Nortels have more money, resources and stronger names.

Franzmeier agrees. “They have their niche with the tier-one carriers and they are somewhat successful,” he said. “Some have been complete failures, though.”

While smaller, nimbler players face the shadow of acquisition, Franzmeir said that does not bother his company.

“We’ve been profitable since our first three months,” he emphasized. “We don’t have to sign $10 million deals.”

When Winphoria rolled out its softswitch solution, its main pitch was that its solution did not have the burden of wireline infrastructure and it is totally scalable. It partnered with Motorola before the Schaumburg, Ill., company gobbled it up.

While Telica, Sonus and ENS will have to compete with the big players, Stratus focuses on partnerships with softswitch makers. It competes against companies like Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. HP bought Tandem to acquire that competency.

Franzmeier said his company is working with media gateway company Starent Technologies Inc. in China to facilitate the deployment of a mobile instant-messaging solution. Its solution bridges data and voice on one platform.

Smaller companies believe that the solutions of the bigger players are cumbersome.

Softswitches take away the applications tardiness and the functions of the controller from the circuit networks into a computer platform and route them through the media gateway, which is less sophisticated.

“The softswitch is the master while the media gateway is the slave,” said Kafel.

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