Vendors aim ATM at lower-speed nets

WASHINGTON D.C.—Many of the Asynchronous Transfer Mode-related products announced or demonstrated last week at ComNet reflect a vendor push to bring ATM to users outside the scope of the high-speed high-bandwidth applications typically associated with the technology.

ATM was initially billed as an advanced technology for transmitting voice data and video at speeds of 155 megabit/sec or higher. But some of the industry's biggest players last week announced products operating at speeds of 25 megabit/sec and as low as T-1 speeds of 1.5 megabit/sec. Northern Telecom (Nortel) announced an enhancement to its Magellan ATM switch to support T-1 transmissions.

A company spokesman said the enhancement makes the company the first vendor to offer ATM supporting speeds from 1.5 megabit/sec to 622 megabit/sec. Sam Fenati enterprise business manager for Nortel Federal Systems said the 1.5 megabit/sec ATM capability—which he said would be available on the company's General Services Administration schedule contracts—will allow new users to jump onto the ATM bandwagon for less money.

"T-1 is a lot less expensive [than higher-speed technology] and it's more prolific " Fenati said. "It would make the market much wider than it normally would be. And you can do video over T-1 but you would have to employ compression techniques which are getting better all of the time."

Tekelec announced an upgrade to its Chameleon protocol analyzer that will allow the product to perform bandwidth testing for ATM at T-1 rates. The Chameleon protocol analyzer is available on NASA's Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement through Unisys Corp. and on the Defenses Department's Integration for Command Control Communications Computers and Intelligence contract through BTG Inc.

Leon O'Dell Tekelec's territory sales manager who handles much of the company's federal work said he sees demand from federal customers for tools to diagnose and analyze ATM transmissions on T-1 lines.

IBM Corp. announced a 25 megabit/sec ATM switch and adapter that lists for $495 per user a price point that the company thinks will attract government users to ATM and allow the company to bid on ATM contracts that were previously out of reach.

"Last year it would not have been [possible] for us to supply the government with an ATM solution " said Mark Knittel director of network integration products at IBM's Networking Hardware Division. "Price was a barrier to [ATM] to the desktop and we couldn't meet the government's stringent price requirements. We could now respond to an RFP whereas last year we couldn't."

IBM's new 8285 Nways Workgroup Switch is aimed at small configurations of up to 48 ATM workstations. The base model has 12 25-megabit/sec ATM ports and a feature slot on the front panel that can be used as a 155 megabit/sec ATM port and comes with a 25 megabit/sec adapter.

3Com Corp. announced it will release 25 megabit/sec ATM products later this year. These include ATM-25 adapter cards an ATM-25 interface for the ONcore Integrated System and a stand-alone ATM-25 switch called the CELLplex 4000 that will come with integrated LAN emulation services and 155 megabit/sec downlinks.

BTG and Electronic Data Systems Corp. will carry the 3Com products on their GSA schedules starting in April. Likewise Bay Networks Inc. announced an agreement to resell ATM desktop products manufactured by First Virtual Corp. The product set which includes a 25 megabit/sec workgroup ATM switch and a 25 megabit/sec network interface card "will speed the deployment of desktop multimedia applications in ATM environments " a Bay Networks spokeswoman said.

StrataCom also introduced a smaller version of its IGX switch called the IGX 8. The new ATM switch supports voice frame relay narrow- and broadband ATM interfaces from 128 megabit/sec to 155 megabit/sec and high- and low-speed interfaces.

"The IGX 8 is very important for the federal government because it handles legacy traffic low-speed synchronous and asynchronous traffic that the government is rife with and has had a difficult time getting those kind of connections up to ATM speeds " said Tony Keyes general manager of federal systems for StrataCom.

The U.S. Geological Survey a StrataCom user since 1989 intends to replace its StrataCom IPX 32 switches with the company's ATM Integrated Gigabit Switches sometime this year said Elaine Stout acting chief of the Office of Information Services at USGS.

It remains questionable just how many federal users will want low-speed ATM service. Steven Corey-Bey director of technology planning and analysis at the Education Department said personnel there are installing an ATM infrastructure to support its student loan program and other initiatives—even though most connections providing access to the department's databases run at T-1 speeds or 56 kilobit/sec.

He said the decision to install ATM at low speeds is based on the notion that the department will eventually consolidate all its bandwidth into large pipes in about three years. He said ATM appears to be the switching technology that will allow users to merge end-to-end digital voice data and video over those circuits and accommodate them as network demands grow.

"ATM is the migration path and you have to be positioned to get there " he said. "Anticipation is the name of the game."

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