ATM Reaches Middle Age
by Bob Bellman

Published November 2002




After more than a decade of development and deployment, asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) has reached middle age—mature enough to be dependable, experienced enough to be useful, but with years to go before retirement. Yesterday’s ATM switches have evolved into today’s multiservice WAN switches, and now provide a reliable, cost-effective foundation for frame relay, DSL, IP, ISDN, private line, wireless and, of course, native ATM services.


Because it is entrenched in public data networks and making inroads into telephony and wireless, ATM isn’t about to yield to IP, MPLS or any other upstart technology. Instead, vendors and service providers continue to find new ways to depend on ATM.


Customers believe in ATM, demand is increasing and new markets are opening. So what could possibly go wrong? The worst-case scenario seems to be stagnation, as the telecom industry implodes and the survivors grow complacent.


With all the vendors facing financial problems to varying degrees, something’s got to give. Ideally, a host of new companies would be waiting in the wings, ready to enter as the old guard exits. But the number of viable multiservice switch startups is shrinking fast. A few, like WaveSmith and Équipe, may make it, but most of the others are either going or gone.


On the demand side, the major carriers are also strapped for money, and consolidation talk is in the air. So it’s easy to imagine a world with just one or two switch vendors serving a handful of service providers. In that case, expect ATM to take its place next to TDM and SONET as a venerable, but stagnant foundation technology for public network services.


About the author:

Bob Bellman is president of Brook Trail Research, a consultancy specializing in network technology assessment and marketing.



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