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Delay hinders RPR's progress

Sat, 08/31/2002 - 8:00pm
Jeff Baumgartner, Assistant Editor

Thanks to a grueling review process, standard approval for highly touted Resilient Packet Ring (RPR) technology might not happen until about the time Frodo fans hit theaters to see "The Return of the King," the final installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

RPR, a Layer 2 technology, is designed to take the best of Sonet and Ethernet to support carrier-class voice services as well as packet-based applications. Because it lives on Layer 2, RPR can cohabitate with existing Sonet and Ethernet physical layers.

Originally, it was speculated that the RPR standard would get its final stamp of approval in the spring of next year. As it turns out, the IEEE might not green-light it until the fall of 2003.

Still, RPR reached a key milestone in July, as the working group voted to accept no further technical changes in the draft standard, unless "something was broken and needed to be fixed," says Bob Love, president of the RPR Alliance and vice chairman of the IEEE 802.17 working group.

That means the RPR working group has finally drawn its line in the sand, allowing silicon vendors to spin chips without worrying about making expensive, near-term changes. Even if something in the silicon must be changed later, the hope is that it can be made in software, rather than hardware, Love adds.

That completed, the 1.0 version of the RPR standard draft was expected to emerge by the time this story is published. From there, the draft will go out for review, then, by November, to a working group ballot.

Even though a final standard is not expected to get approval until next fall, Love expects to see plenty of pre-standard RPR hardware become available by early 2003. In fact, some vendors are already shipping RPR-based products to live customers.

Love chalks up the delay to a rigorous review process coupled with the overall appeal of RPR among the vendor community. "We have a whole bunch of players with bright ideas, but not everything fit together all at once," he says. "We ended up with a larger set of ideas to sift through."

Despite a new schedule for the standard, the RPR Alliance, a consortium that educates the marketplace about the benefits of RPR, lost a key cog earlier this year when Luminous Networks decided to pull its membership.

Luminous, a founding alliance member and a key player in determining the technical makeup of RPR, made the move, believing that the standard is down to "the editing and finer points."

Raj Sharma, Luminous director of engineering, Network Architecture, says his company had to make the decision based on how the company could best utilize its resources. Despite its departure from the alliance, Luminous is still supporting the goal of the technology through its participation in the RPR working group.

Sharma argues that RPR is ready to move to the next phase, which shifts control to the RPR working group and the focus to the actual writing of the standard. "It's a daunting task," he says. "For engineers, everything is in their head. It takes effort in the editorial process to get the semantics right."

Politics notwithstanding, Luminous' decision was also economically motivated. As a former principal member, Luminous paid $25,000 to the RPR Alliance each year. Participating members pay an annual fee of $10,000.

Still, Luminous believes its financial commitment to the RPR working group will equal, if not surpass, its past commitments to the alliance. Sharma notes that working group participation–which runs about $300 per meeting for each candidate plus travel, food and lodging–will cost more than its annual alliance dues once did.

Luminous also believes that a delay in a final RPR standard won't bar it from moving forward with a pre-RPR solution. At last check, Luminous had shipped more than 30,000 ports. On the domestic cable front, Cox Communications has deployed Scientific-Atlanta Inc.'s Prisma IP platform (repackaged via a deal with Luminous) in Lafayette, La. About half of Luminous' business is international, and its largest deployment is with China Netcom Corp.

Love says Luminous' departure is not part of a developing trend, noting that the RPR Alliance has recently added new members such as Arris, and is presently comprised of 19 principal and participating members. Still, "we'll welcome them back," if Luminous should change its mind, he adds.

The RPR Alliance also hopes to expand its influence beyond promotion and education to include the coordination of RPR interoperability testing. "We think that may bring in more companies to participate with the alliance," Love says.

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