Carriers are investing heavily in edge network equipment and services because that's where the profit is, but they have neglected their aging core routers. However, the growing volume and complexity of IP traffic will breathe new life into the core router market over the next few years, as operators seek out more efficient and scalable next-generation routing platforms.
"What's happened over the last few years is the core has been somewhat under-invested [in] because a lot of carriers realized they needed to put more intelligence in the [edge] network and develop more services," said Ray Mota, managing partner at ACG Research. "But ... after you do that for some time, it puts stress on the core."
As operators' legacy core routing platforms reach the end of their lifecycles or no longer meet network demands, service providers will look to core router vendors for higher capacities, greater port density and improved scalability, according to Shin Umeda, vice president at Dell'Oro Group.
Although hardware components such as 100 Gbps interfaces will be critical for carriers, they’re not the only features they'll be considering, he said. Software and silicon must be powerful enough to make routing decisions at those speeds, Umeda said.
"On paper, a vendor could have a product that has all the right interfaces and all the right hardware, but when you turn on the machine, it doesn't function to the theoretical capacity—and capacity is partly throughput, partly scalability," he said. "It all goes back to silicon."
Service providers will also demand more integration between the optical and IP layers in core routing platforms as carriers look to consolidate network devices, Mota said.