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MicroTCA: Standing up for the little guy

Last week we spoke briefly about the question of next generation COTS hardware and the decisions that face TEMs when considering product re-design.

As we mentioned last time, the PICMG xTCA family of standards seems to be where the clever money is heading due to a number of must-have technical features - serial fabric support, hot swap, support for 40 Gigabit Ethernet and so on.

AdvancedTCA certainly seems to have established itself as the technology of choice in the core. Figures we've seen from ATCA manufacturers suggest that all the main Network Equipment Providers have an ATCA based solution in the field or in development.

Written by
Guy Redmill
Published on
3 Jun 2010

Next Gen equipment at the network edge

So - what about equipment at the network edge where ATCA is too big and too costly? Well, here, the situation is less clear.

MicroTCA (ATCA's little brother) was launched to a fanfare of hype a few years back. Headline catching price promises were made. Manufacturers of PBXs, VoIP Gateways, Session Border Controllers and a host of low-cost industrial applications were invited to wake up and join the party. They really didn't.

Why? Well, price was a big, big part of this initial rejection of MicroTCA. We heard tales of $2,000, $5,000 and $10,000 price tags for relatively small, low density kit. Now that sort of price tag is all very well in the Central Office where ATCA lives but try selling that to a VoIP Gateway manufacturer who wants to take a small analog device to market for a few hundred dollars. Needless to say, they stayed away in their droves.

The death of MicroTCA?

So things went a little quiet on MicroTCA for a while. The industry seemed to reach a consensus that while it was a good technology, it was a TOO good technology, over-engineered, over-complex and over-priced for the markets it was intended for.

So we saw some "MicroTCA-lite" products come to market, stripping away some of the bells and whistles, removing layers of complexity and cost - without much success. We saw manufacturers change their marketing strategies, aiming MicroTCA at less cost-sensitive markets such as defence, aerospace and industrial automation - without much success. We saw roadmaps freeze and resources deploy elsewhere.

Not dead, just sleeping...

Well, as TV tells us, it's a mistake to write off the little guy and we're beginning to see some significant stirrings in the MicroTCA market. We saw a surprising number of MicroTCA enabled applications at MWC2010 and are hearing of more and more companies finally making the leap.

At the moment it's certainly not in the high volume gateway, PBX and enterprise markets that we've seen this take up, not yet at least (if you have a different view we'd be keen to hear it). It's happening at the edge of the wireless network and it does seem to be gaining momentum. MicroTCA was always aimed at WiMAX access equipment and it does seem to be wireless access devices where serial fabrics and high reliability have a more significant and justifiable value and let's face it - it is where people have more money to spend.

It's a market we are keeping a close eye on and one that will be interesting for many of our clients. Feel free to contact us with any thoughts, comments or questions,

Next time we'll share our thinking on the AdvancedMC market - the place where ATCA meets MicroTCA...

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