The switching and routing technology allows Nortel to determine the geographic location of a Web visitor, as well as the capabilities of the visitor's computer equipment -- whether a surfer is using a broadband connection to the Internet or a dial-up modem, for example.
Nortel hopes to be able to give service providers an additional way to make money, by enabling advertising based in geographic areas or tuned to specific preferences culled from the profiles of Web surfers, said Dominic Orr, president of Nortel's content networking business unit. The technology provides "a new way in which the user and the provider come together," he said. "As a result of this shift of these forces, intelligence moves from the core to the edge."
The Alteon switches are designed to be placed at the edge of the network, in server farms and with Internet service provider's equipment. Alteon's Web switches smooth out traffic over the Internet, speeding up data transmission by spreading the load out among servers on the network. Nortel intends its product offering to use this capability to add a layer of network intelligence -- switches that understand the difference between a text file download and a video clip, and can adapt to the personal preferences of individual Internet users.
Nortel is competing with other companies in the field of personalising the Web experience, notably Akamai Technologies., which is rolling out capabilities for Web sites to recognise the geographic location of online visitors and has teamed up with content providers and profiling companies to optimise the service. Cisco Systems also touts similar edge-of-network intelligence in switching products from its ArrowPoint Communications subsidiary.