Juniper Networks is releasing a new range of routers aimed specifically at business as an alternative to Cisco kit. The new J-Series products, which will be available in the UK from September, will run a version of the modular Junos operating system.

The company claimed the market was ripe for the new routers. No-one has been able to dent Cisco's dominant market share the way Juniper has in carrier routing. "There's clearly an opportunity for somebody to step up and be the number two vendor," agreed Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at The Yankee Group.

So it's Juniper's turn with the J-Series. The routers have three models: the 2300, 4300 and 6300. The 2300 is an 8Mbit/s device with two WAN ports. The 4300 is a 16Mbit/s router with six WAN ports and the 6300 is a 90Mbit/s device also with six WAN ports. All have two Fast Ethernet ports and will be priced at less than $2,000, as are Cisco's. The UK prices have not yet been published.

One challenge, however, is that access routers are much more price sensitive than the high-ticket core routers Juniper sells. "It's bad news for anybody whose business model isn't oriented toward providing low-cost commodity products," says Michael Kennedy, co-founder of Network Strategy Partners. "To be successful, Juniper has to change its business model."

Juniper's Peter Crowcombe, head of corporate marketing for Juniper UK, said that the company was not expecting an overnight success, but he pointed out that the company had made inroads into the core routing market and he saw the challenge as broadly similar. He said that the company would not be competing on price alone, as there would be little difference between Juniper and Cisco pricing, although he said that Juniper would be offering more performance for the price.

One of the key advantages would be that Junos is a modular system so if there any problems with a particular part of the install, there was no need to reboot the entire process. It is also easier to upgrade.

But one remaining issue is the sales channel. Jim Dolce, its vice president of worldwide field operations said that the company would be able to access the new market easily. "The distribution channel that we've brought on with the acquisition of NetScreen is well suited for this product," he says, referring to the 400 resellers Juniper inherited from its $4 billion acquisition of NetScreen early this year. However, Crowcombe said that in the UK, the company was looking carefully at the channel as not all the partners would be appropriate. "Some might not be suitable for supporting routers as they're very heavily focused on security products," he said.

Crowcombe also admitted that an issue for Juniper would be the lack of experienced staff and that managers would find it easier to get hold of engineers with experience of Cisco. "But routing is not the most complex technology in the world," he said. "The underlying technology is the same, it's just the instructions that are different. It's a tough challenge, but we did it with the core routers."