Where's The Beef?
Exploiting The New Public IP Network
BY SCOTT HILTON
Enough talk about broadband access, optical metro networks, lambda
switching, and giga- and terabit routing. How does a service provider turn
all this whiz-bang technology into high-margin, happy customers? The key is
to look at what is most challenging today for consumers, content providers,
and corporations that rely on the network -- and solve their problems. With
this approach, one quickly arrives at a simple conclusion: Satisfy customer
needs by adding value to the many packets passing through the network. To
meet the communications demands of the twenty-first century, service
providers will need to do more than simply "move bits faster" to
survive -- and thrive.
Consumers and businesses alike are frustrated with the general lack of
high-value services, and with the inflexibility and complexity associated
with obtaining basic value-added services. Subscribers and providers both
stand to benefit in the win/win world of network-based, value-added services
that are able to satisfy the full spectrum of user needs with an enduring
and versatile infrastructure. Subscribers get more cost-effective solutions
and service providers get a more profitable business. And with the right
approach, everyone can benefit without forklift upgrades.
DIVERSE USER NEEDS -- BUT WITH A COMMON THEME
What has occurred in voice communications is now occurring in the data
network -- and will ultimately exist in a fully-converged public network for
voice, data, and video communications. Consumer and business users agree on
a fundamental concept: They both want the end-to-end arrangement to be
"dumb" on the premises (home or office) and "smart" in
the network. The reason is simple: Users want the option of trying new
services without buying new equipment. And when users try a new service,
they frequently get hooked and wonder how they could ever have lived without
Just consider how dumb the telephone has become. Once upon a time, people
had "feature phones" and companies had feature-rich PBX systems.
Now, except for the optional speakerphone, wireless handset, and caller-ID
panel, phones are about as basic as originally conceived by Mr. Bell
himself. All advanced capabilities are now available in the PSTN from the
growing list of Centrex features. The very power to operate the phone itself
is also supplied over the line. What could be simpler and more convenient?
The same evolution is occurring in the data and voice-over-data
communications marketplace. Even applications are being outsourced today, as
is evident by the advent of a new type of provider: The Application Service
Provider (ASP). In the new public IP network, service providers have the
opportunity to address three distinct sets of customers, with distinct
Consumer IP Service Requirements
- High-speed, reliable Internet access;
- Bundled Internet, video, and telephone services;
- Ability to control service levels, such as class of service (CoS), in
a simple manner that permits "pay-per-use" charges;
- Basic security protection for always-on services (a consumer
Telecommuter And Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) IP Service Requirements
- Seamless, secure access to the intranet and Internet;
- Logical separation of the personal and business applications operating
on same physical connection;
- Business-class quality of service (QoS) and CoS;
- Robust security protection: a SOHO firewall and virtual private
Remote Office/Branch Office (ROBO) And Campus IP Service Requirements
- Scalable, secure access to the intranet and Internet;
- Flexible connections to ASPs, partner extranets, etc.;
- Mission-critical QoS and service level agreements (SLAs);
- Sophisticated security provisions (an enterprise LAN firewall, VPN,
authentication, and so on).
Satisfying these diverse requirements, including the myriad combinations
and permutations, could become quite complicated without the right
THE WIN/WIN SERVICE LAYER ARCHITECTURE
The service layer exists at the boundary between the access layer and
the backbone layer. This juncture is the logical point in the end-to-end
public network where any service provider (ILEC, CLEC, ISP, NSP, IXC, etc.)
has an equal opportunity to deploy highly-differentiated, value-added
services. Just as important, the service layer architecture also leverages
convergence (voice, data, and video) without requiring it. For these reasons
and more, the service layer architecture provides both tactical benefits and
strategic competitive advantages.
To create an enduring win/win environment between service providers and
their subscribers, the service layer requires a service platform that
satisfies the diverse requirements of consumer, telecommuter, and ROBO
customers previously discussed. The same service platform must also satisfy
the following three service provider requirements:
- Broad customer appeal through a full set of flexible and
easy-to-provision, value-added services, potentially allowing the user
to self-provision any and all services.
- The service platform must have the ability to adapt to dynamic market
requirements, which is best achieved by utilizing a versatile design
based on virtual routing and VPNs.
- The service platform must deliver carrier-class performance and
reliability, which permits CoS, QoS, and SLA guarantees to be offered
with complete confidence.
In addition to these three fundamental service provider requirements, the
ideal service platform remains agnostic with respect to both access (POTS,
DSL, wireless, cable, etc.) and backbone (IP, frame relay, TDM, optical, or
ATM) technologies in order to take full advantage of any advances in either
adjacent "cloud." It also maintains compatibility with existing
networks and management systems (e.g., BGP/RIP/OSPF, RADIUS, LDAP, etc.) and
supports multiple business models that enable mutually beneficial
arrangements among service providers, especially for wholesaling and content
delivery. Finally, the ideal service platform provides a detailed accounting
system to facilitate a broad range of profitable billing options (from
fixed-fee to usage-based).
A SERVICE PLATFORM FOR TODAY -- AND TOMORROW
Next-generation IP service switches based on the service layer
architecture are the answer to the service platform requirements. These
switches are already available from many vendors, and are all engineered to
deliver the same capabilities users have grown accustomed to with the PSTN:
Reliability, quality, simplicity, affordability, security, flexibility, and
Managed services enabled by the service layer architecture:
- Basic security (firewall, intrusion detection, virus scanning, etc.).
- Virtual private networking (tunneling, authentication, and encryption).
- Address and key management (NAT/DHCP,
LDAP, IKE/PKI, etc.).
- Differential service classes (from "best effort" Internet to
"mission-critical" performance based on DiffServ, RSVP,
and/or ATM bit rates).
- B2B and B2C e-commerce.
- Wholesale aggregation.
Deployment of IP service switches begins paying off immediately with
policy-based provisioning of popular value-added services. They interoperate
seamlessly with existing infrastructure to preserve the investment and
facilitate the integration of other service platforms. Their flexible,
scalable, and extensible designs permit "pay as you grow"
expansion into new markets and new services, including VoIP. And despite the
wealth of value-added services enabled by these powerful switches, they
still meet the high-throughput, low-latency requirements of a
One major advantage of an IP service switch is extensible design, which
can be optimized for its strategic location in the public network. Service
providers can deploy a switch configured with a "bare bones"
feature set, and then add capabilities to meet evolving customer demand. For
example, basic tunnel termination and authentication, which appeal to a
broad range of users, would be a natural "bare bones" feature set.
More advanced VPN features (tunneling, encryption, and authentication) can
be added as demanded by the subscriber base. And as the list of VPN
customers grows, QoS and SLA performance-guaranteed services can be added.
The IP service switch also makes it possible for service providers to
respond to market changes in ways previously unimaginable. For example,
service providers regularly expand their presence to new service areas. An
incumbent provider that already has a presence in an area could choose to
compete directly or, alternatively, might consider wholesaling ports -- with
or without value-added features -- to the new service provider. With
wholesaling arrangements, service providers can prevent the erosion of
profits resulting from a downward, price-cutting spiral into commodity-level
Customers will increasingly demand more from the network, and savvy
service providers are beginning to take advantage of this growing
opportunity. Already, business customers are gravitating toward those
service providers who offer highly differentiated, value-added services.
Just as important, the typical customer -- both new and old -- will remain
loyal to the service provider who offers a clear growth path to new, more
powerful capabilities. As customers migrate to managed services, and as the
PSTN and public data networks converge into a more unified global
infrastructure, the many advantages of the service layer architecture will
become clear. There is no need to wait any longer to reap the rewards of a
network-based service offering when the service platform for this promising
future -- the next generation IP service switch -- is available now.
Scott Hilton is director of product marketing at Spring Tide Networks,
where he has responsibility for the product management and strategic
positioning of the company's IP Service Switch product line. Spring Tide is
a developer of carrier-class network equipment that enables service
providers to offer new revenue-enhancing, value-added IP services. For
additional information, visit the company's Web site at www.springtidenet.com.
to the July 2000 table of contents ]