Turning The Internet Into The Universal Network
BY RANDY STORCH
Today the Internet holds the greatest potential for becoming the Universal
Network for communications to the home, small business, and enterprise. This network
will deliver an assortment of traditional IP-based applications such as fax over IP
(FoIP), voice over IP (VoIP), and unified messaging plus a host of new, yet-to-be
defined applications that will drive greater usage of the Internet. Demand for
applications will allow ISPs to offer new services that will help them fill the
pipe, creating new sources of revenue.
The proliferation of these services is contingent on the ability of service providers
to offer new services over their existing infrastructure. What is needed is a way to
leverage the existing infrastructure of the Internet to create a single, integrated
platform that will treat all these applications the same, and give the ISP central control
over associated services. What is needed is an operating system for IP applications.
IP MESSAGING AT A GLANCE
Voice/data communications is one of the most exciting and fastest growing industries in
the world. The integration of the PSTN with packet-switched IP networks is paving the way
for innovative communications solutions. The industry is growing so fast that, according
to Dataquest, worldwide revenues for the FoIP market are anticipated to grow 224 percent
from $18 million in 1997 to $4 billion by 2002 (based on 20 billion pages forecasted to be
transmitted over data networks that year). VoIP will have revenues of $25 billion by 2002,
according to IDC/Link. Additionally, worldwide telecommunications deregulation is
fostering a highly competitive environment in which service providers must be able to
differentiate themselves from their competitors, and introduce new services to grow their
customer base, while simultaneously broadening their revenue stream a serious
Messaging vendors must have the technical and business expertise to allow customers to
realize revenue from IP services like IP-enabled fax and voice services today, plus
unified messaging and more tomorrow. Service providers will cut time-to-market for
innovative applications; reduce investment by leveraging existing IP network
infrastructure; and ensure quality and reliability with proven, commercially installed
technology. Service providers must be empowered to offer best-of-breed solutions quickly
to their customers. Simply put, rapid deployment equals greater market share.
CHALLENGES TO DELIVER MORE IP-BASED APPLICATIONS
In the rush to offer IP-based services and reduce subscriber churn, service
providers are deploying closed solutions systems that are incompatible
with a service providers existing services. These systems restrict them to a
vendors own proprietary solutions, and/or are not compliant with increasingly
complex industry standards (such as LDAP, SMTP, H.323, T.37, and T.38). The problem with
closed and proprietary solutions is that while they offer quick fixes, they are not
designed to scale for increased traffic growth meaning that bottlenecks are likely
to happen, leading to potential system failures and delays in growing IP services. In
addition to having limited potential growth, a closed solution is generally expensive to
start and operate.
To complicate matters further, as a service provider deploys an increasing number of
IP-based services from voice to fax to unified messaging the provider finds
that each application is unable to integrate with the other. This lack of integration
complicates already difficult network administration and networking issues, and
effectively raises the providers cost of ownership costs which are then
passed on to the subscriber. It is vital that service providers pay attention to several
key industry trends:
The value of time-critical communication and information...
People demand the ability to access and generate critical information anytime and
anywhere. Service providers need to offer new services to help subscribers send and
receive information quickly and successfully from any location.
The importance of single bill and services unification...
To differentiate from the competition, service providers must offer new unified and
integrated services, allowing for simple, straightforward billing.
Convergence of various communication media types...
The convergence of telephony, computers, communications, and multimedia is
accelerating. From the wide acceptance of voice mail to new solutions for hybrid PSTN/IP
multiservice networks, both businesses and consumers have greater access to, and demand
convenience from a service providers offerings. Convergence also opens new service
possibilities for users not previously available from PSTN (such as message conversion).
The importance of Internet standards and open systems...
In order to offer best-of-breed solutions quickly, a service provider must avoid a
closed network infrastructure. The difficulty here becomes apparent in the beginning
stages of designing a value-added services network infrastructure careful analysis
and long-term planning is essential early on.
Various applications available to users in the future...
Making applications IP-ready holds huge revenue potential for service providers who
have traditionally relied on Internet access for e-mail, browsing, and Web hosting. FoIP
is the first PSTN application that has migrated to the Internet. Industry analysts predict
that the market for FoIP will grow from $80 million in 1999 to $4 billion in 2002. Many
others, such as VoIP and unified messaging, are expected to grow even faster. In fact,
VoIP is expected to grow from $3 billion in 1999 to nearly $25 billion in 2002.
EMBRACING THE PLATFORM APPROACH TO IP SERVICES
How then does a service provider, faced with competitive pressures, offer
IP-based services quickly without sacrificing long-term traffic and revenue growth? The
answer is to deploy an IP services creation platform. An IP services creation platform is
a platform approach to an application-centric industry. Most service providers deploy
single applications that perform one service, such as IP fax, or voice. Unfortunately, as
we have seen, trying to integrate these disparate applications is difficult, and
administering them is costly. By deploying a platform solution, service providers can
deploy many different IP-based applications from various vendors that share a common
platform foundation. A common platform that supports various applications which is
analogous to a PC operating systems ability to host many productivity applications
makes it easier for service providers to administer, support, and integrate into
their network infrastructures.
A platform approach to IP services not only makes it easier for service providers to
deploy but easier for application vendors to develop new applications. Much
like an operating system, an Internet services creation platform abstracts the hardware
and underlying technologies from the applications so that developers can concentrate on
building a solution and not worry about communications protocols or other low-level
functionality. As a result, vendors can develop applications more quickly than before,
while service providers know that the various IP services they deploy will be able to
integrate and talk to each other via the platform. A services creation
platform thus empowers providers with the ability to offer the newest best-of-breed
solutions from vendors, and quickly deploy them to their subscribers. The result: Rapid
deployment equals greater marketshare.
Key features to look for in an Internet creation services platform are:
Minimal Startup Costs: The platform should leverage your existing network
infrastructure, such as RAS ports, authentication and billing systems, and telephony
boards, to make it easy to get into the market quickly and affordably.
Carrier-Class Architecture: The platform should feature a modular and
distributed architecture to allow for massive scalability. Other critical considerations
include high availability and open interfaces required for carrier deployment.
Easy Network Administration: The platform should feature an easy-to-use
administration interface that allows network administrators to perform various tasks
remotely, e.g., software upgrades, parameter management, etc. The platform should also
support network-wide resource management, provide end-to-end message tracking for
effective troubleshooting and customer service support, and allow service providers to
leverage existing staff and network management tools, such as SNMP, to achieve lower cost
Complete Hardware Abstraction: By abstracting the hardware, third-party IP
vendors can develop applications quickly without worrying about underlying hardware. Like
a PC operating system, the platform must abstract the underlying hardware and telephony
devices, such as RAS platforms and fax/DSP boards. This would insulate third-party
application developers from the complexities of the underlying hardware, enabling quicker
integration and testing especially in situations where the network infrastructure
includes a variety of hardware platforms and telephony devices.
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs): This platform should provide
maximum flexibility for the service provider and developers through a set of extensible
APIs. APIs would enable third-party vendors to easily develop new modules or applications
for the platform to provide additional IP services. Moreover, APIs would let third parties
and providers take advantage of their existing commercial or in-house business operations
(such as database services, subscriber provisioning and management, routing algorithms,
etc.), allowing for unprecedented flexibility in service offerings.
Industry Standards Compliance: The platform should also be compliant with
industry-standard protocols, such as T.37, T.38, H.323, SNMP, LDAP, and SMTP, so that it
seamlessly interfaces with other vendor solutions as well as the providers network.
Media Type Conversion: The platform should be able to convert from one media
type to another on the fly, so that message data received in one format can be received,
converted to a different format, and then output to the appropriate device. For example,
it should be possible for fax message data to be converted to voice mail, e-mail, or a
variety of other formats. Similarly, e-mail data should be able to be converted to fax,
voice, etc. The conversion should be on a per recipient basis, with different recipient
messages receiving a unique conversion.
User Defined Address Translation (UDAT): The platform should allow subscribers
to your service to define which device they want to use to receive their messages. For
example, if your subscribers are going to be on the road, and want to receive all their
messages via voice mail, they can have IP LaunchPad automatically address
rewrite all their messages to their voice mail number without needing the message
originators to change their user experience.
Service providers have a great opportunity to introduce new IP applications in
their IP networks. The work performed with this next generation technology is expected to
be the pivotal piece in bringing disparate message types together on one network
the Internet. But, providers must be involved with the applications themselves. With a
variety of vendors to choose from, service providers can offer subscribers the newest
best-of-breed solutions available.
Randy Storch is Chairman, CEO, and President of Open Port Technology, Inc. Open
Port has helped some of the worlds leading Internet and telecommunications companies
deploy IP messaging services, including China Telecom, Concord Technologies, Inc., GRIC
Communications, Inc., the MCI Worldcom Companies, Motorola, and Southwestern Bell Corp.
For more information, visit Open Ports Web site at www.openport.com.