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July 2010 | Volume 2/Number 4
Feature Story

The New Normal

Making the Most of Legacy Assets
By Paula Bernier  

The economic downturn, which has constrained spending and given a bump to the good, old-fashioned mindset that you should use what you got, is leading businesses and carriers to figure out how they can make the most of their legacy services and infrastructure.

This closely mirrors the trend we saw during the turn of the century following the dot-com bust and the fall of WorldCom. But back then folks in the industry were just coming off the halcyon days of the Silicon Valley start-up, and many high-tech types had yet to live through a financial storm of any kind. As a result, marketing folks were so dizzied by what some called the "telecom nuclear winter" that they were hard-pressed to come up with positive messaging around the trend not to spend. So the term "sweating your assets" came into vogue.

Today, after having driven through two giant economic potholes within a single decade, things appear to be on the comeback. Still, we’re all hyper-aware of the need to manage closely our spending and migrate to new technologies only when it makes sense from a capex and/or opex perspective. And, really, whatever the economic climate, this thinking makes sense.

No one is sweating over it anymore. In fact, it’s become the new normal.

As a result, companies that deliver communications solutions to businesses and service providers are emphasizing, and in many cases seeing good success with, products that enable these customers to leverage existing investments while supporting new technologies and services as needed.

"Service providers today are challenged to take advantage of next-generation services revenue but at the same time protect their existing assets," notes Kevin Morgan, director of product marketing at ADTRAN (News - Alert). "Solutions that make sense for these providers must be flexible and able to provide a smooth transition path for legacy TDM and ATM networks as they migrate to Ethernet and offer a variety of next-generation services."

Morgan is making reference here to the ADTRAN Total Access 5000 MSAP, a broadband access and aggregation platform that supports TDM to packet, ATM to Ethernet, copper to fiber, and legacy to next-generation services simultaneously and from a common platform.

More than 150 service provider customers today use the Total Access 5000.

"As a whole, it signals that the TA5000 has come on the scene as a game changer in this market," says Morgan.

Among the most recent customers to sign on to use the solution are Frontier Communications Corp., Millry Telephone, Reliance Connects and TEC.

Frontier will use ADTRAN’s Total Access 5000 Multi-Service Access and Aggregation Platform and Total Access 1100 and 1200 Series fiber-to-the-node products to deliver broadband to customers across the expanded geographic footprint it will soon have as a result of its acquisition of Verizon (News - Alert) Communications properties. That deal was expected to close July 1. Frontier, which offers broadband, video and phone services in 24 states, will become the largest provider of communications services to rural America following the deal – serving more than 6 million access lines in 27 states.

Millry Telephone, which offers services in southwest Alabama, is using the TA5000 and ADTRAN’s Total Access 1124P as part of its fiber-to-the-node effort. The ADTRAN solution enabled the company to address growing bandwidth demands while creating a migration path to an Ethernet-based core network.

Reliance Connects sells residential services in Nevada and Oregon. It’s using the TA5000 along with the Total Access 1124P Sealed DSLAMs and Total Access 300 Series ONTs to support its fiber-to-the-home effort.

"ADTRAN’s Total Access 5000 will allow us to evolve our legacy DLC deployments to a next-generation Ethernet architecture, allowing us to upgrade services within our footprint and benefit from the significant operational efficiencies that Ethernet brings," says Dennis Anderson, engineering manager at Reliance Connects.

The TEC deal with ADTRAN, meanwhile, is related to the broadband stimulus.TEC, which is the holding company for a group of service providers in the Southeast, has selected the Total Access 5000 Multi-Service Access and Aggregation Platform and Total Access fiber-to-the-node DSLAMs for its broadband stimulus project at Bay Springs Telephone Co. that involves FTTN and FTTN. The company received a broadband stimulus award from the Rural Utilities Service in the first round of the federal government’s program.

Because the Total Access 5000 can allow a company to start out with DSL-based copper access and then push fiber closer to the customer over time, for example, or allow a carrier with ATM-based DSLAMs evolve to Ethernet without a wholesale system change, Morgan says the ADTRAN product can exist in a service provider network for at least 20 years.

"Our customers are very comfortable knowing this product is going to be around for a while," he adds, noting not only is the Total Access 5000 flexible enough to stand up over time, but ADTRAN is a proven, stable company that carriers can be sure will be around for many years to come.

Another example of a product that enables service providers to straddle the legacy and next-generation worlds effectively is the Tellabs (News - Alert) 8800 Multiservice Router, says Tim Doiron, director of product management at Tellabs. He says the product does ATM to Ethernet interworking and can terminate to a B-RAS, which defines what customers get what bandwidth, via Ethernet. That means service providers can gain the benefits of evolving to Ethernet (given Ethernet cards, ports and transport are much less expensive than the SONET/SDH alternatives), without upgrading all their DSLAMs to Ethernet.

Stu Benington, director of portfolio marketing at Tellabs, adds that the move to extend legacy networks also extends to cellular networks. Although 4G mobile networks, which will be almost entirely Ethernet-based, are now coming onto the scene, he notes that existing 2G and 3G networks, which employ TDM and ATM interfaces to cell sites, will be around for some time.

Indeed. As discussed in the March issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine, a sister publication to NGN, even as AT&T last year publicly embraced LTE (News - Alert), it made new investments to upgrade 3G cell sites to HSPA 7.2 technology.

Although AT&T has been lambasted for poor coverage and capacity on its 3G network, which has seen heavy traffic in light of the introduction of the iPhone (News - Alert), the company has made clear it aims to continue to leverage its 3G network. That is evident in its new 4G supplier agreements, which stipulate that the 3G equipment delivered by Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) and Ericsson to AT&T starting this year must be software-convertible to LTE, so the company doesn’t have to rip out hardware when it needs to make the long-term evolution.

Erik Ekudden, vice president of technology and industry at Ericsson (News - Alert), says that the 3G and 4G technologies adopted by AT&T, Verizon and others followed a similar development process, and that the focus given to testing and interoperability of the two wireless options will enable these wireless operators to migrate to LTE relatively easily and at their own pace.

Benington continues that Tellabs offers the ability to support both legacy and Ethernet interfaces to cell sites with its 8600 and 8800 products. It can support Ethernet either via interworking or by tunneling it over MPLS infrastructure; the idea here is to reduce the cellular operator’s backhaul transport costs.

Aculab (News - Alert), meanwhile, is coming at the hybrid legacy/next-gen discussion from the gateway perspective. The company, which has been pushing its extensibility message for more than a year, sells gateways that enable both businesses and service providers to bridge the divide between new and older networks and technologies.

Ian Colville (News - Alert), project manager at Aculab, says the company’s Groomer gateways serve to interconnect disparate networks, with legacy networks on one side, and IP-based or SIP-based networks on the other. And what’s described as legacy might not be what you think. Colville says even some IP-based solutions (namely ones based on H.323) are considered legacy, given SIP networks are now state of the art.

Colville adds that a classic example of how Groomer might be used is in the emergency services space, a key market for Aculab.

As noted in the April issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY, the National Emergency Number Association is calling for the migration of E911 networks to what NENA calls NG911, or next-generation 911. The idea is to move E911 systems to standards-based IP platforms and, in the process, enable citizens and those involved in emergency response to interact not only in voice, but also via text, IM and possibly even video communications.
Anyhow, Colville explains that the NENA i3 spec related to this effort clearly defines what’s called the legacy service gateway. One component of that is what is known as the protocol interworking function. It’s intended that gateways like Aculab’s Groomer, for example, can fulfill that function, Colville says. Again, it’s SS7 on one side and SIP on the other. In the 911 scenario some of the important things involved are being able to convey the messages and parameters in the SS7 signal and putting them into a SIP message header or invite. That way, the IP-based gear at the other end can extract that information to get the location of the caller, and from that determine the route to the appropriate public safety answering point.

Tim Joint is in involved with Aculab’s gateway efforts as they relate to enterprise customers. Joint, the commercial manager of Aculab, says that in the last year or two as the economy has taken a dive and some people have had bad experiences moving to VoIP there’s more of a drive to migrate gradually to VoIP. That’s opposed to the original vision for VoIP, which had companies trashing their existing PBXs and flipping the switch on new IP-based voice strategies.

These new migratory paths might have a company keeping its legacy PBX (News - Alert) and farming off select calls to adjacent IP systems or a SIP trunk, says Joint. In this scenario, a gateway can enable that company to leave the legacy system in place while enjoying some of these IP-based benefits, which can include lower transport costs and new functionality.

But while people like to talk a lot about the new end user features that moving to IP can enable, there’s also a need to retain key traditional PBX functions, Joint notes. With its ApplianX IP Gateway (News - Alert), Aculab can allow legacy features like transfer diversion, message waiting indication and call back when available to be available in IP- or SIP-based enterprise environments.

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