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April 2000

Greg Galitzine Some Thoughts On The Next-Generation Network

BY GREG GALITZINE

Go Right To: Services News
                     Question List For Dennis Jennings
                     Question List For John Edwards


It seems that everywhere you look, be it a trade magazine or a mainstream network television advertising campaign, you find yourself hearing about the next generation of communications. Weve all seen the Cisco ads and have found ourselves humming the Beatles Come Together after watching a Nortel Networks spot. Were still not necessarily sure where Microsoft wants us to go today but we may be interested in knowing what particular thing Lucents going to make to make communications work, so rather than simply believe the open-ended commercial hype, I decided to speak to a couple of people who are actually involved in next-generation networking. Below, youll see the results of several conversations and further correspondence with Dennis Jennings, vice president, NGN, at Telcordia (formerly Bellcore) and John Edwards, CEO of I-Link.

Both gentlemen point out that regardless of the hurdles that have to be overcome, a next-generation converged voice/data/multimedia network is certainly the wave of the future. And that future is already upon us. As Mr. Jennings points out, those vendors who refuse to accept that future will end up as fodder for a game show question that asks, What company used to be a communications leader, but no longer exists?

If youre a service provider, please heed those words. If for no other reason than getting Regis Philbin to stop asking me, Is that your final answer?

A final note: Id like to thank Andrew Fingerman of BSMG Worldwide and Andy Meltzer of FitzGerald Communications for their assistance in calling up, setting up, and following up.

Question List For Dennis Jennings

Question List For John Edwards

Please list some of the driving forces behind the current push to evolve circuit-based networks to packet-switched networks.

  • The rapid growth of data versus voice dictates that next-generation networks (NGN) should be optimized for data (e.g., should be packet), not for voice. Estimates suggest that half of all traffic today on core networks is comprised of data and that within five years, fully 90 percent of the traffic may be data.
  • Typical telecom operators today have at least five overlay networks NGN holds the promise of integrating these disparate networks into one, drastically cutting infrastructure and operations costs.
  • The rate of decline in packet network equipment costs is much faster than for circuit switches (i.e., Moores Law).
  • Future services must go beyond data and voice to include all kinds of video, multimedia, etc. Packet networks offer more flexibility for handling these and other (as yet unknown) services.
  • New carriers are using their claims of building a packet-based network as an advantage to the extent that customers believe this, the incumbent carriers may feel the need to respond by claiming that they are building packet-based networks too.
  • Vendors with extensive experience in packet networks (e.g., Cisco) need to gain market share in the carrier market to maintain and grow their market cap. Thus, they are a potent force persuading carriers to implement new networks.
  • Carriers are becoming convinced that circuit switching is a technology that will not significantly evolve and improve over the next five years and that it is a poor place to invest new capital.

[Back To The Question List For David Jennings]

What is it that users are demanding of their service providers? What are some of the applications driving the transition to next-generation networks?

  • Users expect similar levels of reliability and quality to what they get today for voice, but also the ability to get better (or perhaps poorer) quality according to the particular applications needs. For example, voice requires better control of delay and packet loss than data applications; typical data is happy with best-effort service. Some voice applications in the future (e.g., CD-quality audio) may require guaranteed bandwidth, but may or may not care about delay. Some data apps (e.g., CAD/CAM) may require high bandwidth and low packet loss, etc.
  • Although it is not clear if this is a market pull or a technology push, carriers are offering customers a wide variety of applications that are hosted on servers in the network that traditionally would have been loaded onto the customers own computers and servers. For high-end applications such as enterprise resource planning applications, this means that the customers can use these applications with a reduced total cost of ownership. From a practical perspective, this means that small- to medium-sized enterprise customers that would not have the financial or technical resources to install and operate these applications on their own infrastructure can take advantage of using the same applications that are hosted by the carriers.
  • In the near term, unified messaging is a service that a number of carriers in the United States and Europe are offering or planning to offer. Customer reaction has been quite positive.
  • Most importantly, we dont really know what the applications are that customers will demand in the future. We do know however that the current voice-centric infrastructure of class 5 switches will not be able to support these converged voice/data/video applications. This belief that customers will demand new services that require a new infrastructure is widespread, and I strongly believe that it is an accurate belief.

    [Back To The Question List For David Jennings]

What are some of the challenges faced by carriers when considering evolving their offerings to include next-generation services?

The challenges faced by carriers are many and include the following:

  • The need to continually meet customer expectations of quality over a network built from new technology.
  • Continuing to support the rich feature set of voice services available today while evolving towards a new network structure and new services based on voice, data, and multimedia.
  • Seamless interworking (transparent to customer) between new network and old (e.g., making sure features like calling line ID work in the new network).
  • Lowering development cycle time for new services.
  • Achieving operations savings.
  • Finding the right business strategy and approach to evolve away from a multi-billion dollar investment in a network with strong support of a rich set of voice services, but weak in data and multimedia.
  • Develop an infrastructure that enables the carrier (and their partners) to develop new services and applications with a simple-to-use application programming interface (API) using well known and industry standard programming languages (e.g., Java).
  • Carriers will need to develop new partnerships. It is unlikely that carriers will develop all the applications that they offer to customers. That means that they will have to enter into business relationships with third parties that will develop and offer these new applications and services to customers. Most carriers do not currently have these relationships and they will have to develop innovative financial arrangements that encourage application developers to use their network and infrastructure as the vehicle for offering applications and services to customers.

[Back To The Question List For David Jennings]

What are some of the key elements of a next-generation network? What are some major concerns facing service providers when selecting equipment/-architecture/etc.?

  • Routers.
  • ATM switches.
  • Hybrid ATM/IP devices e.g., the MPLS (MultiProtocol Label Switching) products that are now being developed. As these evolve and mature, they may be the first choice of carriers for their networks.
  • Gateways (trunk, signaling, residential, business).
  • Call Agents/Media Gateway Controllers. These are software-based service creation platforms that duplicate the functionality of a class 5 switch but can also be used to develop new data and video services.
  • Servers and databases.
  • Optical transport and switching devices. Carriers and many vendors believe that new optical technologies will displace the role of SONET and SDH in the carrier networks. When connected with high-performance switching equipment (e.g., routers, ATM switches), these provide a cost-effective and massively scalable basis for a network.
  • Operation systems that enable a carrier to manage and operate this network with high availability and at a reasonably low cost (this implies massive automation of the operation systems and business processes). This area is likely to have larger variability than the actual physical networks.

[Back To The Question List For David Jennings]

What about interoperability? How important is it for carriers to consider how their new networks will interface or talk to their legacy networks? What are some of the things that can be done to ensure such interoperability?

  • Interoperability is crucial, a killer issue. On day one of turning up your NGN, every call wants to complete to a phone not on the NGN.
  • NGN architecture must interwork with SS7 and facilitate use of existing Intelligent Network databases, and must appear to the PSTN as though NGN is a peer switch.
  • Need to converge to a common set of features, functions, and interfaces that can be supported across networks of different providers, for network infrastructure, services, and operations.
  • Another important aspect of interoperability is that the network must interoperate with other carriers networks. It is unlikely that a customer is going to want to communicate with only those customers who happen to be on the same network. This interoperability will require both technical interoperability (information transmitted from one network to another) and business interoperability (financial arrangements so that it is in the best interest of all carriers to connect to one another).

[Back To The Question List For David Jennings]

Please describe the role of the OSS in operating, managing, and maintaining a scalable, reliable network.

  • An OSS is the glue that makes a network work. Without an efficient and effective OSS, a carrier will not be able to operate a reliable and high-quality network. The OSS is essential for enabling a carrier to quickly provision new services, anticipate and identify faults in the network (e.g., was it a router or a server that caused an application not to work properly?), bill for the services, and so on.
  • Without an OSS, carriers will have to use manual processes (prone to error, very expensive) or rely on the element management systems provided by their vendors. These systems, while useful, do not give the carrier a picture of the entire network that will involve multiple types of products from multiple vendors. This means that the staff would have to monitor multiple element management systems (not easy), and when a problem occurs it would be very difficult to determine the cause (a fault on one device could generate errors on other devices even if they are working properly).

[Back To The Question List For David Jennings]

What is the state of the next-generation network? And, what in your opinion does the future hold, both for the carrier/service provider and end user?

  • In 1999, carriers were experimenting with the vision of NGN. They were deciding how these new technologies would fit into their networks. While there are a number of open questions, most carriers have at least decided on the initial steps they must take. And I think all carriers have decided that NGN must be part of their network future.
  • In 2000, carriers will be testing the new technologies in trials and front-office applications. They may also begin offering services based on these new technologies to commercial customers. For example, a number of carriers will offer DSL services to customers. However, these services will be focused on transport (e.g., DSL connections) or will offer basic functionality (e.g., basic voice services).
  • In 2001 and beyond, carriers will move into mass deployment and will begin offering new and sophisticated applications and services to their customers. This is also the year that these new networks and services will have a significant impact on their revenue growth.
  • Overall, any carrier that fails to move forward with NGN in the next three years will be a good candidate to be the subject of a quiz show question, What company used to be a communications company but no longer exists?

[Back To The Question List For David Jennings]


John Edwards, CEO of I-Link, gave me some insights into I-Links network. Below are his responses and his views of the next generation of networking.

Provide a brief overview of your network infrastructure.

  • I-Links network has three core components: An IP network layer, a logical network layer, and a service layer.
  • The hardware that underlies all of these components consists of normal wide-area networking (WAN) intranet and internetworking components including: Layer 2 and Layer 3 Ethernet switches, routers, CSUs, and remote management and maintenance equipment. The network is built using off-the-shelf components and is engineered to provide the quality of service (QoS) required to deliver telephony applications and services.
  • The gateway platforms provide telephone access to the application servers logically and physically connected to I-Links network. I-Links enhanced service applications, such as V-Link 3.0, are housed on industry standard servers running Windows NT as the operating system.
  • I-Links network is readily scalable, due to the logical architecture and distributed nature of its platforms and applications, while entirely avoiding the use of telecommunication switches and other computer-telephony integration platforms commonly used to provide similar services at much higher costs with less features.

[Back To Question List For John Edwards]

Please describe the separation of the network layer and service layer in your network. How does this help I-Link achieve its goals of delivering next-generation services to its customers?

The network layer is built so it digests the signal and does all the work required by a telephony application (tone detection, speech/silence activity, fax demodulation and modulation, etc.). It does it in a way that is not tied to any specific application or service, so any port in the network layer can offer any service within the network at any time. The service layer takes advantage of this and needs to provide only the intelligence to deliver the service/feature. This offers a scalable, low-cost environment for telephony applications.

The network layer allocates all of the resources available over the entire network, including the enhanced services platform (V-Link) or the features themselves like conference calling and unified messaging. Contained within the network layer is a softswitch, a programmable software-based switch and operating system. I-Links softswitch architecture includes resource allocation, routing, and failure rerouting of devices within the network. The company adds a brand-new benefit to softswitch architecture with its operating system layer, which provides services such as uniform billing, monitoring, troubleshooting, and resource use mechanisms within the softswitch environment. As a result, carriers have an exact record of each IP telephony call or service without requiring additional equipment for network efficiency.

The service layer contains the intelligence of the overall system but doesnt handle most of the workload. Whatever resides in the service layer requires basically no knowledge of the network. If you place an enhanced service call over the network, its the network layer and the softswitch technology that take care of all of the troubleshooting, locating a signal and routing the call to the appropriate place. When a call comes in, its the network layer that formats the signal into one that the service layer is able to read. The service layer takes advantage of that work and just looks at the signal packets and makes the decision as to which service it should offer the user to provide the service without need for further signal processing.

[Back To Question List For John Edwards]

Describe the service creation environment in place in the I-Link network.

The I-Link service creation environment is known as GateLink API. GateLink is a software library acting as an easy-to-use API. Essentially, GateLink is to VoIP as Windows is to personal computing. In the beginning of personal computing, all applications were originally limited to mainframe computing platforms and then, due to Microsofts standardized libraries and easy-to-use API, rapidly evolved in the Windows environment. GateLink is I-Links application development environment for the real-time IP network. The GateLink API provides the connections required to place or transfer a call or play and record voice and fax messages. It also allows the use of any of the resources available on I-Links network such as generic interactive voice recognition response (IVR), conferencing, text to speech, voice recognition, and paging. GateLink allows worldwide deployment of any new services simply by building a software application that interfaces the API with at least one IP network connection (including a simple Internet connection) to the I-Link real-time network.

[Back To Question List For John Edwards]

Having successfully deployed a nationwide IP network, whats next for I-Link?

To capitalize on our nationwide IP network, well continue to make strategic partnerships in two areas. Corporate portals and Web sites can partner with I-Link to enhance a Web visitors experience with real-time IP communications. In addition, well partner with service providers that are looking for next-generation IP services.


Services News

Convergent Networks, Marconi Build New Public Network
Marconi and Convergent Networks have announced a strategic partnership to offer ATM voice/data solutions in North America. The agreement forms a powerful combination to promote new, highly scalable, and economical solutions for service providers as they respond to increased demand for dial-up bandwidth caused by the rapid growth in Internet access. Specifically, the joint solution will allow service providers to offload Internet traffic from their Class 5 voice switches. The agreement covers Convergent Networks Integrated Convergence Switch (ICS2000) and Marconis core ATM switching solutions.
No. 540, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Tenor Networks Unveils Optical Service Switch
Tenor Networks has introduced the TN250G, an optical service switch (OSX) designed to slash the complexity, capital costs, and labor-intensive management of delivering highly differentiated services over the optical network. As the centerpiece of Tenors Optical Service Architecture, the TN250G combines the IP awareness of routers, the quality of service of an ATM switch, and the TDM functionality of a digital cross-connect, which allows service providers to deploy a new class of highly profitable, customized services tailored to the specific needs of each customer. The TN250G enables network service providers to transform the raw capacity created by DWDN-based optical transport networks into services that are precisely refined, distributed, and metered according to the specific needs of each customer.
No. 541, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Ignitus Communications Announces Integrated Access Switch
Ignitus Communications has announced the introduction of the Ignitus 3500 Integrated Access Switch a high-density, high-speed SONET and ATM edge device designed for hybrid, metropolitan networks. The Ignitus 3500 combines the best elements of SONET, ATM, Passive Optical Network (PON), and DWDM technology in a high-speed, carrier-class platform, creating a more cost-effective and manageable approach for delivering enhanced carrier services. The Ignitus 3500 enables metropolitan service providers to increase the range of support for emerging, high-bandwidth customer applications, while preserving investment and robust service levels inherent in their legacy infrastructure.
No. 542, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Lucent Launches IP Configuration Tool
Lucent Technologies has announced the launch of the Internet Protocol Network Configurator (IPNC), a Bell Labs-designed software tool that simplifies the configuration and management of IP-based networks. The IPNC provides a centralized, automated solution for accurately and efficiently configuring protocols for network routers. Configuration errors and inconsistencies in routing protocol parameters are a leading cause of network outages. IPNCs automated process can improve configuration accuracy by eliminating time-consuming and error-prone manual configuration. This can also help companies avoid costly network downtime due to faulty routing protocol configuration.
No. 543, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Spring Tide Launches LightShip
Spring Tide Networks has announced a wide-ranging network management solution that enables providers to reliably and profitably deploy a rich set of next-generation IP services. LightShip, a feature-rich element management system (EMS), serves as the centerpiece of SpringTides comprehensive network management offering. LightShip offers a highly scalable, directory-enabled, policy-based provisioning approach. Leveraging proven lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP) technology, LightShip scales policy management to millions of network users. LightShip is designed to address all functional areas of the telecommunications management network (TMN) framework including fault, configuration, accounting, performance, and security management.
No. 544, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Shomiti Systems Upgrades Its VoIP QoS Product
Shomiti Systems announced that it has upgraded its VoIP QoS software product Multi-QoS to provide call and channel table summarization of Ciscos SSP protocol. Multi-QoS is a plug-in application to Shomitis seven layer protocol analysis software Surveyor, that provides VoIP QoS measurement and verification in the enterprise, carrier backbone, and local PoP. Shomitis Multi-QoS supports H.323 with full ASN.1 detail, SIP, MGCP, SGCP, Ciscos SSP, and many others including codecs, and provides call and channel table summarization of the H.323 decoded calls.
No. 545, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

ipVerse Adopts Tekelecs TALI Interface
ipVerse announced that it will support Tekelecs Transport Adapter Layer Interface (TALI) on its ipVerse Control Switch. The incorporation of TALI into the ipVerse ControlSwitch enables interoperability with SS7 equipment vendors that incorporate TALI, including Tekelecs IP7 Secure Gateway. This product interoperability will accelerate the migration from traditional circuit-switched networks to next-generation packet networks, while protecting service providers investments in existing SS7 networks.
No. 546, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Marconi Intros Next-Gen WAN Access Solution
Marconi has announced the availability of the Universal Inverse Multiplexing for ATM (IMA) Network module. This low-cost solution enables enterprise and service provider customers to deploy ATM network solutions tailored to their specific WAN bandwidth needs. The new module permits customers to deploy cost-effective fractional T3/E3 services throughout their entire WAN by consolidating numerous T1/E1 (1.544 Mbps/2.048 Mbps) lines into a single ATM connection, making the most efficient use of the T1/E1 lines.
No. 547, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Cisco Delivers Multi-Function Access Platform
Cisco Systems has announced the Cisco 6700 Series Multi-Function Access Platform (MFAP) is a carrier-class family of products that integrate voice and data traffic and consolidate multiple network elements and services into a single easy-to-manage platform. The platform simplifies network deployment and enables service providers such as CLECs, IXCs, and ICPs to reduce network costs and expand and deploy new service offerings quickly. In addition, the Cisco 6700 Series enables service providers to easily migrate to New World packet-based solutions while maximizing existing circuit-based offerings.
No. 548, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Enron, Sycamore To Extend Optical Network
Enron Broadband Services (EBS) has announced an agreement with Sycamore Networks to utilize Sycamores switching and transport products in construction of new long-haul and metropolitan area routes on the Enron Intelligent Network (EIN). The three-year contract could be worth up to $200 million. Enron may also incorporate SILVX, Sycamores Optical Network Management System (ONMS), directly into the EIN management system to manage the Sycamore products in the Enron network.
No. 549, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Digital Broadband Enhances Network Backbone
Digital Broadband has announced that the next phase of its broadband network expansion will include developing and managing its own state-of-the-art optical fiber backbone to provide customers with a higher quality of service and customer care. Digital Broadband is purchasing $20 million worth of next-gen optical networking gear from Cisco Systems, to be used to light pre-existing dark fiber (unlit or dormant links), which Digital Broadband is acquiring from Bell Atlantic. This investment allows Digital Broadband more direct ownership and control of its growing network, translating to greater cost-efficiencies for its customers.
No. 550, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

Dynarc Delivers Service-Optimized Optical Access Solution
Carriers and service providers can now offer a robust network solution with integrated high-speed Internet access and secure IP-based VPN services to business customers. Dynarc has announced the Dynarc 50, a multiservice access router based on a broadband architecture known as Dynamic Transfer Mode (DTM). The Dynarc 50 enables carriers and ISPs to deliver IP-based services with guaranteed QoS and provide detailed service level agreements (SLAs) to subscribers. The result is an easily managed multiservice platform that offers revenue-generating telecom and datacom services.
No. 551, www.itmag.com/freeinfo

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