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Feature Article
January 2002


Success At The Edge


Carriers recognize that in order to prosper in today�s telecommunications market, they must touch customers directly � not only with attractive rates or with superior voice quality, but also with new and innovative services that reflect the forward-thinking and demanding communications consumer of the 21st century. Although a large subscriber base is already using some advanced services offered by carriers, there are more inventive services yet to be created and deployed. It�s the creation of these new, value-added services that holds the greatest promise for carriers in their efforts to meet the demands of residential and business users, while also increasing their profitability.

Migrating Services To The New Public Network
As the cornerstone of profitability in the old PSTN, the basic feature set of Class 5 custom calling services is also vital to carriers� success in the New Public Network. However, with exorbitant equipment, operational, and recurring license costs, coupled with proprietary interfaces and long deployment or upgrade timeframes, legacy equipment for delivering new services to the edge is no longer considered a desirable transport choice. Today�s network edge equipment must support the popular Class 5 features of the existing PSTN that sustain carrier revenues, including caller ID, call-waiting and voice mail, and regulated services (such as local number portability, CALEA, and E911), while also taking into consideration future enhanced services to generate new profits.

So what�s the answer for carriers who need to streamline operations, deliver enhanced services and push service revenues to the limits?

Enter the Next-Generation Network � a packet-based, decoupled infrastructure that enables applications and services to be created and deployed more rapidly and managed more cost effectively.

Aside from the existing CLASS, Centrex, and regulatory services, next-generation technology allows a whole new breed of services to be developed without the traditional barriers to service deployment. Not only will service providers be able to easily deploy and/or deliver lucrative multimedia services like unified messaging, video conferencing, and Web-casting, but simplified service creation tools will also enable feature provisioning by IT departments, network operation administrators, and even subscribers themselves.

The Foundation Of A Service-Based Architecture
Built on a distributed architecture, next-generation technology decouples service creation, call control, and service transport, giving service providers direct control over service creation and service delivery. As the foundation of the transport infrastructure, media gateways convert traffic between TDM and packet networks, essentially replacing legacy equipment such as Class 4 and 5 circuit switches. Softswitches manage the access and service creation layers using various protocols � H.248, MGCP, or SIP � to direct media gateways, setting up and controlling calls across broadband packet-switched and narrowband circuit-switched networks.

To justify the adoption of broadband Class 5 services, however, service providers require a critical component � the ability to easily provision value-added services. Tired of facing long waits and expensive licenses for service upgrades and provisioning of new services with �big iron� equipment, carriers need to deploy solutions that provide an open and manageable architecture where future innovative voice services can be introduced quickly to the market. Positioned at the core of the service creation layer, application servers coupled with the softswitch provide such a solution. The application server essentially carries out the service logic and specific instructions needed to deliver features to subscribers.

Open APIs and programming languages and standards such as XML and Java further facilitate rapid service creation. Such open service creation environments also allow service providers to utilize third-party applications, broadening the existing range of applications that the PSTN provides.

The Economic Benefits Of Next-Generation Networks
Beyond next-generation technology�s ability to create and deliver edge services, it also provides an unprecedented cost advantage when compared to legacy infrastructures. Next-generation networks allow service providers to manage their networks more efficiently and less expensively � with typical savings of 40 percent or more in rack space, power consumption, and operational costs.

The economic benefits of a packet-based access solution are further extended to its extreme density and scale advantage. By aggregating multiple co-located or geographically distributed media gateways over an ATM or IP core network, a large virtual switch can be created to scale the number of ports far above legacy equipment port capacity. For example, a single softswitch can manage multiple media gateways, increasing the number of concurrent end-to-end packet-based calls, while delivering service to millions of provisioned subscriber lines. By and large, only one signaling gateway is necessary to support this virtual switch configuration, minimizing the need for multiple and costly SS7 signaling links, point codes, and application servers.

The virtual switch capabilities of a next-generation network also simplify network planning, as service providers can provision services from one or a few centralized locations over IP connections rather than at multiple POPs in every service region.

Multiple Applications from A Single Platform
Whether deployed in local or long-distance access networks, today�s packet technologies are responsible for building a faster, more reliable, and more profitable network that is capable of delivering multiple applications to customers over a common infrastructure.

Packet-based edge solutions facilitate high-margin business voice services such as PBX trunking. Voice calls can be delivered to a media gateway from a corporate PBX by means of a T-1 unbundled network element (UNE) and switched back to an ILEC or onto a long-distance network. For enterprises demanding higher bandwidth service delivery, carriers can also leverage the technology benefits of high-speed ATM all the way to the customers� premises by deploying ATM-based integrated access devices (IADs). In these applications, the media gateway supports voice over ATM, interworking with ATM-based IADs that concentrate voice and data traffic directly onto a high-speed ATM access or long-distance network. With standard line-side signaling, the more popular media gateways today are compatible with a number of intelligent third-party IADs that provide subscriber features, call progress tones, and digit collection.

While service providers have traditionally viewed broadband (DSL in particular) as a lucrative high-performance delivery mechanism for data services, broadband is also regarded as a promising medium for voice services � and with good reason. The broadband market represents a tremendous opportunity for carriers who can bundle voice services with a range of high-speed data services using next-generation equipment. The Yankee Group estimates that the DSL market alone will reach 16.7 billion businesses and residential users by 2006. By integrating standard protocol support such as MGCP, H.248, and SIP, network elements including media gateways, IADs, and DSLAMs can be controlled by the softswitch, eliminating the need for costly Class 5 switches and specialized VoDSL gateways. Consolidating voice and data traffic onto the same DSL access link, service providers can support more subscribers with existing infrastructures, while gaining tremendous profit margins � often of 60 percent or more. Add to this customized business or residential voice features, such as conference bridging, CENTREX, voice VPN, and PBX extension to remote employees, and the profit potentials of a packet-based access network are even more impressive.

In spite of the migration toward next-generation architectures, there are many carriers that still favor traditional legacy-based services, such as two-wire POTS and T-1 based services. To address interoperability with legacy TDM Digital Loop Carriers (DLCs), some next-generation media gateways provide a GR-303 IDT interface, allowing carriers to continue serving POTS subscribers seamlessly. Next-generation DLCs utilize Broadband Loop Emulation Service (BLES) to provide broadband voice access, while the softswitch delivers Class 5 and Primary Line services, as well as service creation capabilities.

The voice over cable (VoCable) market is growing at a rapid pace as well. Most cable operators have already upgraded and expanded their networks to offer customers more channels and enhanced services. VoCable solutions that use softswitches enable traditional and enhanced voice services over existing hybrid fiber-coaxial. Leveraging industry standards, the softswitch network-based service agents negotiate IP telephony calls between cable-served subscribers, the PSTN and other IP network-served subscribers or services. To ensure interoperability, security, and quality of service in VoCable applications, softswitches and media gateways should comply with Cable Labs PacketCable specifications for voice services.

Keeping Pace With Next-Generation Technology
As telecommunications and networking technologies continue to evolve, service providers must continue to meet the day-to-day demands of serving their customers, relieving network congestion, and trimming operating costs. Coupled with the need to accelerate the time-to-market of new services to stay competitive � or simply to keep up with those offered by the competition � today�s New Public Network presents carriers with formidable challenges. Packet-based, next-generation architectures provide the solution � by provisioning enhanced and value-added services in the network and delivering them on the edge, all with a significant return on investment. c

Sally Bament is vice president of marketing at Convergent Networks, a company that manufactures next-generation, carrier-class voice switching solutions. She has over 18 years� marketing and engineering experience in networking communications. She can be reached at [email protected]. Check out Convergent Networks at www.convergentnet.com.

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