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Feature Article
January 2002


Delivering Services At The Edge


The current climate of the service provider market has made it clear that cutting edge subscriber services are key to building customer loyalty and creating new revenue streams. With spending under a microscope, carriers need immediate,  economical methods of leveraging their investments in core networks and delivering edge-based services that impact the bottom line. Service providers today are coping with a painfully obvious fact of business life: Basic connectivity services do not generate sufficient revenue to ensure profitability, much less long-term growth, for providers. That profitability and growth can be created, however, if service providers can generate more revenue from their subscriber base, comprised of residential subscribers, business subscribers, as well as other service providers.

Additionally, the ability to build service packages that combine bandwidth and quality of service (QoS) parameters with content and applications, and make them available to subscribers on an as-desired, pay-as-you-use basis (dynamic service selection) offers an opportunity for service providers to build multiple new revenue streams and provide a migration path to enhanced service subscriptions.

Power To The Edge
To provide these types of services to subscribers in an optimal manner, service providers must pay careful attention to the types of products that are deployed at the edge of their network infrastructure. The edge of a service provider�s network is the part of the network that touches customers and it is the place where these much sought-after, revenue-generating services can be delivered most profitably. By leveraging the power of their edge connections, service providers can offer these services and realize increased service revenues as a result.

Service providers today are coping not only with traditional connectivity offerings � leased line, Frame Relay, and ATM � but also with new transport mechanisms such as cable, DSL, and wireless. In addition, advanced technologies such as virtual private networks (VPNs) and QoS are changing the types of services that can be deployed. Some of these services are being offered today; others have yet to mature. But all advanced services require increased functionality at the edge of the provider�s network. These services, and a provider�s ability to deliver them, will be the key to the future success of service providers.

Architect The Foundation
The services architecture is an overall services framework that combines both IP network services as well as application services to adequately deliver advanced IP services to the subscriber base. Although complementary, IP network services are vastly different from application services.

IP network services are defined as services that are delivered or enforced by the router network itself, while application services are services that are enabled by the IP network services to deliver increased value to the customer. IP network services provide the foundation that must be in place in order for a service provider to offer advanced application services. Application services can be hosted on a separate hardware platform for scaling and performance.

If a provider confuses the two types of services, its ability to offer new and creative application services will be impacted. This is because any service offered and delivered by a service provider requires that the network be able to support controlled network and service characteristics. These characteristics are delivered through IP network services that enable stateful awareness of the network via routing protocols like OSPF, BGP, IS-IS, DVMRP, MBGP, and MPLS, as well as deterministic performance via bandwidth control, rate limiting, QoS provisioning, queuing, marking, and labeling. IP network services are fundamental to all application services. No matter what services the provider wants to deliver today or 12 months from now, IP network services form the foundation that enables that connection between the customer and the content.

Application services are the services that differentiate one provider from another. Service providers can deliver services that meet consumer demand and those services rely on the underlying IP Network Services of the network. As an example, applications such as interactive gaming or voice services require strict network resources that can only be enforced by network guarantees of QoS, bandwidth, and latency. Any breach in these services will degrade the service and potentially diminish the value of the service to the consumer.

Fortunately, recent performance improvements in infrastructure equipment have enabled the deployment of new application services. These technological advances are now enabling service providers to offer differentiated services to disparate vertical groups of customers and to realize incremental revenue from each of these groups.

These new revenue-generating opportunities can only be delivered at the subscriber edge � the physical point in the network where subscribers and service providers meet. The service provider�s network must be capable of supporting the IP network services, which are a prerequisite to delivering the application services discussed above as well as others yet to be developed.

Many industry experts now consider the edge to be the critical area in the network to activate, prioritize, secure, and monitor large volumes of broadband packet-based traffic. To be prepared at the network edge, service providers must continue to invest in infrastructure that enables data and voice services. As they upgrade their edge networks, service providers will be able to deploy, administer, and bill for the differentiated IP services that will generate the revenue they must acquire in this period of increased, perhaps unprecedented, competition.

The Importance Of Edge Functions
There are three primary functions that are mandatory at the network edge today: Carrier class routing, subscriber management, and IP services/service creation. Most service providers agree that it is ideal for these functions to be supported within a single product for several reasons. An integrated solution will always be the best choice in terms of network management, simply because it is always easier to manage and maintain a solution that uses a single management system. The obvious benefits of a single management platform aside, it is important to understand the evolution of edge requirements to make an informed decision on an edge platform.

To address the needs of the emerging IP services market and accommodate the growth in broadband access, two types of adjunct solutions were developed to try to fill service providers� requirements. Adjunct solutions � functioning as either a subscriber management platform or an IP services platform � were developed in an effort to fill a single network requirement for service providers. In a real-life network installation, the adjunct subscriber management or IP services product sits in front of the first Internet router, requiring either one or two products plus an Internet router to connect to the backbone network. This additional equipment makes the adjunct solution expensive and difficult to manage.

In contrast, next-generation, integrated edge routers have the processing power to handle full routing, subscriber management, and IP services functions, all at wire-speed. These functions are reunited into a single edge device, which eases deployment and management, while including all of the legacy management functionality of the adjunct solution. Also, an integrated solution has the ability to deliver multiple services from a single platform, with private line aggregation support for T1/E1 through OC-12 users as well as support for advanced IP services. For the service provider, the integrated approach means that a single edge device can support multiple applications to fit the needs of all subscribers at that point of presence (POP).

Wire-speed Routing � All Tier-1 Internet service provider (ISP) routing protocols must be supported with a highly scalable implementation that can keep pace as the subscriber base increases. The routing support must be designed to allow service providers to deploy the new equipment into existing network architectures with full interoperability with legacy routing products. Carrier-class edge routers must also support the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP-4), with support for several hundred peers, Intermediate System-to-Intermediate System (IS-IS), Open Shortest Path First (OSPF), Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), and Routing Information Protocol (RIPv1/v2) routing protocols.

Subscriber Management � Carrier-class edge routers must also offer subscriber management features that enable service providers and carriers to provision, aggregate and manage new broadband (xDSL, cable, fixed, and mobile wireless) subscriber services via a single, unified platform. Service providers will need an edge router solution that can speed the deployment of all types of broadband services and also provide a scalable solution for managing subscribers.

IP Services � The ideal carrier-class edge router will also offer IP service features including but not limited to:

  • Multicast Protocols;
  • Intelligent Bandwidth;
  • IP Quality of Service;
  • Dynamic Policy Management;
  • Virtual Routers;
  • Rate Limiting;
  • MPLS; and
  • VLANs.

These features enable service providers to quickly and easily deploy next-generation IP services with the ability to support data, voice, and video services, all with the appropriate service levels.

Finally, it is imperative that all these services are performed at wire speed. Without wire-speed routing and packet classification it is impossible for service providers to deploy next-generation IP services with any assurance of quality levels.

Ensure The Edge
In order to offer these premium services, service providers need to ensure that their networks have the ability to support the underlying IP networks services that must be in place before application services are launched. IP network services such as IP QoS, dynamic policy management, MPLS, support for routing protocols, and others, provide the necessary foundation for the service provider network to support application services such as video services, interactive gaming, VPNs, and many other new services. By leveraging this technology, service providers can offer new services already in demand by customers, and realize increased revenues as a result.

Karen Livoli is the director of product marketing for IP Routing at Unisphere Networks. She can be reached at [email protected]. Unisphere Networks, Inc., is a leading provider of carrier-grade IP networking solutions to enable data, voice and rich media services. For more information, please visit the Web site at www.unispherenetworks.com.

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