Last month we explored the elements of the next-generation network --
softswitches, media gateways, media servers, and signaling gateways -- and
put them into an overall context, looking at how they form what the industry
calls the Next-Generation Network (NGN). This month let's take a look at how
the elements of the NGN are evolving.
Before we jump in and start discussing the future of, say, media servers,
it's more useful to take a high-level look at what's driving the need for
the NGN and where these drivers are likely to move. We should see some
significant clues to the direction the NGN elements are taking.
First, it's important to understand that applications services are
driving product direction. Consumer and business customers are not demanding
just phone and fax applications. We're all demanding applications services
we couldn't even imagine a few years ago, such as streaming,
bandwidth-hogging rich media, true unified messaging, and real-time speech
applications. And increasingly, these services are being offered inside the
network itself. For example, in January I found myself in Singapore when the
New York Giants were playing the Minnesota Vikings for the right to go to
the Super Bowl. What's a Giant season ticket holder to do? I simply called
the Tellme voice portal a few times, which kept me up to date.
"Communications To Go, Please"
In a world where mobility is expected to continue growing quickly, a crucial
element of success becomes the ability to serve customers on the go.
Everyone expects all communications services to be available from any kind
of client device -- even from a wireless device so small that someone with
even the tiniest of fingers finds the numbers impossible to press. (My
answer to that problem is speech enablement, which we can explore in future
Service providers have learned a lot in the last few years. Whether they're
converging from voice or data to voice or data isn't the issue. For service
providers, the driving issue is the need to economically deliver what their
consumer and business customers demand. "Economical" is the key word, since
service providers need to make money. Another important element is
flexibility. They need to be able to offer hot new services fast -- since
they deliver higher margins (until they become commodities). The converged
network is crucial for service provider success, since it enables both
operational efficiency and flexibility in creating and deploying new
This being the case, service providers will demand a few things --
including interoperability, application flexibility, and speedy delivery --
all at a reasonable price.
"The Same The World Over"
The only way to quickly get interoperability is with standards, either
official or de facto. I expect the various new NGN standards -- including
H.323, SIP, MGCP, and Megaco -- to tighten up, since it is possible for them
to have conflicting profiles, which stunt interoperability and essentially
defeats the key purpose of having standards.
For emerging applications and applications yet to be born, standard APIs
must -- and will -- emerge. This will enable new applications to be quickly
developed and deployed. These APIs might also manage the underlying
resources, whether the resources are part of the network or
compute-intensive for that application. The many different kinds of client
devices will also need APIs so that application providers can interface with
them. APIs like JAIN, Parley, S.410, S.100, XML, and Voice XML will likely
emerge to fill these needs.
"How Would You Like Your NGN?"
I also expect that the elements of the NGN will become more multifunctional --
that is, able to deliver more services than they can today and able to be
combined to meet specific service provider needs. We're already seeing
combined media and signaling gateways and softswitch and media server
One thing we haven't discussed much is the delivery of these services. I
expect the telephony ASP model, or telephony hosting, to become a larger
segment, since this is potentially a way for smaller businesses to benefit
from new applications. It's also a way for all businesses to get newer
services sooner as the experts, the telephony ASPs, keep everyone up to
date. For example, think about how commonplace Web hosting is today.
"Thank you. Please come again."
All of the above is really a classic argument for open systems at all levels
of the product chain -- from the component level to the system level to the
overall solution level, whether that's at the network edge, access edge, or
client edge. This openness gives both service providers and customers the
widest range of choices and the best economics, since open systems typically
mean higher volume.
In short, the NGN will continue to evolve based on application needs. And
since fast deployment is essential, standards and open systems -- at all
levels of the NGN and its infrastructure -- will play an increasingly
Jim Machi is director, product management, CT Server and
IPT Products, for Dialogic Corporation
(an Intel company). Dialogic is a leading manufacturer of high-performance,
standards-based computer telephony components. Dialogic products are used in
fax, data, voice recognition, speech synthesis, and call center management
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