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Industry Insight
June 2001

Jim Machi

The Next-Generation Network: Stop And Look At The Future


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 columns.)

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 services.

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 systems.

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 important role.

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 CT applications.

[ Return To The June 2001 Table Of Contents ]

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