SIP Application Server: Enabling A "Hit"
Strategy For Rapid Service Creation
BY JEFF LIEBL
Hereï¿½s something you may never have considered: Launching new IP
applications in the telecom network industry is like launching new sit-coms
in the broadcast network industry. With sit-coms, you never know whatï¿½s
going to be the next big hit. You invest in building an entire production
studio environment with the hope that at least one of your shows will become
a big success -- but you donï¿½t overspend up front in case the prime time
lineup is only mildly successful. The same holds true for the telecom
industry, and this is why next-generation networks have not progressed as
fast as we all expected them to at this point.
Building a next-generation network (NGN) that blends telephony, video,
data, and real-time Web services is a costly undertaking, and service
providers know no big hit -- or, in this case, no monumental ï¿½killer appï¿½--
has yet emerged that will justify the up-front and ongoing deployment costs
of NGN. Not IP Centrex. Not video. And, not PC instant messaging. Today,
service providers are not yet convinced that they can achieve a compelling
return on their investment by deploying an NGN in the same way they deployed
The reality is that they might never get that one big hit -- the colossal
killer app. Instead, NGN may grow and evolve over time through the
continuous identification and deployment of both mass market and niche
applications, to both consumers and businesses, on both wireline and
wireless access networks, to a wide array of end devices. Just like TV
sit-coms, popular new services will come and go. Some will last longer than
others, some will be more successful than others, some will re-use parts of
existing hits (think Aaron Spelling), some wonï¿½t, and it will always be
difficult to predict what the next ï¿½hitï¿½ will be.
New applications and services will generate incremental revenue streams
for service providers, but the revenues will grow unpredictably over time --
meaning that service providers must invest in a service architecture that
allows them to maximize their rate of return.
THE RIGHT INVESTMENTS
Investing correctly first means embracing the IP. We all know the reasons
why. IP-based networks are better suited for the data-centric traffic that
now dominates both public and private networks, unlike circuit-switched, TDM
networks that are inherently inefficient for todayï¿½s packet-based traffic
demands. Research and development has all but halted on traditional Class 5
switches. The future is definitely IP.
Investing correctly also means buying into SIP, which has gained
increasing momentum and support in recent years. A signaling protocol used
for establishing sessions in an IP network, SIP has caught the attention of
key players. Microsoft has incorporated the SIP signaling protocol into its
Windows XP software, meaning that SIP is enabling real-time communications
in most personal computers.
SIP has gained ground in other areas as well. Just a few years ago, the
Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a group formed to promote 3G
wireless standards, released its plans for a 3G architecture that includes
SIP. SIP is therefore destined to act as the foundation of real-time
communications sessions for 3G users.
Meanwhile, SIP is increasingly becoming available within the enterprise
via the use of SIP-enabled IP PBXs, a growing market expected to reach $2.2
billion this year with a growth rate of 66 percent, according to the
research firm IDC.
These are just a few examples of the gaining acceptance of SIP, and
analysts project that hundreds of millions of SIP-capable end devices will
exist by later this decade. SIP is poised to gradually replace todayï¿½s
Advanced Intelligent Networks for service creation and SS7 for signaling --
two technologies that have anchored the centralized public switched
telephone network (PSTN) for years.
HEDGING YOUR BETS
In gambling, the secret may be in knowing what to throw away and knowing
what to keep. But a telecom playerï¿½s best bet is to keep -- and reuse --
resources as much as possible. Letï¿½s go back to the sit-com analogy. Imagine
if every sit-com required its own dedicated, single-use writers, producers,
sets, camera crews, lighting infrastructure, post-production house, etc. You
couldnï¿½t use any of these network resources across the current broadcast
line up or for any future production you may dream up. In order to justify
such enormous up-front investments, each proposed sitcom would require huge
audiences to make money for the network. And when a sitcom was no longer
popular and the network was ready to pull the plug, all of those resources
would go to waste. The reality is that, as we all know, television networks
reuse resources across their lineup, this maximizing return on investment (ROI).
Fast forward back to telecom. Smart NGN investments are those that allow
telecom network operators to share and reuse resources across the network
(and among IP services) and thus maximize ROI. Fortunately, a new class of
products has emerged to enable telecom operators to do just that: the open
standards-based SIP Application Server.
SIP Application Servers are finally bringing the distributed, open
application development Internet model to telecom -- one that maximizes the
ability to reuse components from one service offering to another using open,
published APIs. Migrating Internet development practices to the telecom
industry means building an open standards-based environment that enables
service providers and applications developers to create and rapidly deploy
different SIP-based applications across NGN architectures.
BENEFITING IN REAL-TIME
By extending Internet-style development protocols and practices to real-time
communications such as voice and video, SIP Application Servers deliver
three key benefits to service providers:
Much Faster Application Development
Unlike the traditional service creation environment in the PSTN, where new
services such as caller ID and Centrex took countless years to develop and
roll out, a carrier-class Application Server environment enables
applications to be developed and launched within weeks -- thus enabling
quicker revenue generation.
This is through the use of the standard Java-based SIP Servlet
ï¿½containerï¿½ architecture -- analogous to the HTTP Servlet architecture
prevalent in the Web services world -- as opposed to the legacy ï¿½siloï¿½
architecture found in todayï¿½s stove-piped PSTN applications.
A SIP Servlet architecture enables new capabilities such as video support
to be easily added simply by adding a new ï¿½Servletï¿½ to the container.
Because these ï¿½Servletsï¿½ are based on open, standard Java-based application
programming interfaces (APIs), service providers can easily add new
capabilities and create new applications themselves -- unlike in the PSTN
world, where the use of proprietary interfaces meant that service providers
in most cases had to rely on their network hardware vendors to add new
service capabilities to their products. SIP Application Servers finally
separate software-based IP services from network-based hardware resources,
thus giving more flexibility and control to the service provider.
Thanks to the emergence of SIP Application Servers, the telecom world is
gradually moving to a ï¿½drag and dropï¿½ application development environment --
an environment that is already prevalent in the world of e-commerce and the
Internet. This allows telecom carriers to easily and quickly offer the
latest ï¿½hotï¿½ application, even if supporting that application requires
adding new functionality in the network.
Relying on Servlet standards also leverages the existing skill set of the
millions of Java developers currently writing Java-based Web applications
today, thus reducing the learning curve and the design cycle for
applications that can be written on a SIP Application Server.
Relying on standards isnï¿½t the only thing that enables faster application
development. Reusing resources also leads to faster development time.
However, even more importantly, reusing resources results in lower costs --
and thus a faster ROI for service providers.
Without a SIP Application Server that enables reusable components,
service providers must rely on the ï¿½siloï¿½-based approach to telecom, whereby
each service offering is a proprietary silo unto itself. Using this
approach, applications development is not based on open standards, and
applications cannot talk to one another, thus making them more rigid and
In addition, deployment of applications in the stovepipe world means that
service providers may have to test, qualify, and deploy duplicated network
elements for each service they wish to offer. For example, just to offer
Web, video, and audio conferencing services from different best-of-breed
vendors, service providers would need to deploy three different media
servers, three different instant messaging servers, three different presence
servers and three different registration databases. The likely result: It
costs the service provider three times as much to deploy and operate the
same set of applications as it would if these services sat on a SIP
Application Server and communicated via open APIs.
On the development side, the ability to reuse resources means that
developers can reuse codes and features across many applications, thus
increasing efficiencies and reducing costs. The same registration user
database and click-to-dial capabilities can be used for both a hosted
conferencing service as well as an IP Centrex application. The same Presence
Management server can be used to support both simple instant messaging
applications as well as more complex, premium-priced multimedia messaging
Increased End Customer-Friendliness
The ability to reuse resources also benefits another key player in the
telecom industry as well: the customer. By reusing resources, service
providers can more easily market a host of varied yet complementary services
and applications to their customers using a consistent user interface and
provide a single face to the customer. This makes it easier for customers to
embrace new service offerings and improves customer satisfaction and
THE BOTTOM LINE
Although it has been slow so far, the migration to IP-based next-generation
networks that incorporate SIP is inevitable. Service providers know that
they must deploy NGN resources such as gateways, routers, presence, and
media servers in order to successfully compete for customers in the future.
By maximizing the use of NGN resources, SIP Application Servers give service
providers an edge by enabling them to hedge their bets and profitably offer
many new applications -- some of which may be the next big ï¿½hits.ï¿½
Jeff Liebl is vice president, worldwide marketing and product management
at Ubiquity Software Corporation.
Ubiquity provides software platforms for the delivery of converged
communications services in both fixed and mobile networks. Bringing together
the worlds of telecoms and web services, the companyï¿½s mission is to harness
the power of IP protocols, such as SIP, and broker the inter-working of
multiple protocols and resources to simplify application creation and
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