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Industry Insight
October 2002

Jim Machi

LOOK! Up In The Sky!


Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Packetman! Didn't you know? The latest installment in the ongoing IP serial has Packetman moving into the cellular arena, where he is battling his archenemy Proprietary Pandit. But haven't we seen this movie before, hasn't an earlier version of Wireless Packetman been viewed on your computer screens? Or was that just some enticing trailer, whose best jokes were in that twenty-second trailer, such that the actual movie is now long forgotten?

Well, yes and no. The purpose of this article is an attempt to give the good readers of Internet Telephony (R) magazine an update to IP and Wireless and how and/or whether they do or don't go together. This is a perplexing topic. As a proof point and fomenter for this particular column, at the last IP telephony conference I attended, many in the audience were still confounded at the conclusion of a Wireless IP session. 

The first confusing part is since today's cellular network uses "packet" telephony for transport in the form of coders such as GSM, many of the early discussions about IP telephony and the wireless network sort of substituted "IP" with "packet?" And like, hey, what�s the difference, a packet is a packet is a packet so IP=wireless, right? Well, not really, since it�s circuit sort of technology at use here whereby radio resources are reserved for each caller, just like the PSTN.

It's only when we move in to the 3G arena does IP become a real and big part of the message. We all know 3G is great, 3G is "it," because of all the benefits, including higher transmission rates, the promise of worldwide roaming, and higher quality multimedia services. This is just great -- now I'll have no excuse when I'm in Brazil that I couldn�t get my voice mail because the phones there don't support DTMF. And I'll be able to view my PowerPoint presentation through my phone when my PC refuses to boot.

But what of IP in 3G? From the RNC back into the core network, IP is an option in order to connect to the IP networks we all know and love. It's required to connect to the media gateways and the IP media servers that your voice or text 3G phone "call" might need to hook up to. And this core network consists of things called MSCs, PDSNs, SGSNs, and GGSNs and they all have different names anyway between 2.5G and 3G (a big confounder in the aforementioned conference). I'm not going to even bother explaining those acronyms since if I did, we would surely run out of space in the column. But the important thing is that this equipment exists, it is fairly expensive, and it is not very flexible. So IP in the network here gives operators some flexibility in terms of more economic core elements, as well as elements themselves are flexible in terms of adding services to. And the quicker a network operator can roll out a new service, the quicker they can get new revenue.

Is that it though? This is not too exciting for Packetman, who was expecting to help IP packets fly through the air. Instead, Packetman is basically doing gateway work, just like in the old movies.

Isn't there something more, well, really IP going on in the cellular arena? Something like an IP media server where it's all IP all the time? How about IP end to end? That may be hard since it�s difficult to be sure some part of the call doesn't travel through the traditional PSTN. But how about at least IP from the mobile device to the base station? IP through the air?

It turns out there is an action movie here and Packetman is the star. In fact, a company called Flarion Technologies is touting the industry's first IP friendly airlink technology and broadband system, which enables full mobility and cellular coverage for PDAs and laptops (though it can overlay with existing infrastructure, even 3G). These would connect to the Internet through the air already in IP format. 

Before you love it, an operator would need to put in IP base stations to connect the mobile IP endpoints. So we�re talking network buildout. A separate all IP cellular network. Possibly good first for some large organization that wanted to insure a separate network, sort of like the Internet in the way beginning, even before Al Gore. And then maybe secondly for all the rest of us? All the core network mumbo jumbo listed above would also not need to exist, since everything is IP already. And some think the price wouldn�t be that bad, especially if the base stations, etc. are built with open IP systems. Capice? Maybe.

Be assured, though, Wireless Packetman is coming one of these days, or even sooner, in some form, to a location near you.

Jim Machi is director, Product Management for the Network Processing Division of the Intel Communications Group. Intel, the world's largest chipmaker, is also a leading manufacturer of computer, networking and communications products. For more information, visit www.intel.com.

[ Return To The October 2002 Table Of Contents ]

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