Several months ago, TMC President Rich Tehrani and I met
to discuss why, with all the wonderful things that are
happening in the next-generation networking industry, do
we feel so unsettled. Sure, business is not what it was
last year, but this is a phenomenally exciting time. The
technologies that we are working on are maturing nicely.
Systems and applications are working at scale. The
pieces are falling into place. But we were bothered by
yet unanswered questions about how all this will all
As a test equipment provider to many of the companies
who are building and deploying these applications, we
are in a unique position to observe what is happening.
And, we are seeing more activity now than ever, despite
the economic downturn. Things are happening, and they
The most significant harbinger of things to come is
the increasing activity among service providers who are
bringing the promises of next-generation networks to
market. They are in full scrambling to put together labs
to test and debug the next-gen equipment before it goes
live. But more significantly the providers are finding
that these labs must play an ever-increasing role in
designing services as well as in assembling and
integrating the equipment and software to provide those
WHY IT MATTERS
Let me explain the importance of this. In the old days,
when companies such as Nortel, Western Electric, and
Siemens ruled, most of the major carriers had labs into
which they would bring all new releases of Class 4 and 5
switch hardware or software for testing before
deployment in the network. These were called
verification offices or VOs. Failure to pass the tests
at these labs, or failure in a test deployment in the
first real central office (called the FOA, or first
office application) would force a vendor back to the
drawing boards and delay sales of their new system
upgrades for quarters. But as the technology stabilized,
trips to the drawing board became less frequent, and the
role of the VOs was less important. Service providers
came to trust their vendors to put it all together and
make it work.
How has this model transitioned to the next
generation networks? Carriers implementing toll bypass
applications have had to rely on their vendors to supply
essentially a turnkey Class 4 switch replacement.
However, the real promise of next-generation
architectures lies in the new services (beyond Class 4
and Class 5) enabled by the new networks' flexibility.
And with that, the old model of standard packages of
functionality from a small number of large manufacturers
goes by the wayside. So where are these new services?
The decomposed, distributed nature of these new
architectures leaves the door wide open for different
types of players to add value to the telecommunications
infrastructure. Service providers seem to have caught on
to the fact that there is some new action here of which
they will grab a piece. Many are hustling to build labs,
not just to play quality gatekeeper like the old VOs,
but to also actually develop new service offerings for
their customers. This is indicative of a disruption in
the process by which the industry develops and deploys
new services, which is a much more significant change
than the increase efficiency that comes with VoIP toll
bypass. Are the service providers up to the challenge of
becoming a "system integrator" with the broad new
I've concluded that Rich and I were just feeling the
first inklings of the indications that our industry was
about to get turned on its ear. No wonder we felt as we
Over the next few columns, within the bounds of
customer confidentiality, I will explore some of the key
trends that will influence who the winners and losers in
this game will be. I am not promising answers, but we'll
explore some interesting questions raised by the
significant disruption that's going on.
We'll also take a close look at questions such as "what
will the service providers really roll out and when?"
Sure, we all know that the one of the few things really
selling today is toll bypass (Class 4 replacement) and
modem offload. What is in the works and when will it
really be deployed at meaningful levels of revenue?
Will the enterprise-resident applications platform
usurp the high-value applications from service
providers, leaving them in the low-margin pipe business?
The Internet model of truly distributed applications is
largely incompatible with the still centralized approach
of many service providers. Within a year, enterprises
will have the ability to totally bypass traditionally
network resident applications using the network only for
high-speed IP pipes, leaving many traditional service
providers in the dust.
Three key technology shifts that can enable this
- Traditional telecom vendors displacement.
Let's consider data networking vendors, such as
Cisco and others, that offer all of the traditional
telecom product sets. How compelling is their
incorporation of true voice switching feature sets,
IVR, and speech recognition capabilities into
already deployed next generation routers -- both
enterprise and carrier class? The historic models of
discrete PBX, IVR, messaging, and data systems could
be over, and soon. What will this mean?
- Dynamic Internet-based information delivered
via the telephone.
Given the dominance of the Internet for information
delivery, it's an obvious next step for that
information to be made available over the most
ubiquitous terminal of all -- the telephone. This is
driving the rise in importance of independent and
portable application developers enabled by VoiceXML.
Who are these developers, what are the key
applications, and how will they change the way our
- Data-driven telephony in the enterprise.
Microsoft's incorporation of SIP into Windows XP and
its native support by Exchange truly fuels the fire
and can be much more than an attack on AOL's instant
What is their real impact, when will they become a
factor in our planning?
Of course, the most critical factor in the success of
a new generation of services is providing the user the
highest possible application quality, reliability, and
availability, that is, the Quality of Experience. Being
a test guy, I will talk about the challenges of that as
Steve Gladstone is the general manager of the
Infrastructure Test Group of Empirix
and an acknowledged expert in testing computer telephony
systems and networks. Steve founded Hammer Technologies,
now a business unit of Empirix, Inc., whose products are
in use today by developers of computer telephony,
advanced switching, and enhanced services systems, most
of the RBOCs and long-distance carriers, and at call
centers of numerous Fortune 100 companies.
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