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May/June 2009 | Volume 1/Number 3
Feature Story

IP Communications and the NGN

By Richard "Zippy" Grigonis

The Next Generation Network is founded upon packet-switched communications, the principal packet protocol being IP. Indeed, without IP, NGNs would look very much different (ATM phones, anyone?). Unlike the old circuit-switched TDM network of the Bell System, IP "levels the playing field" in terms of application development, and the whole concept of IP and the NGN separates applications/services from the infrastructure, enabling service providers and third-party developers to quickly formulate and "plug-in" new services. IP will even travel wirelessly to your mobile phone in the upcoming packetized 4G world, and will support Voice Call Continuity (VCC) and other forms of seamless mobility, extending services and advanced functionality anywhere you can get a signal. Despite IP’s ability to more efficiently use network "pipes", more bandwidth will be necessary as multimedia apps begin to curry favor among both businesses and consumers.

An Appetite for Broadband
ADVA Optical Networking is a global telecom equipment provider specializing in innovative Optical+Ethernet transport solutions for building next-gen networks. They’re known for their scalable FSP product family; their products can be found in 200 carriers and 10,000 eworldwide.

Ron Martin, ADVA’s President of North America and Global Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, says, "We’ve never really targeted the TDM or traditional SONET transport markets and while we know and recognize those are very relevant, we cast our lot about 12 years ago with the idea that eventually the network was eventually was going to evolve to IP using Ethernet transport over WDM and that’s really where we focus our efforts. That has really come home now. We see in market that perhaps differently from back in 2001, when we went through the dotcom bubble economic downturn and we were all struggling to find revenue. The difference is that bandwidth expansion back in that time was primarily driven by businesses, government and medium-to-large-sized institutions, and today it’s driven a lot more by consumers. To provide the consumer experiences that they’re demanding, and make those usage-sensitive with SLAs and quality of service [QoS], and be able to bill for those services, service providers, be they mobile, traditional carriers or MSOs, are learning that they must aggressively convert their networks to Ethernet. In particular we seen this in the case of cell tower backhaul and in the carrier infrastructure networks."

"More than ever, consumers are not only demanding how they get their information and entertainment over what media," says Martin, "but they’re also demanding to be able to control the time, the place where they get it and rather than just receiving content, they’re now producing content and sending it the other way in the network, all of which is causing a continuation for bandwidth growth. It hasn’t made us immune to economic conditions, but it has perhaps made us a little more resilient than we were back in 2001 because of that."

"As we talk to our customers," says Martin, "they pushing us very aggressively right past 40 gigabit transmission into 100 gigs. We’re doing some creative things in that area, and business for us has actually been pretty good. This overall appetite for broadband is pretty much driving our business in the direction that we want it to go."

Martin adds, "Two different camps are evolving. One says ‘We want you to build 40 gig and 100 gig ‘muxsponders’ [a transponder with client signal multiplexing capability] and WDM multi-degree ROADMs [Reconfigurable Optical Add-Drop Multiplexer] for meshing our networks together because fiber is scarce and we must achieve greater clock speeds through available fiber.’ We’re responding to that challenge as are our competitors, providing that capability and always looking ahead to the next generation of 100 gig technology. But the second camp consists of customers who say, ‘We’re not constrained as to where we situate our data centers — we can put them where there’s an abundance of fiber. And if we can do that, we don’t have to build out these complex mesh networks that need expensive multi-degree ROADMs, and we’re not going to do a lot of G.709 framing and those kinds of things. Just give us colored XFPs [Small Form Factor Pluggable, hot-swappable, protocol-independent optical transceivers for SONET/SDH, Fibre Channel, gigabit Ethernet, 10 gigabit Ethernet and other applications, including DWDM links], let us build point-to-point networks, let us do it at short lengths less than 60 kilometers, which a kind of breakpoint, because if we can do it at shorter distances we can add some pretty creative modulation schemes and get to 100 gig transmission rates fairly quickly, and if we’re not doing WDM we can do it very cost-effectively. It’s very applicable to those customers that say to us, we’re not constrained by where we locate our data centers, so just give us quick and cheap point-to-point connections, and if it breaks we’ll replace it so we don’t need a lot of GMPLS [Generalized Multiprotocol Label Switching] in our network, for example.’ They just want to be able to haul data."

"We postulate that, to achieve a lot of quick bandwidth for wireless backhaul," says Martin, "these providers can place equipment in tractor trailers, pull up to a parking spot within 100 yards of a manhole, pull some fibers out to that truck and then go wireless fro there to a 4G WiMAX or LTE network handoff or wherever they need to go. It’s radical thinking, but then we have some radical customers."

A Tale of Two Networks
Jeff Baher, Senior Director of Product Marketing, at Ericsson for the Product Area of Packet Networks, says, "Ericsson’s Redback acquisition a few years back was an important step forward for the company, as they adopt more packet technologies and architectures. It’s part of a larger transformation wherein we are working closely with our customers to enable. It’s a transformation that we are working very closely with our customers to enable and it’s a transformation predicated on adopting a lot of packet technologies, products, and so forth. But we also see it as a significant opportunity from a carrier’s perspective, to derive greater efficiency in the network, lower the cost structure of service delivery and, from a subscriber perspective, it’s an opportunity to create a whole new suite of services. At the end of the day it’s all about a new experience for both residential and business subscribers."

"We think that while there’s a significant technology discussion, it really plays out as to how we relate to the network and we use the network for," says Baher. "Right now there appears to be two very different types of networks that are in play. First, there’s a mobile network that’s typically more solutions-oriented and more mature in that mobile progression such as 2G to 2.5G to 3G are much longer in nature and, as a result, their adoption of technologies and their approach to technologies has been a bit different when you compare them to what we’ve seen on the wireline side which has been arguably more aggressive adoption of IP technologies and just in general the cycles or generations that we’ve seen on wireline side have progressed at a much faster rate. So there are different cultures and philosophies behind the mobile and wireline networks, making it an interesting backdrop to the industry as a whole. But there is a reasonably clear vision on both our part and the carrier’s part in terms of how these two kinds of networks can come together. The ‘glue’ in all of that is really IP and the packet technologies."

Application Awareness and Intelligent Networks
Tellabs’ AssuredEthernet solution enables service providers to offer up to a half-million unique service flows per system with guaranteed verifiable quality of service.

Tellabs’ new CTO, Vikram Saksena, says, "If you look at the overall IP space and how it has driven changes in the way people use applications, we’re finding now that we’re in a mode where the applications and services have continued to decouple from the network, and this is what people generally refer to as the ‘over the top’ model. Typically you have endpoints which are PCs or handsets, and the applications used are put there by media companies or social networking companies such as Facebook. The network is essentially transparent in between, although it’s all IP end-to-end. But it really doesn’t provide much value other than moving packets between the source and the destination. This is becoming a point of increasing concern to our customer base which are the services, because they build the infrastructure for carrying information. However, the real ‘value creation’ basically happens at either the handset or at the application layer at the other side of the network."

"Tellabs has recently focused on innovation, and ideas for evolving our technology and how we can re-invent the value of the network infrastructure, so that our customers have a better ability to monetize their investments in network infrastructure. That’s essentially involves building more intelligence into the network itself through software capabilities, reflected in the industry as ‘application awareness’. This is where networks in general will have a better idea of what applications are using the network and be better able to assign, allocate and manage bandwidth for different applications, so the end user experience is enhanced relative to an over-the-top model where everything is up for grabs and whoever tries to get more bandwidth will actually get it, but everybody else gets squeezed out in the process. This is because the network essentially runs in a unmanaged fashion."

"So we now have these notions in the NGN concerning application awareness and increasing intelligence in the network layers, not only a layer 3 — which is IP — but also layers 4 through 6, where you encounter a lot of session control and management occurs," says Saksena. "Now IMS [IP Multimedia Subsystem] is one aspect of the overall situation. IMS mostly deals with point-to-point sessions which are set up using SIP as a protocol. VoIP of course is good example of that. But there are many applications in an IP/NGN network which don’t use SIP as the session control protocol. However, they still need the network to handle things more intelligently than they are able to do today."

"Tellabs now focuses on evolving its main solutions in mobile backhaul, business services and optical networking,"says Saksena, "and make them more application-aware and service-aware so that our customers — the service providers — can better monetize these assets. There are a number of different initiatives in the product/platform category in which we are investing today to make that happen over the next two to five years. We see a big opportunity in re-inventing the value of the network."

It’s the Quality, Not Just the Quantity U4EA Technologies supplies networking solutions including Multi-Service Business Gateways (MSBGs) multi-service business gateways, wireless LAN controllers and APs, and signaling controllers that enable service providers and resellers to provide integrated, IP unified communications solutions to SMB, SME and SOHO customers. U4EA’s all-in-one customer premises devices are supported by the company’s revolutionary QoS (GoS™) technology, which is designed to provide secure, reliable and cost-effective delivery of converged VoIP, data and video services.

Jim Greenway, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, says, "We pretty consistent with our mantra here at U4EA. We tout three forms of technology as our contribution to next-generation networking. The first is QoS. I was just in South America, and QoS resonates there big-time in that most carriers have lots of bandwidth in their network to accommodate IP now, and LANs have gone into the gigabit range, but when you get to what we used to call the Last Mile, or the WAN Access Link, that is rapidly, we think, becoming the new bottleneck, if you will, for unified communications. So we’ve really been having a lot of success showing people how all forms of IP traffic affect the network such as streaming video and presence, and everybody’s Skype-ing and everybody’s doing all of these things from the office or home office, and yet they’ve got to get onto the backbone network smoothly somehow. So we continue to believe that that will be fundamental to our success and I spent a lot of time last week talking to many South American service providers about this. We integrate QoS into our multi-service business gateway, which are all-in-one devices. These devices combine switching, routing, session control, VoIP gateway-ing, and so forth. For an SMB or branch office, the goal is to reduce complexity and the cost. So it’s all done in one highly integrated, low-cost device."

"Then, as we’ve said, there’s QoS for managing the WAN link," says Greenway. "What we do with our QoS is pretty much twofold. We ensure that if there are multiple real-time apps there, then you can actually decide how much bandwidth — how much of the WAN link — can be dedicated to each application. Moreover, what we do that our competition doesn’t is to literally guarantee that you’ll be able to use 90 to 95 percent of that WAN link. If it’s a DSL link or even a T1 link, and if you’ve got even 25 busy employees trying to communicate into the network, you’re going to run into problems."

"Third and finally, we can help providers save money because of the high WAN link utilization, for example," says Greenway. "For example, we just announced that SimpleSignal, a facilities-based complete network provider of business VoIP, will begin deploying U4EA’s Fusion series MSBGs with SimpleSignal’s hosted VoIP and SIP trunking services to SMBs. Providers say ‘Wow, I use T1s in my SMBs and enterprise branch offices. I can now eliminate the need for me to tell my customers to buy another T1 at $400 to $500 a month, because I’m going to use 90 percent of the bandwidth and my competition is stuck at 40 or so percent, that’s a big deal’."

"Our second biggest focus is on mobility, in particular our award-winning Wireless LAN Controller product," says Greenway. "That has a number of differentiators: It scales from 2 access points to 25 using just software. Everybody else forces you to change out hardware. Its voice quality just got the highest MOS score ratings. It’s other forte is signaling. SIP is king in UC, IMS and soon in video. We continue to do a great job of converting anything and everything we see into SIP to get it onto the service provider’s backbone. But an interesting point here is video. We’re partnering with Vidtel to deliver video services to SMBs by combining U4EA's Fusion series MSBGs Vidtel's new video calling and conferencing services, so video call quality is ensured and WAN bandwidth is fully utilized."

IP versus the Economy
Veraz Networks, provides application, control, and bandwidth optimization products that enable the evolution to the Multimedia Generation Network (MGN). Service providers worldwide Veraz’ MGN portfolio to expand their existing application suite and rapidly add customized multimedia services. The Veraz MGN separates the control, media, and application layers while unifying management of the network, thereby increasing service provider operating efficiency. The Veraz MGN portfolio includes the ControlSwitch, Network-adaptive Border Controller, I-Gate 4000 Media Gateways, the VerazView Management System, and a set of customizable applications, including the verazVirtu softclient.

Dawn Hogh, Vice President of Marketing at Veraz, says, "One wonders what effect the present declining world economy has on the evolution of the networks and the move to IP. In talking to our customers, it’s all about minimizing capex and achieving very short-term payback, while still continuing to keep business profitable and growing. What that means for our business is that customers are looking at things such as our SIP gateway that we just announced which allows the customer to keep their infrastructure and not replace it, but also gain the benefits of IP form a cost structure standpoint, such as SIP trunking. On the VoIP peering/interconnect side, with everybody trying to reduce their costs, bandwidth optimization is big. Everyone is looking at reducing large maintenance contracts, large power bills or large real estate bills by moving more and more to the IP interconnection. It can have a short-term payback for them and it certainly increases their bottom line dramatically."

"When people are not traveling and are spending less on disposable items, telecom doesn’t ‘go away’," says Hogh. "From a generic business standpoint, telecommunications is still relatively healthy today, the issue is the capital markets and how telecom service providers are getting the funds to expand their businesses. So the challenge for them is that the capital markets are constrained, so they must shrink or they monitor their budgets extremely closely. But they still have to grow their respective bottom lines, and so their focus is on very short-term payback or positive business case opportunities; that’s where you can see the opex reductions having a big impact on them."

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.

Companies mentioned in this article:

ADVA Optical Networking


Tellabs (News - Alert)

U4EA Technologies

Veraz Networks (News - Alert)

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