NGN: ITU Misses the Boat

By Brough Turner, Brough Turner is Chief Strategy Officer of Dialogic.  |  November 01, 2010

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of NGN

As I move my monthly column from INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine to NGN, I can’t resist reflecting on this magazine’s title. The English words “next generation network” are exciting. I’m in favor of progress.

But NGN has a specific meaning for telecom operators, their vendors and their uber-standards organizations, the ITU and the 3GPP. Here NGN refers to an IP-based network with extra features, notably mobility management, sophisticated many-level per-session quality of service and, with it, voice-data integration. Mobility management is a key differentiation for mobile operators even though experience shows the vast majority of mobile connections are made from only a few fixed locations (work, home and, occasionally, a third location). But while mobility may not be as important as widespread coverage, it is a saleable feature. Per-session QoS is another story.

Existing operators love the idea of per-session QoS since controlling each IP session would also allow per-session billing and thus allow different prices for bits depending on which application uses them. Per-session billing could extend today’s differential prices per-bit for voice, SMS and web browsing.

Unfortunately for operators, the world has already bypassed per-session QoS. Even before the iPhone (News - Alert), the advent of 3G data services in Europe (in 2005-2006) showed what users really want. With 3G the use of IP data soared; however, 95-97 percent of all bytes transferred went to/from the undifferentiated Internet, not to operator-provided applications.

In 2008, just months after the launch of the iPhone, U.S. commentators noticed a similar shift – all the excitement was about access to the Internet. If the point of IP data services is to allow users to connect to the Internet, do you really want to run all that traffic through an NGN core network, especially when that network costs more to purchase and to operate?

Of course without QoS, how can you offer voice services? Here it’s worth looking at corporate networks that have deployed VoIP PBXs. Millions of independent purchasers have each been seeking maximum return on their investments. The first thing we notice is these networks don’t do per-session accounting. They are over-provisioned and have either no QoS at all, or very simple two-level differentiation. What about their first mile access links? These are typically quite expensive and therefore of limited capacity. 

Surely this is the place for sophisticated QoS? No, at most IT departments purchase two separate circuits, using one for best effort IP traffic and the other for voice traffic, for example via a SIP trunk.

What if operators took an IT-centric approach to delivering services? Could they dramatically cut costs while increasing profits and customer satisfaction? Next issue I’ll show you a major EU operator that is doing just that.

Brough Turner (News - Alert) is founder & CTO at netBlazr Inc. ( )

Edited by Stefania Viscusi