The FCC, NFV, SDN and VoIP


The FCC, NFV, SDN and VoIP

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  May 20, 2013

Change seems to be the only constant in the communications space. And, so, I wanted to use this space to review and comment on a handful of the important developments at the forefront of communications at the moment.

First, as you probably already know, the Federal Communications Commission is seeing a fair amount of turnover. FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell in March announced his intentions to step down, and just a few days later FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (News - Alert) said he will also be leaving the commission.

That raises the question as to likely candidates that will fill these new commission roles, particularly the chairmanship.

Candidates being considered for the top FCC post as of late March reportedly included Karen Kornbluh, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; Catherine Sandoval, a member of the California Public Utilities Commission; Lawrence Strickling, a top Obama administration advisor on telecom and technology policy; and Tom Wheeler (News - Alert), the former CTIA head who in recent years has been a venture capitalist.

I’m not terribly familiar with the others, but it seems to me that Wheeler would be a very strong candidate. He’s a dynamic leader who headed up the wireless association for many years and is a fixture in the wireless industry. Given wireless has come center stage in recent years, Wheeler’s knowledge of this space could be a great asset to the FCC. At the same time, however, some might argue that he would favor the interests of the large wireless service providers, the key constituency of the CTIA (News - Alert).

While we’re on the topic of the FCC, I think it’s also worth noting that the commission reportedly is looking at whether it might make sense to allow VoIP providers to get phone numbers direct rather than by way of local exchange carriers. Vonage (News - Alert) sparked this discussion when it sent a request to this effect last year to the FCC saying this move could “reduce the number of hand-offs involved in a Vonage call, thereby improving call quality, reducing delay, and eliminating opportunities for routing errors."

Some have been quick to note that if this were to happen, phone numbers would no longer necessarily be connected to a particular geography. In fact, I heard a report on NPR the other day about this, in which some plucky communications pundits opined about how very connected they feel to their phone numbers. I found this a bit odd, particularly in a world in which many of us program numbers into our devices, so we often aren’t even able to recall our own numbers. That said, I’m always on board when people find meaning in the little things in life.

And since we’re on the topic of regulation as it relates to wireless, I also want to take this opportunity to officially welcome Barlow Keener as a standing columnist in INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine. Barlow is the principal with Keener Law Group out of Boston, and he’s been a long-time contributor to the Super Wi-Fi event that Crossfire Media puts on in collaboration with TMC at our ITEXPO (News - Alert) conference and exposition.

I also wanted to mention one more thing here, and I don’t have any mildly clever segue to this particular topic. It’s about network virtualization and the software-defined telco, two related areas that are really heating up right now.

This move to a software-based world first came to light in a definable way when The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 20, 2011, ran a column by Marc Andreessen titled “Why Software is Eating the World”.

Andreessen was writing primarily about the move to applications and the cloud.

But now, not only are applications, infrastructure and services moving into the cloud so businesses and consumers can enjoy pay-as-you go options, but some of the infrastructure that actually powers carrier networks that make this kind of thing possible are becoming software solutions able to run on industry-standard servers. This network function virtualization, as it’s called, should allow for more affordable and flexible networks.

Some INTERNET TELEPHONY sources – including Travis Russell, technologist of strategic marketing at Tekelec, which software company Oracle in late March announced plans to acquire -- see NFV as a precursor to telco efforts related to the software-defined network.

For more on Oracle/Tekelec, NFV and SDN, see the Network Infrastructure section of this issue.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi