It started in 1870 when Graham Bell and Elisha Gray invented devices that could electrically transmit voice over wires. Both of them rushed to the patent office and ultimately Graham Bell won. But least had one knows that, that was far from the last fight over the new technology called “Telephony”. The device was a major breakthrough in the field of communication which was till then limited to telegraphs. However like all great inventions telephony had to go through its low period and phases of evolution until it found able pioneers in AT&T to make if accepted and developed worldwide. Rest as they say is history.
Today communication has made the world a much smaller place and developed the whole world into a global market. Telephony over the years has joined forces with wireless technologies and Information Technology to provide state of the art solutions to meet communication and networking needs, which were only a part of science fictions a few decades back.
And as the technology evolves and the number of users and their needs continue to increase, a countless companies fight amongst themselves to provide relevant, effective and cost efficient solutions to those needs. Intense competition is expected in the information networking arena over the next 5-10 years. And as the competition increases, it will be essential for companies to position themselves appropriately to take advantage of their core competencies and to prepare for the emerging telecommunications environment.
In this competitive environment, mergers, alliances, and the onslaught of new entrants into the market have service providers struggling to find innovative ways to retain and or attract the most lucrative subscribers. Today’s service providers are striving to differentiate themselves within this expanding competitive landscape by searching for ways to brand and bundle new services, achieve operational cost reductions, and strategically position themselves in relation to their competition. Figure 1 illustrates, inn any developing telecom market the top 15% of today’s subscribers account for about 95% of carrier profits!
Thus, many service providers are looking to Next Generation Network (NGN) services as a means to attract and or retain the most lucrative customers.
Next Generation Networking (NGN) is a broad term to describe some key architectural evolutions in telecommunication core and access networks that will be deployed over the next 5-10 years. The general idea behind NGN is that one network transports all information and services (voice, data, and all sorts of media such as video) by encapsulating these into packets, like it is on the Internet. NGNs are commonly built around the Internet Protocol, and therefore the term "all-IP" is also sometimes used to describe the transformation towards NGN.
Through this article I do not intend to provide a in depth technical knowledge of NGN, but I do wish to address a few basic questions like
- What is Next Generation Networks?
- Why NGN are important for today’s Service Providers?
- What do NGN promises to the users?
- What are the important characteristics, trends and services in a NGN environment?
What is Next Generation Network?
NGN can be thought of as a packet-based network where the packet switching and transport elements (e.g., routers, switches, and gateways) are logically and physically separated from the service/call control intelligence. This control intelligence is used to support all types of services over the packet-based transport network, including everything from basic voice telephony services to data, video, multimedia, advanced broadband, and management applications, which can be thought of as just another type of service that NGNs support.
In simple terms, an NGN environment looks at a common core technologies and services differentiation taking place off the edges of the core at the CPE level. The NGN has following three major differences as compared to most the prevalent networks:
- In the core network, NGN implies a consolidation of several (dedicated or overlay) transport networks each historically built for a different service into one core transport network (often based on IP and Ethernet). It implies amongst others the migration of voice from a switched architecture (PSTN) to VoIP, and also migration of legacy services such as X.25, Frame Relay (either commercial migration of the customer to a new service like IP VPN, or technical emigration by emulation of the "legacy service" on the NGN).
- In the wired access network, NGN implies the migration from the "dual" legacy voice next to xDSL setup in the local exchanges to a converged setup in which the DSLAMs integrate voice ports or VoIP, allowing removing the voice switching infrastructure from the exchange.
- In cable access network, NGN convergence implies migration of constant bit rate voice to Cable Labs Packet Cable standards that provide VoIP and SIP services. Both services ride over DOCSIS as the cable data layer standard.
Why NGNs are important for today’s Service Providers?
For today’s Service providers, shifting to Next Generation Network would means huge investments in terms of infrastructure creation & Upgrade, Manpower skill set upgrade, killing prevailing cash cows like revenues from voice and over and above that huge financial and business risk for being pioneers in a upcoming technology.
With these major deterrents one can argue if there can ever be potential reasons to justify rolling out of next generation network by today’s service providers. But there sure are reasons that will not only make operators shift on to NGNs but also have their cash registers ringing. For operators, these all–Internet protocol (IP) networks will bring following benefits.
- First NGNs will reduce the operational costs of multiple services by an estimated 35 percent through their simpler architectures and economies of scale.
- Second, they will speed the development of new services, including video telephony, white boarding, and multimedia conferencing with file and application sharing.
- Third, they will help protect operators’ businesses from cable and other service providers such as MSN, Skype or other internet call provider.
But for all these advantages is NGN the only solutions. Why cant they just upgrade their existing networks to meet their requirements?
The answer to these questions may be, well yes to some extent. The present legacy networks may be upgraded to meet the growing demands for data and more so converged services. But the Internet community is already well on its way to handling all of its emerging and new service needs. Their solution is simple … with advanced CPE such as PCs, smart phones, set-top boxes, etc, much of the “intelligence” should be pushed out to the edges of the network. Services will execute at the end systems. Enterprise, computing, and software companies and an increasing number of college and high school computer science students will develop the applications and download them over the Internet to smart CPEs. All that would be required from the public network carriers would be a reliable, high-bandwidth transport. But that my friends would be more of an commodity business, which would command no premium.
Hence to keep profits coming and to retain their profitable customers but providing the added value to subscriptions the operators would have to move to NGN for following reasons:
- As discussed above the “pipe” business is increasingly becoming a commodity business. Network providers are being forced to compete by price for ever-shrinking profit margins. In the mean time, competitors are offering more sophisticated services to skim off the incumbents’ high-margin customers. If the public network carriers want to prosper in the new millennium, they must find ways to add value to their transport services. NGNs that support new advanced services will allow them to retain key customers and expand their addressable markets into new areas.
- Network-based services make sense. For small numbers of simple services that do not require interworking between one another, the CPE-based approach is adequate. However, as the number, sophistication, and degree of interworking between services increases, network-based approaches hold a number of important advantages.
- One size doesn’t fit all. There is no doubt that services for certain customers will migrate out to the edges of the network. Legacy network providers cannot prevent this trend. However, that doesn’t mean they should hide their heads in the sand and admit defeat. The new information services business is going to be a multi-billion dollar industry. There’s plenty to go around. After all, even though many people have answering machines sitting on their nightstands, the public network carriers are making quite a profit with their network-based voice messaging service offerings! The reality is that some customers will want CPE-based services, but others will prefer network-based services.
NGNs will allow carriers’ networks to cost effectively support a new suite of sophisticated services by building on core competencies related to traditional transport services. In addition, a unified and consistent NGN approach will help reduce costs by eliminating the inefficiencies of current service-specific, proprietary, and non-reusable solutions. NGN approaches will also reduce the time to market and life-cycle costs of offering new services.
Finally, NGNs will enable carriers to deploy advanced services, allowing them to remain competitive as well as expand their capabilities to enter new markets. The bottom line is that, in addition to their wholesale transport businesses, legacy network carriers should and must pursue Next Generation Service Architectures to offer value-added services.
What do NGN promises to the users?
In addition to all the services that are provided by today’s legacy networks and developing interface service provided by IP services riding over traditional core transport, NGNs would promise the primary goal to enable users to get the information content they want, in any media/format, over any facilities, anytime, anywhere, and in any volume.
NGN basically would meet all present services and upgrade them to CPE independent network based customizable service in the verticals of:
- Voice Telephony
- Data Services
- Multimedia Services
- Virtual Private Network
- Public Network Computing
- Unified Messaging
- Information Brokering
- Electronic Commerce
- Call Centre Services
- Interactive Gaming
- Distributed Virtual Reality
- Home Manager
The further discussion in this article focuses on questions like:
- Specific application of NGNs in the above mentioned user vertices
- What are the important characteristics, trends and services in a NGN environment?
- Pricing and Revenue models for NGN environment.
- Regulatory issues with NGNs.
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