Rajesh Chainani, Vice President (Service Provider) of Cisco Systems, India & SAARC
The service provider industry today is marked by intense competition globally and in India. This intense competition continues to erode the profitability of service providers and is in turn accelerating their transition to an IP-based Next-Generation Network (NGN). Service providers today, require innovative-converged infrastructures that are scalable to cater for tomorrow's new, bandwidth-intensive services.
Such networks need to be intelligent, support integration and flexibility, as it will give carriers short-term relief from competitive pressures and address new market opportunities.
The IP NGNs bring about a broad network transformation that encompasses not just the service provider's network but its entire business. Phased development of the IP NGN involves creating an intelligent infrastructure from which application-aware services are delivered by service-aware networks. This integration provides convenience to the customer, who can now access a wide range of services from a single device, be it contemporary or new services.
Allowing users to choose from a variety of services, and then personalizing them (for example: tiered services, buddy lists, parental controls, etc.) strengthens customer loyalty and increases revenue opportunities for the operator.
To use an analogy, carriers must move from a basic "highway" service structure to a "toll-way" service structure to reap the benefits of their broadband investments.
IP NGN defined
The IP NGN involves a transformation of the service provider's entire network and its business. This "evolution" is an ongoing journey and services, and applications should be made available in an interactive manner - any time, anywhere. Some examples are given below:
- At home: People remotely monitor the home to verify its security etc.
- At work: Desktop videoconferencing and application portability enabling users to switch devices with no effect on their voice, data, or video sessions.
- On the delivery route: Deliveries are scheduled dynamically with real-time package tracking, real-time records of receipt of goods, and real-time capacity planning.
- At the store: Advertisements are targeted to specific customer interests and radio frequency identification devices enable real-time inventory taking.
- In the doctor's office: Physicians perform surgery with telerobotics and have real-time access to patient information.
- At play: Home entertainment expands to real-time gaming across continents.
These kinds of services are more than just within the realm of possibility, and some may be available within a few years or sooner.
The Triple convergence
Convergence is at the heart of the IP NGN, and it occurs in 3 fundamental ways:
- Application convergence:
Carriers can integrate new IP data, voice, and video applications over a single broadband infrastructure for increased profitability. Application convergence opens the doors to "all-media services," such as videoconferencing, which is effectively a new service being neither voice, nor video, nor data but an integration of all 3.
- Service convergence:
IP-NGN makes a service available to end users across any access network. For example, a service available in the office can be available over a wireless LAN, a broadband connection, or a cellular network. All of these access networks have the ability to transfer the service and the state of connection as the user roams, providing a seamless experience using the most efficient and cost-effective means possible.
- Network convergence:
Creating a converged network is a goal that many carriers are already pursuing by their efforts to eliminate multiple service-specific networks or to reduce multiple layers within a network. A "many services, one network" model in which a single network can support all existing and new services will dramatically reduce the total cost of ownership for service providers.
However, convergence is prioritized. One factor makes the IP NGN journey an imperative for all service providers - business success. Quite simply, service providers need to increase revenues and reduce cost of service delivery to create sustainable profitability. They can do this by offering services that are increasingly customer-centric, which demands a planned evolution to transform the network into an intelligent infrastructure.
The IP NGN architecture: Achieving a whole greater than the sum of the parts
The goal of the IP NGN architecture is to provide rich, personalized, and value-add multimedia services. To do this, service providers need a service control framework that supports the key business transition that must be made:
- Application layer:
Today devices can be used to provide a range of voice, video, and data services and yet be mobile. Called "Triple Play on the Move," these services span the communication and entertainment realms. However, delivering "service" to a "device" is a challenge that can be addressed by a common network which is - resilient, adaptive, and can support integration.
- Service control layer:
However, to deliver such services over a broad range of devices over multiple access means, the network should be able to process granular customer information. Hence, the network should be able to assess and address issues relating to user identity, device identification, access medium, usage, etc.
A service exchange framework enhances broadband and mobile IP networks with an application-aware service control point. This offers service providers the benefit of having a more controlled and efficient (facilitates the reduction of OpEx and CapEx) network which service providers can leverage to provide deliver new, tiered services.
- Secure network layer:
Today the secure network layer is undergoing a dramatic change. IP/MPLS is being integrated throughout each section of the network. Edge and core areas are converging, with each adopting capabilities of the other, etc. Service providers can leverage this convergence to offer new, more, and better services.
One area in the network that's not converging is access or aggregation. More and more types of technologies are being offered in the access realm - from 3G and Wifi, and Ethernet and Cable, to DSL, ATM, Frame Relay, Fiber, and TDM. This poses new challenges to the network as it now has to adapt to whatever the access means, even multiple ones.
Another major challenge is security. Customers today consider security as an absolute necessity. As a result, security needs to be integrated throughout the network, crossing its own internal barriers to ensure that the services are delivered without compromise. For both of these challenges, and many more in the network layer, intelligence is once again the necessary solution.
To conclude, by building a network with more and more intelligence fully integrated throughout, a service provider is able to leverage a platform on which to better build its business.