Top technologists from the big four incumbent telcos yesterday at The ATIS Technology Forum laid out their visions for the converged, next-generation network. But rather than simply fueling hype about technologies like IMS, VoIP and WiMAX, these executives offered a dose of reality.
While all the panelists agreed that IMS — and the vendor community working on it are headed in the right direction, they also made clear that IP Multimedia System is not a fully-formed technology as it relates to multimedia networks.
We think IMS is a wonderful vehicle for where we want to be, said Mark Wegleitner, senior vice president of technology and CTO at Verizon, but he added that IMS needs to be expanded out of 3GPP and into the IETF and other industry groups.
Chris Rice, executive vice president of network planning and engineering at SBC, which recently announced Lucent Technologies Inc. as its IMS supplier, said that IMS is very complex and is not yet a mature technology. Today, he said, it fits as a VoIP solution, and SBC will apply it to other services and technologies as IMS evolves to be a multimedia solution. Rice added that a potential impediment to IMS would be to bring all the feature sets of the legacy network to it.
Bill Smith, BellSouths CTO, concurred that a key question for service providers will be whether to IMS-enable their circuit-based platforms. That would allow a carrier to leverage its existing network investment, he said, but it would also keep that cost structure in place. I would like to be able to retire that existing Class 5 infrastructure, said Smith, adding BellSouth has chosen but not announced its IMS vendor. Like AIN before it, Smith said, IMS will happen over time.
Of course, the idea of IMS is to enable converged services by decoupling applications from the physical network.
Qwests CTO Balan Nair said that and separating application from endpoints as well to allow for faster time to market and deliver more innovate offerings are his vision for the converged, next-generation network.
BellSouths Smith says his view of the converged, next-generation network comes down to what it means to the user. He talked about the idea of a network automatically switching modes as a user pulls into his or her driveway. Its treating our customer as a customer regardless of how they come onto the network, he said.
Smith later added that once all user services are delivered over a converged network, the reliability and availability of network elements will become even more critical. The industry talks about how new network elements need to have five 9s reliability, he said, but that may be the bare minimum. You may need more than five 9s because when you lose the network that carries all your traffic you lose everything.
Expanding on the theme of reliability and survivability, ATIS President and CEO Susan M. Miller, who acted as the forums moderator, asked Smith and Rice to comment on BellSouths and SBCs experiences during the recent hurricanes.
Smith responded that the telecommunications industry needs first responder status — and that hes met with government officials to discuss that. BellSouth fuel tanks were commandeered by public officials in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to fill rescue helicopters, he said. Smith said while he realizes that was important, he also needed to use the fuel for emergency generators to keep communications running to aid in the rescue effort.
Other steps the industry should take to be better prepared in the event of emergencies include creating primary and secondary backups for PSAPs and making sure those locations are geographically dispersed to protect communications in the event of emergencies; and putting switching equipment on upper-level floors (which allowed BellSouth to recover more quickly communications in New Orleans), Smith added.
Smith continued that there seems to be a fair amount of confusion from public officials and the general public about how communications works. He explained that many people dont understand that wireless doesnt typically work without wireline. And he added that theres a misconception by some that VoIP can be the key to providing voice services in emergency situations. But when equipment is under water no matter what that equipment is it creates big problems, he said.
VoIP is not the answer to maintaining communications in an emergency, added SBCs Rice, whose Texas region has also been affected by the recent hurricanes.
On a lighter note, The ATIS Technology Forum gave BellSouth, SBC and Verizon an opportunity to provide a brief update on the status of their residential video activities.
Verizon has been offering video services for a couple weeks in Keller, Texas, noted Wegleitner. We have been able to get a read on what it takes to offer interactive television services, through this early deployment, he said.
Rice reported that SBC is doing a controlled launch of IPTV this year, with plans to scale the service in mid 2006. He said among the key challenges are how to deliver video within the home, outside plant issues and ensuring interoperability between routers and video elements like servers and encoders.
Meanwhile, BellSouth is testing IPTV, with a couple dozen employee homes, said Smith. If all goes well, it plans to launch a market trial in mid 2006.
While these telcos plan to use either fiber or a combination of fiber and DSL to deliver their triple play services initially, Miller asked for their thoughts on how WiMAX might fit into their strategies going forward.
Qwests Nair says WiMAX remains something of a wildcard given its unclear what spectrum the technology will operate in within the U.S. and since certified equipment is not yet available.
Still, all the telcos indicated their interest in WiMAX at least for rural and handful of other limited applications.