article

Signs of Intelligence

Posted: 10/1998

Signs of Intelligence
Open, Software-centric IN Solutions Help Next-Gen Telcos Bring Enhanced Services to
Market Quicker and Cheaper

By Khali Henderson

As "the" telephone network is redefined to include not only the public
switched telephone network (PSTN) but also the Internet, wireless, satellite and corporate
networks, so too must be the provision of network-based enhanced telecommunications
services such as prepaid, calling card, unified messaging and global roaming. Certainly,
the flexible, distributed approach of the intelligent network (IN) architecture is the
obvious choice for putting the intelligence where it’s needed within the network. IN
protocols, which speed service creation by separating service control from service
switching and connection, also hold the key for collaboration among intelligence, whether
it resides on a server in the PSTN, the enterprise or the Internet.

The deployment of multiple networks, the liberalization of monopoly markets and the
emergence of new classes of network providers–resellers, competitive local exchange
carriers (CLECs), personal communications services (PCS) and Internet service providers
(ISPs)–is driving the push toward ways of offering enhanced services that are more
cost-effective, scaleable and segmented according to diverse market needs. Vendors are
meeting this challenge with lower cost and scaleable IN platforms and solutions that make
it possible for service providers to bring enhanced services to market more quickly and
economically than ever before.

What is IN

An intelligent network is a service-independent network in which the intelligence is
taken out of the switch and placed in computer nodes distributed throughout the network.
Generally, IN architecture separates the service-specific functions and subscriber data
management from other network resources, reducing a service provider’s reliance on its
switching vendor and improving its ability to quickly create, deploy and modify services.
Physically, an IN platform consists of a service control point (SCP) and an intelligent
peripheral, both of which interface to the service switching point (SSP). Developer tools
are found in the service creation environment (SCE).

While telecom service providers have been moving the creation and processing of
enhanced services off-switch using IN since the mid-1980s, competition and deregulation
have meant an increased need for IN-based services, says Mona Johnson, executive director
of the IN Forum, an industry group composed of vendors and service providers.

"IN really picked up speed in the early ’90s, and by now, most enhanced services
on the wireline side are provided from these distributed platforms. On the wireless side,
GSM (global systems for mobile) networks use IN architecture to provide enhanced services
and other network [types] have been adding this capability," she says. "The IN
market is growing rapidly."

One driver, she says, has been government-mandated local number portability (LNP) for
U.S. wireline and wireless networks, effective Dec. 31, 1998, and June 30, 1999,
respectively. The number translation database required to implement number portability
resides on an IN-based platform. Additionally, she says the opening of markets, such as
the U.S. local exchange, many global telecom markets, wireless and Internet services, to
new competitors is driving demand for enhanced services capabilities as a differentiation
and customer- retention tool.

The real obstacle for IN has been its staggering cost–a multimillion investment that
for emerging and growing carriers has been prohibitive and has forced them to outsource to
a service bureau under a much higher cost structure. While the reliability of the IN
approach is unparalleled, lower- cost IN-based service nodes (sometimes called enhanced
services platforms or multiapplication platforms) have enabled competitive providers and
niche service providers, such as prepaid calling card and international callback service
providers, to bring enhanced services to market.

Service Nodes

"We strongly believe in the IN solution," says Mary Stanhope, director of
product marketing for Priority Call Management, the Wilmington, Mass.-based maker of the
ORYX Enhanced Services Platform. "But most of our customers need a service
node."

Stanhope explains that a service node resolves the high up-front investment and lengthy
deployment cycle of a traditional IN while trading off diminished capacity and
reliability.

The beauty of these platforms is that they can be deployed alone or into the
traditional IN model (taking on intelligent peripheral functionality). Thus, they offer
providers a migration path from a cost-effective entry-level model to a fault-tolerant SCP
environment as their subscriber base and revenues grow.

"There is a major thrust to move the intelligence thought the network via [service
nodes]," says Bellcore’s Geraldine M. Weber in her white paper on redefining the
network and network intelligence. A service node encompasses not only the user interface
functions of the intelligent peripheral but also the database and service control
functions of the SCP and creation and execution functions of the SCE as well. This
integration is central to its appeal to startups and companies entering new markets.

"The smaller competitors have been very focused on revenue building, they have no
time to integrate vendors," says John Alperin, spokesman for Dallas-based InterVoice
Inc., provider of the IN*Control Enhanced Services Platform.

While integrating service functions, a service node also can bridge the traditional IN
and the Internet to give customers greater control and customization of their services
through a web-based interface, Bellcore’s Weber says.

Stanley J. Zoltek, director of intelligent network applications for Bell Atlantic, says
the synergy between IN and the Internet will impact the telecommunications industry in a
manner similar to the way in which Microsoft Windows impacted personal computing.

"When Windows became available, all kinds of people began creating applications
… because [it] made it easier for them to do so. [Development] will work much the same
way in the telecommunications industry [thanks to the Internet]," he says. "It
will be far easier and more cost-effective to customize and make real-time changes to
telecommunications services when the various options are presented graphically over the
Internet."

At the same time, Weber says, as service nodes become more widely deployed with a key
role in service creation as well as the execution of service logic, issues surrounding
industry standards for performance, reliability, interoperability and security will need
to be addressed.

"In the current IN architecture, SCPs are typically deployed in mated pairs for
reliability, whereas [service nodes] are not," she notes. "As services are
designed, decisions will need to be made based on the attributes of the services as to
which network elements will be used and, in some cases, how service logic may need to be
distributed between SCPs and [service nodes]."

While there is a known tradeoff in price and reliability when using a service node over
a traditional SCP configuration, for most providers the decision is purely an economic
one.

"While the business plan may call for a traditional IN, service nodes offer a
relatively inexpensive alternative," says Alperin, noting that a multiapplication
node can be deployed for as low as $250,000, compared to millions.

Distributed SCP

Low-cost computing platforms also will begin to bring down the cost of SCPs themselves.
IN pioneer Tandem, a Compaq company, announced in June 1998 the industry’s first IN
platform based on the Windows NT Server operating system.

Called the Tandem N-series, the SCP will be available commercially first quarter of
1999 and will be priced around $100,000 down from around $1 million for a fault-tolerant
server.

The solution is designed for entry-level SCP, intelligent peripheral, service node and
computer telephony integration applications. The company says it allows wireline and
wireless carriers to extend their telecommunications services into emerging markets and
then easily increase system capacity as the number of subscribers and revenue grow.

"Clearly, the telecommunications industry has a need for a carrier-class, Windows
NT Server-based, entry-level IN platform," says Rob Rich, senior vice president,
telecommunications research for Boston-based Yankee Group. "This is an important step
in the evolution of intelligent networking and will allow the rollout of a wider array of
services in smaller or developing markets, spurring deployment of a new generation of
services that were not economically feasible in the past."

Next-generation SCPs based on Windows NT allow for the deployment of distributed SCPs
consisting of a host SCP connected to multiple NT-based clients. "The distributed SCP
allows carriers to tailor services for subscribers–business or residential, mobile or
landline, Internet/intranet or PSTN," says Tandem spokesman Scott Blevins. "[In
addition, it also allows them to] tailor services for local needs, enter small or emerging
markets with low initial investment."

Director of Product Management George Stiglich explains that the client SCPs do not
necessarily need to be owned by the provider of the host, but could belong to an ISP or
even an end user deploying a virtual private network. "That is a good way [for
telephone companies] to hold onto subscribers," Stiglich says of telcos going to
other niche providers for service creation and maintaining management of the subscriber
database.

Software Centricity

The mandate for platform vendors now is to turn their focus away from hardware to
software.

Though several of the ESP vendors have been successful in providing robust hardware
platforms, analysts at the Yankee Group say the real differentiator in this space in the
future will be software, including a solid suite of industry-accepted communications
protocols and an arsenal of new applications.

"We believe the vendors would be much better off moving from today’s proprietary
platforms to more open platforms, such as UNIX and Windows NT on industry-standard
hardware platforms, and spending the effort saved on new applications," the Yankee
Group said in its 1998 report, "Enhanced Service Platform Providers: Consolidating
and Restructuring for the New Telecom Landscape."

Miami-based Technology Control Systems is taking this software-centric approach to
heart. The company explains that the new generation of service-enabling software puts
service creating power in the hands of the network operator and allows them to customize
and create new services in near real time, down from months or years using older platforms
and legacy technology.

The result of an open platform model also will encourage price reductions needed to
service smaller networks and trial services. "We believe it is only a matter of time
before we see the broad introduction of new, game-changing platforms," say Yankee
Group analysts.

The real wild card, they say, will be the Internet and other data-oriented transport
mechanisms. "As messaging traffic, fax and low-end voice services continue to ramp up
on the Internet, enhanced services platforms will need to bridge the gap between these
disparate worlds, ultimately allowing users to access all their messages in a single
place," the say.

This implies support for TCP/IP as well as signaling system 7 (SS7) protocols. With
that in mind, industry groups such as the IN Forum are working quickly toward improved
interoperability between the two networks.

Khali Henderson is editor-in-chief of PHONE+.

AIN Building Blocks

icon.gif (618 bytes)
Image: AIN Blocks

Source: Modified from materials published by IEX Corp., Richardson, Texas.

Advanced intelligent networking (AIN) architecture provides tools for creating and
provisioning advanced telecommunications services. From a physical point of view, the AIN
network is composed of the following network elements:

  • Service switching point (SSP): The SSP supports: lines and trunks to the public
    switched telephone network (PSTN), AIN call models (points in call and trigger detection
    points); the interface to the service control point (SCP); completion of calls as
    instructed by the SCP; and provision of announcements and generation of usage records at
    call completion.
  • Service control point (SCP): The SCP is a centrally located network element that
    executes the service logic and controls the operation of AIN services. The SCP stores the
    subscriber record and processes call queries and database updates.
  • Service creation environment (SCE): The SCE allows the service designer to
    rapidly prototype, test, perfect and deploy new services to the network.
  • Service management system (SMS): The SMS is the primary operations,
    administration and management (OAM) interface to other IN elements. It provides secure
    interfaces for providers and subscribers to access elements of the network. The SMS
    handles service and feature subscription, validation and adherence to number formats and
    feature interaction rules, coordination and synchronization of subscriber records across
    all AIN components.
  • Intelligent peripheral (IP): The IP prompts for and collects information from one
    or more parties to the call. This involves playing prerecorded announcements, collecting
    dialed digits and/or voice samples, recognizing dialed digits or speech and then
    communicating with the SCP and SSP to ensure that calls are routed correctly.
  • Service node (SN): The SN combines the functionality of the SCP and IP, thus
    performing service logic, service control and user interaction functions.

Changing Dynamics of the Enhanced Services Market

icon.gif (618 bytes)
Image: Changing Dynamics

Source: Yankee Group, Boston, Mass.


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