|Title:||President, Carrier Packet Networks|
|Organisation:||Nortel, Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA)|
Peter Newcombe is the President of Carrier Packet Networks for Nortel in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) responsible for Nortel’s communications solutions for carriers, including broadband fixed access, voice over IP, triple-play solutions, carrier Ethernet and optical networks. Mr Newcombe began his career at STC Telecommunications, later acquired by Nortel, as a hardware engineer, working on Public Switching products. Over the years, he moved up to his current role through a series of increasingly responsible technical, product marketing and business development positions in Europe, Asia and Latin America and the United States. Peter Newcombe graduated from UMIST University, Manchester with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electronics.
With VoIP, voice and advanced features – call diversion, caller display, unified messaging, multimedia, video, presence and messaging – can be economically delivered via broadband to workers in large and small businesses whatever their location. Service providers can now supply these services with business-grade security and carrier-grade reliability. At home, service providers bundle VoIP with Internet, IPTV and even mobile calling. Dual-mode handsets enable low-cost VoIP calling using WiFi at home, in offices and public hotspots, whilst switching to cell networks elsewhere.
It is incredible to look back and think that only a few years ago the idea of carrying Voice over IP, VoIP, was limited to experimental networks and to enthusiastic hobbyists, trying to use the Internet for free long-distance phone calls. Fast forward to 2006 and VoIP is no longer coming soon, it has arrived. In a quiet revolution, VoIP technology has penetrated every part of our telecommunications networks, not only in the heart of the network but also in the way that services are delivered to the end-users. In the early stages, most attention was focused on the core of the network. Service providers were attracted to the idea of being able to replace multiple layers of voice and data networks with a single IP-based infrastructure capable of carrying any and every service. Large enterprises were equally keen on using their inter-site data networks to carry voice traffic between PABXs, private automatic branch exchanges, ‘for free’. Over the past five years, however, a massive rollout of broadband access to residential customers, to Small and Medium Businesses, SMB, and to the branch offices of larger enterprises and government organizations, has opened up the possibility of extending VoIP all the way to the edge of the network. Suddenly, there was an opportunity to change completely the way people thought about telephony services. The capability of the modern PABX has meant that large organizations have traditionally had easy access to sophisticated telephony services. The features may not always have been easy to access or use, but at least they were there. Away from large sites, however, the picture was less rosy. Smaller PABXs and key systems tended to be less sophisticated, leaving staff struggling to fit their work around the capabilities of the telephone system instead of the telephone system adapting to serve the business. VoIP changed all that by enabling not just the voice itself but all of the features – such as call diversion, caller display and unified messaging – to be transparently carried over a broadband network. Small sites, branch offices, home workers, those working from customer locations and travelling workers could all get access to the same suite of capabilities as employees at the larger sites. Users had a choice of sophisticated VoIP feature phones or soft-phone clients running on their PCs, enabling them to make and receive calls using their office phone number from anywhere in the world, providing they have access to a reasonable broadband connection. Virtual contact centres could be set-up quickly, with agents working from multiple sites or even from home. Productivity improved, network and call costs went down. Today, a great percentage, in some cases all, of the PABX equipment sold by major suppliers is VoIP enabled. Meanwhile, at home, teenagers found that their instant messaging services from Yahoo, MSN and AOL were enhanced with the ability to talk to their friends using a cheap headset plugged into the PC. As soon as your friend appeared on your ‘buddy list’, you could talk all night for free. In most cases, the users neither knew nor cared that this was another example of VoIP. Soon, video was added to voice calling, then the ability to make outgoing calls to traditional telephone networks. Not surprisingly, these services started to find their way into business environments, usually through the back door. By the time many IS departments realised what was going on, the combination of presence indication, instant messaging and ‘click-to-call’ voice communication had become part of many people’s everyday work patterns. This has left many organizations with a difficult decision. Should they let workers pass confidential business information over public networks that cannot guarantee the security, quality or reliability of the network? Can they overlook the time that employees might waste chatting, in this manner, with friends during work time? Or should they close off access to the services and run the risk of alienating staff who have come to rely on an innovative way of doing business? Fortunately, some service providers have begun to offer business-grade multimedia services, which bring all the features of the free web-based services, but with the added benefits of security and carrier-grade reliability. These new carrier-hosted services, based on the open SIP standard, can be tightly integrated with VoIP systems or traditional telephony systems, to provide a seamless service as users move between the traditional telephone network and the VoIP and multimedia world. With VoIP maturing and becoming a ‘business-as-usual technology’ for both residential and business users, the focus is shifting to how VoIP can be combined with other technologies to create compelling converged service bundles, which will help to slow the tendency of customers to hop from one service provider to another in search of the lowest price. In the residential market, service providers are looking to bundle VoIP, Internet and IPTV services as a way of becoming a more permanent fixture in the household. Triple-play services – or quad-play with mobile added to the equation – offer the tantalizing possibility of ensuring that a significant part of a household’s telecoms and entertainment spending goes to a single provider. Linking the communications network to the TV set brings some exciting new functions, such as on-screen display of incoming caller identity and being able to see the caller if they are using a camera phone. The remote control can be used to send instant messages, to choose whether to accept an incoming call or to send it to voice mail. If you decide to take a call, the system will automatically pause your TV programme until you have finished the call. Cable MSOs, multiple system operators, have been delivering triple-play bundles for some time now and arguably have some advantage in understanding what the market wants, how to package content, how to price the service bundles and how to create a robust network capable of delivering voice, Internet and television services. However, they are not alone – direct broadcast satellite operators, traditional telephony service providers and new entrants are all targeting the same market, each believing that their background will give them a unique advantage. The objective is to create a service bundle that both retains existing customers and supports the acquisition of new customers. Some service providers may offer free voice minutes, others will offer free content or free broadband connectivity. All of these services will drive a requirement for more bandwidth to each home. Looking at the networks already rolling out in countries such as Korea, it seems likely that the typical DSL or cable modem service of 2-4Mbit/s today will need to grow to deliver 15-20Mbit/s per household in the near future. Another example of convergence is fixed mobile convergence, FMC. There is a huge amount of interest in dual-mode handsets, which enable users to make low-cost VoIP calls using a WiFi wireless LAN network when at home, or in the office, then automatically switch over to a GSM or 3G network if the user leaves the building. Current systems, based on the UMA, unlicensed mobile access, standard, offer some benefits, but this is only part of the story. A true FMC experience will allow the user to seamlessly move between devices – PDA, smart phone, PC, fixed phone, TV – and the network will automatically enable the user to access any of their services or content providers. The aim is to minimize or eliminate the need for manual intervention from the user, with the network having the intelligence to recognize the user and automatically adapt the content or service, to provide the best possible user experience on the fixed or mobile device that the user has chosen. Some of this can be done with today’s technology, but we are already trial-testing the next generation of networks, based on IP Multimedia Subsystem, IMS, which will greatly simplify the operation of converged, multi-service, fixed and mobile networks. In practical terms, IMS will make it easier for the service providers to manage networks and users, and make it faster and cheaper to add new services. The end-users will benefit from more sophisticated, easy-to-use services, at very competitive prices. In just a few years, Voice over IP has developed from a technical curiosity to a mature technology underpinning a massive investment in new networks and services. Now comes the really exciting part, as VoIP is combined with a range of other existing and emerging technologies to deliver completely new types of converged communication and entertainment services. We are still in the relatively early stages of this market and it will be fascinating to see how both existing and new players compete, co-operate or combine to create the winning service propositions.