|Issue:||North America 2005|
|Topic:||The emergence of converged networks|
|Author:||Anthony C. Neal-Graves|
|Title:||General Manager, Modular Communications Platform Division|
Anthony C. Neal-Graves is the General Manager of Intel’s Modular Communications Platform Division, responsible for the development of standards-based, modular board and system level building blocks for the communications market. Mr Neal-Graves joined Intel from Lucent Technologies where he was general manager for the company’s eBusiness Applications Group. During his 20-year career with AT&T, Bell Laboratories and Lucent, Mr Neal-Graves has held numerous senior-level positions in development, marketing and sales of communications products. Mr Neal-Graves holds a BSEE degree from Polytechnic Institute of New York and an MSCS degree from the University of Southern California. He participated in the Congressional Fellows Programme at the Brookings Institution.
Standards-based hardware, software and architectures are opening up telecom networks. The modular, standards-based, telecom network has facilitated the rapid adoption of VoIP and converged networks. New IP-based communications and collaboration applications reduce costs and increase productivity; they help businesses connect their mobile workforce to the customer and the office wherever they may be, as well as help them compete in the global economy. Moreover, by adopting web development paradigms, common tools and techniques can be used for both voice and data applications.
We are in the midst of one of the most significant industry transitions of our generation–the evolution of separate voice, video and data on a ‘converged’ multimedia network. This is bringing exciting new opportunities to businesses, consumers and solution providers. The first phase of this transition began with the spread of the worldwide web. The web has given us an intuitive way to access the vast amounts of information stored on computer networks. The foundation of the web’s success is an open computing and communications model based on industry standards such as IP, HTTP, HTML and XML. These same factors–open standards and modular technology–are making converged networks a reality. Today’s businesses are driving the need for change. The 21st Century workforce is more geographically dispersed and more mobile than ever. The need to be ‘connected’ has never been greater. Businesses look to technology to address these challenges and at the same time improve employee productivity and customer service, as well as provide them with a competitive advantage. Moore’s law applied to voice Important enabling technologies are becoming mainstream. Voice recognition, wireless access and voice/video over IP are enabling a new breed of highly integrated multimedia applications to run on a converged voice/data network. It takes a great deal of processing power to combine voice streams into a conference call, to stream full motion video or to recognize speech. Historically, equipment providers had to rely on custom silicon and expensive digital signal processors (DSPs) to implement these functions. The resulting solutions were expensive to purchase, operate and upgrade; and deployment was limited. Thanks to improvements in computing price-performance–commonly known as Moore’s Law–many of these functions can now be implemented in software and run commonly available ‘off-the-shelf’ platforms. We call the process of migrating DSP-based voice processing capabilities such as conferencing, voice coders, speech processing to run on PC type processors, Host Media Processing (HMP). Figure 2 illustrates the relative densities achievable with HMP on a variety of processors. Software-based solutions translate to lower hardware costs. This makes solutions less expensive to deploy, maintain and upgrade. For HMP our analysis indicates a 60 per cent reduction in overall total cost of ownership! While DSP-based solutions still have a role in higher density and more specialized voice solutions, host-based architectures are used in an increasing number of areas. Many of today’s enterprise IP-based PBXs, conferencing systems, and unified messaging systems are software applications running on Windows* or Linux-based servers. For the first time, it is possible to implement a range of ‘converged’ voice applications using commercial off-the-shelf hardware and software platforms–the first step towards a truly open, modular telecommunications network. Modular telecommunications networks Businesses embrace modularity for improved operations, reduced costs and higher profitability. The automobile industry has relied on modular building blocks for years. Manufacturers acquire ‘standard’ auto components such as tyres and engine parts from third-party suppliers. The computer industry–once a very closed and proprietary industry–is now based upon modular components such as disk drives, audio and video cards. In contrast, yesterday’s telecom networks were based on tightly integrated, proprietary solutions provided by a handful of vendors, in many ways similar to the computer industry model of years past–see Figure 3. This closed model, which has existed for decades, has hindered the introduction of new products and services and created high barriers to new market entrants. Solutions were inflexible and could not cost effectively accommodate new voice and data services. Changes are on the horizon. The industry is evolving towards solutions based on modular components which have standards-based hardware and software interfaces. This change came about once industry standards bodies began specifying standardized components and interfaces to better ensure interoperability among elements manufactured for a range of applications. These modular communications platforms span a broad range of communications building blocks including: silicon, boards, chassis, operating systems, middleware and even applications. By basing solutions on commercial, off-the-shelf products, equipment providers can lower their hardware costs, reduce time to market and focus their development efforts on applications and services. ‘Platforms’ are needed to support this trend. A platform is a set of interdependent elements which work together to satisfy a customer need. One example is the integration of a microprocessor and mobile technology on a single chip, introduced in 2003. This is a great example of the ecosystem working together to further accelerate the evolution to modular networks. The evolution to a modular telecom network has set the stage for rapid adoption of VoIP and converged networks. VoIP means network convergence Network ‘convergence’ began in the centre of the network as carriers combined their voice and data traffic over a single packet-based ‘core’. For years, most of our telephone calls have been carried over these packet network cores. Carriers reduced their operating costs by utilising bandwidth more efficiently. Businesses and consumers may have seen their toll charges reduced, but there were few new applications and services introduced. Over a decade ago, the industry began pursuing a vision to enable richer, more personalised and better integrated applications at reduced cost by defining standards for carrying voice and video over IP-based networks. These standards–H.323, SIP and others–have matured. Equipment and solution providers began deploying more IP-based voice and multimedia solutions. Network convergence is progressing outwards toward the ‘edge’ of the network and into our homes and businesses. In parallel, broadband connectivity is growing and becoming increasingly affordable. Today’s high bandwidth wireless LAN solutions can dramatically extend access to VoIP services and support an increasingly mobile workforce. The time is right for VoIP deployment! The industry is responding. Carriers are rolling out services that are attracting subscribers with rich and affordable new features, such as number portability, call redirection, conferencing, email integration, web-based communications management and more. An increasing number of enterprises are rolling out VoIP. Many of us within the industry feel that 2005-2006 will be the ‘crossover’ years, where enterprises deploy more VoIP-based systems than legacy ones. Converged application infrastructure Communications infrastructure isn’t the only area of the network evolving to a converged, modular model. The application architecture is changing as well. Traditional telecom applications were closed, proprietary and tightly bound to the hardware platform on which they ran. Standards activity in this area has been vigorous and is creating significant change in this model. Today, XML-based languages and service-oriented architectures familiar to millions of web developers are being used for voice solutions. Extending web development paradigms is also uniting the voice and web development communities–common development tools and techniques can be used for both voice and data applications. One notable example is the popular XML language for voice known as VoiceXML. Many of today’s speech-enabled interactive voice response (IVR) applications are written in VoiceXML. These applications run on standard Java and .NET web servers. As figure 4 illustrates, the applications and back-end data fit with an organisation’s existing web infrastructure and are entirely independent of the underlying telephony environment. In response to this opportunity, major software providers are now supporting voice. IBM and Microsoft now offer speech-based products within their web frameworks. Thanks to standards, these companies and others, also support third party voice integration. The popular Eclipse* framework, an open, extensible integrated development environment, now contains a number of voice components. Clients VoIP opens the door to smart communication devices that will be instrumental in transforming the communications experience. The current generation of client processors come equipped with features such as integrated camera interfaces, built-in voice processing and optimisation software that extends battery life by dynamically adjusting processing power based on need. The devices enabled by these processors will be able to access diverse media, including voice, email, instant messaging, websites, video, applications and data, not only from their desktops and notebooks, but also from cell phones, desk phones and PDAs. As functionality increases, smart devices will support more intuitive interfaces, cross-network access, and seamless device-to-device communications to enable a simpler and more unified end-user experience. Information will flow more freely, and people will spend more time communicating and less time managing their communications. The telecom network is opening up. The industry’s commitment to standards is enabling hardware and software architectures to evolve from closed, proprietary designs to open, ‘standards-based’ architectures. A host of new IP-based communications and collaboration applications are being introduced which promise reduced costs and increased productivity. Enterprises should understand this transition, and the new applications available, that will help make them competitive in the global economy.