|Topic:||The evolution of intelligent networks in Europe|
|Title:||Director of Solutions EMEA|
Kevin Martin has more that 25 years communications industry experience that spans across successful sales management, marketing and engineering. Mr Martin has helped many organisations achieve strategic business objectives ranging from significant sales success to product creation and launch, through to organisational set-up and development. During his career, Mr Martin has worked with communications manufacturers, service providers and consulting companies. This experience extends beyond the UK and includes the US, Europe, the Middle East and Turkey. Kevin is currently director of solutions EMEA, at Ciena.
New communications technologies let any carrier become a multi-service provider, offering services over and above voice and data. However, tasks such as negotiating content rights and deploying equipment are proving more complex than anticipated. Fixed-line revenues are in decline due to competition and long distance revenues are being lost to VoIP service providers. Third generation networks will let operators offer mobile video, high-speed networking and location-based services in addition to voice and may well provide a lifeline for existing operators.
“May you live in interesting times.” Whether this is a curse or a blessing, the information age means we do live in interesting times. Everyday new technologies emerge and convergence, renewed investment and increased interest continue to drive profound change in the world of communications–changes that impact every walk of life, from entertainment to shopping to education. The evolution of communications technology lets any carrier become a multi-service provider and offer services over and above traditional voice and data. The unrelenting pace of development continues to transform our lifestyles as we move to the next generation of networks and services. Evolving communications services The two simple scenarios below give a better idea of what is possible, of what next generation services can bring to end users. Scenario one: Imagine you left the office ten minutes ago; it is one hour to commute home and you will just make it in time to see the big match. The mobile rings, it is your office; there is a production line problem that is your responsibility to sort first. You really do not want to miss the match so, using your mobile, you log into your network service portal and within a minute you instruct the network to record the match. Later, you can view the game at any time–even before it is finished. The VCR is now redundant because you live in a place that has already worked out how to deliver ‘broadcast’ and on-demand video (Personal Video Recording) services. Scenario two: Fernando lives in a very remote area. The village school is small; there are only two teachers for all the children. The teachers are hard pressed to provide a full curriculum. Despite the limited educational facilities and staff, Fernando is learning two foreign languages by using a broadband connection to a ‘distance learning’ service that provides remote, interactive, instruction to the school as part of a community initiative. After school, Fernando uses the same facilities to share his own computer-generated music with friends in the next village. They are creating a band, collaborating on creating new songs, writing and rewriting tracks and publishing the rearrangements as they go–all without meeting, without travel. These are two very simple examples of how next-generation networks are being used. In one case, the network provides entertainment services and in the other it supports vital education. There are many other ways these networks are already being used and possibilities are only limited by our own imagination. Still, there are several obstacles to be overcome. In London, for example, one can now subscribe to TV broadcasts over a broadband link. However, negotiating the content rights and deploying the equipment to make broadband TV reception possible has been quite a challenge. Even such seemingly simple tasks have proved far more complex than anticipated and only now are being mastered on the required scale. Many high-tech manufacturers see the Internet as a unifying force that will enable a future where one’s refrigerator connects to the greengrocer, the car to a remote diagnostics centre and you, yourself, to your doctor’s medical system. When shopping, it will one day be possible to simply leave the shop without stopping to pay; your purchases will be automatically billed to your credit or debit card. The elimination of queuing at the checkout makes it easier for the consumer and lets the retailer concentrate on customer service. As surprising as it may seem, this affordable, enabling technology is just around the corner. Traditional phone companies now recognise that modernisation of the infrastructure to support a much wider range of services is vital to their success. Traditional fixed-line revenues are in decline. This is due to increased competition from other service providers, be they fixed-line, mobile or other Internet-based businesses. The challenge today is threefold: √ To survive commercially through service quality and service differentiation in a wider market; √ To profitably provide very fast, ubiquitous and secure communications; √ To understand the converging worlds of entertainment, fixed communications, mobile communications and computing and present services that takes advantage of this convergence to the public in an understandable and useable manner. Generally speaking, the arrival of broadband has not offset the revenues lost by the carriers in their fixed-line businesses. Long distance revenues are being lost to Internet and Voice over IP (VoIP) service providers. As a result, many carriers will be forced to launch video-based or other services to rebuild their lost revenue streams. For many carriers, successfully negotiating with video content providers will be a significant challenge. Hollywood, for example, fears that its digital content might be ‘unlocked’ and redistributed by pirates if inexperienced telcos get security measures wrong. If the content is too expensive and the margins too low, the carriers will once again face extreme difficulties with their revenue streams. Europe, generally, is adopting new technology very quickly. It is ahead of the US in enterprise take-up of new services such as Internet-based Virtual Private Networks (IP VPNs) and Virtual Private Local Area Networks (VPLANs). The largest margins are in managing these services effectively and in integrating them with enterprise IT and business structures. Today, few carriers do this well; those that succeed, though, can build a sustainable profitable business. New services, new uses The Internet has had a great impact upon almost every walk of life and we have learnt major lessons from it. Email and information distribution through the Web have created entirely new commercial models. IP, the protocol or language the Internet uses, was originally viewed very sceptically, but since it facilitates communication between just about any digital devices–and carries voice data and video all on the same network–it has been a huge commercial success. The mobile world is also about to adopt its own ‘universal’ communications protocol. As Third Generation (3G) networks take-off, services such as mobile video, high-speed networking and location-based services will become available in addition to traditional voice-based services. As happened with SMS (Short Message Services), in countries where this technology and these services are already available, younger users are starting to use it in ways that were not originally foreseen. Network security We are all aware that the Internet, like many advanced technologies, can be used maliciously. Internet users are increasingly subject to frightening and large-scale attacks. Cyber crime is growing rapidly. Denial of service attacks, cyber theft, piracy and viral attacks are common. Police forces across Europe have set up specialist units to tackle cyber crime and the pace of combat is quickening. Given that business networks, financial and banking systems, power distribution networks and air-traffic control systems–in fact just about every critical network–are all directly or indirectly connected to the Internet, network security and integrity is crucial. Governments, deregulation, local loop unbundling It is the role of governments to ensure their countries are equipped to compete on the world stage. Governments need to guarantee their countries have a communications infrastructure in place that will give them the means to compete effectively. In communications, this means breaking the stranglehold of incumbent telecom providers, creating competition, promoting innovation and improving the economics for the subscriber. Most countries in Europe claim this has already happened over the last decade or so, but has it? There are many service providers vying for both the home and business subscriber. The newer companies, though, do not have the ‘last mile’ connections to the subscriber’s premises that the incumbent providers have. This last mile, or local loop, usually consists of a pair of copper wires. The initial PTTs (Post, Telephone and Telegraph Administrations) in each country built the original telephone networks using government funding and, subsequently, had a monopoly on using this infrastructure. They have naturally defended their exclusive access to those local circuits to protect their own revenue streams for as long as possible. Deregulation and competition varies widely across Europe. Many of these old PTTs still make it economically unattractive to other service providers to gain access directly. Without direct access, though, a wide range of services cannot be competitively supplied and service differentiation is challenged. However, this situation is rapidly changing, accelerating the take-up of broadband services. In some countries, today, the number of competing service providers is probably unsustainable in the long run. Next-generation networks and the emergence of the multi-service provider The evolution of communications networks is creating new opportunities for network service providers and manufacturers. The fat profits of the 1980s and 1990s have slimmed, but growth through services, most certainly, is still possible. Moreover, where there is growth there is innovation. Innovation fuels the growth of network capacity and the development of the next-generation services needed to support growing end-user demand. This sort of growth and development, in turn, increases carrier earnings. Generally speaking, this network growth and related equipment upgrades take place throughout the entire network–from local loop equipment through to the core, with all the transmission and server technology in between. Change is happening. Convergence, technology innovation and competition are providing opportunity. In the near future, we will see the emergence of new multi-service providers that can supply a variety of network services that we only talk about now.