Agreement paves way for single network architecture

The Multiservice Switching Forum (MSF) has announced an agreement that will provide telecom service providers, telecom equipment vendors and businesses with a single network architecture to deliver ATM, IP and voice services.

“The typical problem that all of the carriers have is they have a large number of existing services and, typically, a large number of existing networks,” explained Morgan Littlewood, the Forum’s president. “What the Forum is about is trying to come up with a scalable architecture and to develop implementation agreements about how products would work together to be able to build networks with a more common background infrastructure.”

The first step towards that goal is the ratification of its Implementation Agreement MSF-ARCH-001.00, he said. It allows a wide range of services to be supported on one common background, which will in turn enable carriers and service providers to specialize their offerings.

The agreement will affect more than just members – the MSF will publish it for anyone to read and use as they see fit, Littlewood said.

“We also do spend a lot of time at the Forum liasing with other industry bodies, like the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), and we actually use those notation agreements as contributions to other organizations,” he added.

The industry has been moving in this direction for quite some time, but what this announcement does is codify exactly how it should take place. There are many carriers who are already doing this type of work, doing trials in labs or pilot network trials using this concept, Littlewood said.

“We expect a pretty strong trend in this direction in terms of what types of networks people deploy.”

Dan McLean, a research manager with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, agreed with Littlewood, noting that users have been waiting for this.

“This is the push for network-building in the future, I think. You’ve got to adhere to open standards and you can’t create something proprietary. This is the lesson that has been learned in network-building, and in IT in general,” he said.

Looking back at the legacy of networks that are out there, a lot of them were built on proprietary technologies that did not interoperate well with one another, if at all, he pointed out.

“I think users have pushed vendors to do this,” McLean said. “And carriers have pushed vendors to this. They’ve said, ‘Okay, you’re presenting to us an entirely new model of networking, this sort of convergence model of one network handling all different traffic types.’ And what I think users are saying is, ‘There is no way in the world that I am going to invest in this unless there is openness to it. If it’s proprietary, we’re not interested.'”

Everyone is hearing that message, he said, which is in turn putting a lot of pressure on everyone to do work like that of the MSF, and to create a base set of standards, upon which everyone will adhere.

“And the end point is to make it all seamless. It doesn’t matter whose equipment you buy. It doesn’t matter what technology you buy. It is all going to work together. And it has to happen, because, frankly, nobody will buy it if it is proprietary,” McLean said.

Littlewood said the MSF will continue along the same path in the future, and will focus on other issues facing its members.

“In supporting (our) charter, we do have other implementation agreements, specifically with respect to voice services and switch control, which will be coming out,” he noted. “We expect to see generally a continuous flow of implementation agreements to resolve some of the more difficult issues in respect to building these types of networks.”

The MSF was created about a year and a half ago, and is comprised of approximately 60 members, all carriers and equipment vendors. Canadian members include Nortel Networks and, through Alcatel, Newbridge Networks, Littlewood said.

The MSF meets every four months, and can be found on the Web at