Carriers take steps towards convergence

As one Canadian carrier prepares to unveil a new IP telephony service for the enterprise, researchers say there’s a move afoot to IP-enable all telco infrastructure.

Burnaby, B.C.-based incumbent phone firm Telus Corp. on Monday will unveil “IP-One,” a packet-switched voice service for businesses. Telus was close-lipped about the new offering before the official launch, scheduled for Monday morning. The company would only say that the service is “the first carrier-grade hosted and managed IP telephony application in Canada;” that it has already been operating for over a year, during which time it has handled more than 1 million calls; and that it’s up and running for businesses in Ontario and Quebec.

In the summer of 2002 Telus said it would shift its traditional circuit-switched infrastructure over to an IP-based network. The company touted IP’s ability to handle long-distance voice, video and data traffic, and said the new network would be complete by 2003.

According to Dr. Girish Pathak, now Telus’ chief customer strategist, IP spells cost savings for the carrier.

“As an operator and provider of service to both consumers and businesses, we are looking for a…platform capable of delivering these services at a reduced cost, and with better effectiveness,” he said during an interview last year.

Telus’ decision to go with IP puts it in a league with many North American and European carriers, according to a report by Infonetics Research.

In a study called Service Provider Plans for IP, MPLS and ATM Networks, North America and Europe 2003 – released Nov. 13 – the San Jose-based consultancy said numerous telcos are eyeing IP and multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) technology to replace traditional communication infrastructure.

Infonetics said carriers are increasing their investments in IP/MPLS gear, and that come 2004, 86 per cent of carriers will use IP/MPLS to support data service convergence.

“They want to get to a single core network,” said Kevin Mitchell, directing analyst at Infonetics, pointing out that right now most service providers operate separate networks for access services.

Any converging platform must “be backward and forward compatible. MPLS is emerging as a technology to handle that. It helps bridge the world between IP in Layer 3, and the world of Frame (Relay), ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) and Ethernet in Layer 2.”

Mitchell said the data convergence that IP/MPLS supports could be a boon for enterprises.

“They can use one carrier to handle their many different sites. One carrier will handle all of the different access methods they might want….They don’t have to try and tie it together themselves.”

As well, “the enterprises that are on Frame and ATM, they don’t necessarily want to get off that. But they also still want to tie into newer services. They want to IP-enable the legacy products that they’re currently getting.” IP/MPLS could aid companies looking for such a mix, Mitchell added.

He also said convergence speaks to the carriers’ bottom lines.

“What every service provider and vendor talks about in moving to an IP/MPLS world is new revenue opportunities,” he said. “It’s not always clear what those will be, but they mention that as a prime motivator.”

Last year, Telus said its IP play has more to do with creating a network capable of transporting voice, video and data at once, and less to do with data service integration. Mitchell pointed out that voice, video and data convergence is not the purview of the Infonetics report.

He said it could be a while before carriers implement complete IP/MPLS networks. For instance, AT&T Corp. is moving ahead with its “concept of one” strategy to build IP/MPLS into the core, “but they haven’t gotten there yet. Anything that’s happening right now is the small bits and pieces, for customer demand here or there. There’s no real wholesale migration from many different backbones to a common one.

“And part of that, too, is this generation IP network, mostly for Internet services, isn’t really up to spec, in terms of being able to handle all of these other services that will go over it,” Mitchell said. “There’s some investment that needs go into there.”

For more on Infonetics’ recent study, visit www.infonetics.com.



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