Marconi launches integrated network platform

Marconi Corp. plc introduced its intelligent packet networks (IPN) solution across North America last month, enabling service providers and carriers to use one network for multiple services, according to one customer.

Gateway Networks in North Bay, Ont., is a multi-service carrier network (MSCN) wholesaler that was involved in discussions with Marconi during the early stages and development of the solution, according to Jim Blumsom, president and CEO of Gateway.

Gateway has been testing the Marconi IPN product in a lab environment, and will continue with testing for the next few months. In the fall, Gateway will migrate it to its billing and IS platforms and will implement the solution during Q1 of 2001.

“Gateway is deploying it as an enhancement to its existing ATM infrastructure,” Blumsom explained. “Today Gateway has 21 very large Marconi ATM switches across North America. The IPN product overlays on top of that a real-time, services-based packet network that allows us to take voice, data and multimedia and drive it real-time across our existing ATM infrastructure. (This is) as opposed to how traditional networks are built — having to overlay a voice, a data, a multimedia-type network all separate with separate equipment, separate connections and separate bandwidth.”

Marconi has been a manufacturer and supplier of large telephone switches for quite some time now, according to Mark Fisher, a consulting engineer with Marconi in Toronto.

“As part of that…we realized that what we needed to get to was a distributed platform whereby we could utilize a network and its capabilities to create a more distributed platform with which to offer the same sort of voice services with additional videoconferencing, and Web-enabled call centre equipment. What we worked towards was developing a series of products that form the IPN product.”

Some of the products within the IPN offering include a media firewall, which helps to protect against intrusions as well as ensuring service level agreements (SLAs) are met; a softswitch call agent, which helps to ensure quality of service (QoS) by monitoring bandwidth; trunk media and signalling gateways; and management software.

“Those components come together to provide the functionality you would find in a traditional switch, with additional capabilities in that you don’t need a large central office to hold one very big voice switch,” Fisher explained.

Functionality can be distributed across networks and infrastructures anywhere within the reach of an IP network, he said, which allows companies to put resources exactly where they need them rather than having to replicate them in every location across the country.

Tom Trottier, the president and CEO of Marconi Communications in Canada, said the heart and soul of the IPN solution is the softswitch.

“(IPN) is an architecture with switching, and gives you sort of the traditional class five (switch services). And what’s important to the customer market, if you’re a new CLEC, you have to provide those competitive services…that’s where we think that this architecture and this technology has a leg-up on somebody just trying to come out the door with a voice-over IP solution,” Trottier explained.

Gateway’s Blumsom listed the benefits of the IPN solution as allowing the company to use one network for multiple services, real-time routing, and being able to deliver it from any interface to any interface.

A dedicated connection between two voice switches causes a lot of overhead to sit and wait for calls to be routed, he explained. With the IPN solution, two IPN gateways are on either end. The bandwidth is part of a larger ring, so bandwidth from Montreal to Toronto to Calgary, for example, might be routed at the same time as a call comes from Toronto to Calgary, and is routed real-time he said. Voice can be delivered as well as data, Internet, IP-based services and multimedia — all streaming video, all over the same connection that would only be used for traditional voice traffic.

The flexibility of having multiple services on one pipe means multiple revenues and multiple margins of revenues, he continued.

“When we can take one single pipe and put a multitude of data and voice services on it, we are able to deliver all the products and services that a carrier needs to be competitive very, very simply. And that at the end of the day will put us way ahead of our competition,” he said.

Pricing for the solution varies, depending on companies’ needs. Marconi, headquartered in North America in Pittsburgh, Pa., is at