A Next Generation Network (NGN) combines all services including voice, data and multimedia over a single high-bandwidth IP connection. The trend toward NGN has been going on for some time; both within the public access area, as provided by telecommunication companies, and within the enterprise as data networks carrying Voice over IP (VoIP), along with other services.
The development of NGN is part of a long evolution that includes not only higher bandwidth connections, but also support for advanced network features to aid real-time transmission requirements and telephony. These features are becoming of increasing importance with recent trends in rich media applications and cloud computing.
Telecom currently has a project in place to convert its entire network to NGN, although there have been delays in implementation. This will add to the network’s efficiency and may open the way to new services. It is part of a global trend that is seeing infrastructure updates among all of the major telecommunication companies.
At the enterprise level, NGN offers a wide range of new possibilities for customers wishing to upgrade infrastructure, enable VoIP and prepare for the rich media applications of the future. For resellers, understanding the potential for new services will be important to developing business in this market sector.
Telecom’s IT arm (Gen-i and its previous iterations) have been involved in NGN for 10 years, delivering multiservice-capable IP networks to its clients. “This area is faring pretty well,” says Mike Lott, Gen-i’s strategy manager for business fixed IP. “NGN offers cost savings and efficiency. In the current economic climate infrastructure markets have been soft, but it is time to think about cost savings. While companies are putting off major infrastructure change, those that are able to can achieve higher efficiencies and lower costs by implementing a current-generation NGN. Large clients with existing NGN solutions are now looking at how to reengineer what they had before.”
Gen-i has been running its NGN backbone for 10 years now and it provides a VPN that runs on that backbone to clients. As connectivity requirements have continued to rise, many enterprises now seek their own backbone resources and require 10GB connections between datacentres.
“The primary driver for NGN is that it delivers what customers want,” says Lott. “Customers want multiple services over the network and, as service providers, we can deliver that. Cloud computing may become a major driver. Web 2.0 applications are also providing a richer experience with greater video requirements driving more bandwidth. In the datacentre everything is being virtualised and this adds to bandwidth requirements.”
Another factor is the increasing availability of broadband connectivity, as it extends to the Telecom network and data networks, and even to mobile networks, creating virtually ubiquitous broadband. VoIP has been a main driver of the move to NGN; but the next thing we are starting to see is an increase in videoconferencing. “Improved videoconferencing such as telepresence, while not cheap, provides a greatly enhanced service that is making videoconferencing more popular. Telepresence requires extremely high bandwidth connectivity and this will become an additional driver for NGN.”
According to Lott, resellers need to know how to choose a good connectivity model that suits a given application or business. “It’s all about how to help the end-user put the right things in the right place.”
Orcon operates a large network in this country, offering IP voice, hosting and data services from residential broadband to metro Ethernet and dedicated international bandwidth. “The market for NGN is getting better,” says the company’s chief technology officer, Thomas Salmen. “Vendors are getting good at demonstrating the value that NGN solutions can deliver, particularly in the enterprise space. NGN services from telcos are a bit behind the game. Smaller operators are doing much more interesting things and starting to carve out a good niche in this space.”
NGN is being driven by a number of factors. “Cost has been important, particularly in voice,” says Salmen. “Voice costs are seen as intrinsically lower when IP is involved, rightly or wrongly. Beyond this, advantages include consolidation of networks and traffic types (voice and data), scalable capacity, quality and reliability and applications. Intelligent networks supported by open and robust partner interfaces can allow for creation of applications and services, well beyond those offered in a basic telco portfolio.”
VoIP is slowly gathering pace. Most enterprises are taking an interest and are willing to deploy it, at least in internal environments.
“Opening up networks and enabling applications to take advantage of the intelligence within them is becoming a hot topic,” says Salmen. “This is of particular importance to VARs and channel partners. It enables them to build solutions for their customers without having to invest in infrastructure. Some of this is based on the explosion of open interfaces to social networking and Web 2.0 applications. This will also happen with NGNs.”
For resellers, understanding and unlocking value for enterprises, and communicating that value, is key. “Understand the technology and don’t focus just on lowering cost,” says Salmen. “Don’t be afraid to partner in delivering solutions that you can’t manage on your own. An understanding telecommunications company can add value to your proposition.”
Unisys provides value added services to the NGN sector including messaging, notifications and calling services. “In our sector of the NGN solutions market, the equipment is becoming less differentiated and significant,” says programme director, Steve Hansen. “New, next-generation services are utilising commodity equipment and open source platforms, where entry level scale up or scale out options are available to support growth and quality of service requirements.”
Hansen believes that delays in NGN fixed line network roll-out by the major telcos are impacting the prosperity of this country’s e-business. “It dilutes the competitive advantage of these businesses by increasing their cost of service delivery,” he says.
NGN can be a complex market. Current trends can be found in three areas:
• Core network replacement, the largest trend, driven by cost optimisations.
• VoIP last-mile solutions, driven by cost optimisation over paying maintenance costs for legacy equipment.
• PABX substitution with IP-PABX or IP-Centrex, the biggest trend, to reduce cost and increase effectiveness at the customer premises.
“The technology market for core network services is well settled. But access network technology is still in turmoil, especially on the wireless side and for last-mile endpoints. There is strong head-to-head competition between WCDMA and Wimax for the wireless space, while the clash between Fibre-to-the-Node and Fibre-to-the-Home is being played out on in the network space,” Hansen says.
Agile Communications is involved in the NGN area in three main areas: last-mile access solutions, VoIP/CTI (computer-telephony integration) and videoconferencing.
“For the last mile, which is the area between the main switch and the customer, we supply equipment to telecommunication companies and service providers so that they can terminate NGN-type circuits for their customers,” says product manager John Gjaltema. “These devices are Network Termination Units (NTUs) that do the physical conversion from fibre or copper to whatever the customer requires, as well as acting as a manageable device that the service provider can remotely monitor and configure as required. NTUs are increasingly being called upon to actually manage customer Service Level Agreements, as packet-based services like IP introduce varying service levels.”
Agile is also one of the largest local VoIP suppliers, with hundreds of IP-based telephone systems installed over a mix of small to large corporations and government departments. “These systems generally cover multiple offices across multiple cities, towns and regions,” says Gjaltema. “NGN services are critical for multi-site IP telephony networks.”
Within the videoconferencing sector Agile is a newcomer. “Videoconferencing is very dependent on good, high-speed NGNs to deliver the conferencing quality that the market now demands,” says Gjaltema. “The days are gone when a business would accept a few low bandwidth ISDN circuits for this purpose. They now want high-definition, true, real-time performance and high-quality audio for videoconferencing services. NGN has been a major driver for this business, which is one of the reasons we have seen huge growth in this area recently as the price of bandwidth is starting to go down.”
Juniper Networks is a leader in high-performance networking that operates largely in the service provider space, serving government and enterprise. Its involvement in deployment of NGN is principally in the service provider market, from core network infrastructure to the edge, providing edge platforms for business servers or for subscribers and working with customers such as TelstraClear, Vodafone and Telecom.
“The trend is toward more of an integrated solution, with platforms that can provide routing and security,” says country manager Ian Quinn. “There’s a lot more performance available and the capability to add features such as security to high bandwidth. Although the network can be expensive there are some cost benefits, including fewer boxes and more cost-effective management of network infrastructure.”
Juniper has just started to release converged appliances, such as its SRX platform. These appliances provide a routing feature set, with security and capability to add switching and gateway components that integrate VoIP.
“For the enterprise there are capital expenditure benefits in implementing an integrated environment, and operations expenditure benefits from providing a simplified environment,” says Quinn.
There has been widespread migration to VoIP over NGNs, particularly at telcos. Extension of that into unified communications is coming, incorporating voice presence and messaging. This will open the way to Software as a Service offerings in this area.
“Primary drivers of these high-bandwidth IP networks are delivery of a wider range of applications and services, and decoupling from the network,” says Quinn. “An enterprise can buy a network connection and dynamically subscribe to an array of different services, including voice.”
Juniper expects major changes in VoIP usage in enterprises over the next 12 months, as companies seek to connect to the outside world and push for greater security at the edge of the enterprise network.
“Resellers need good skills around networking and security across applications,” says Quinn.
“They also need to ensure they are not too narrowly focused and cultivate the ability to focus on business requirements. If resellers are focused on the business needs of their customers, they can put the best solution forward and will have the most sustainable approach from a margin perspective.”