Carriers Flip for AIG
The response we've had from carriers to our recent report on the emerging market in access-independent gateways (AIGs) – "Access-Independent Gateways: The Edge of Next-Generation Networks" – has been quite a lot more positive than I might have expected at this relatively early stage in next-generation network transformation.
To make a long story short, my report depicted the trend among equipment vendors to leverage new generations of multi-core processor technology to design more flexible, higher-capacity gateway products. Increasingly, these are capable of supporting more than one wireline or wireless access network simultaneously. They are also capable of supporting a variety of onboard session and policy management features for those different access networks.
There's no doubt as to the theoretical value proposition: In an environment in which the growth in IP services and broadband access is causing a proliferation in the scale and variety of capabilities that are needed at the edge of the network, a gateway that can serve as a point of consolidation for multiple device types across multiple access networks holds out the promise of substantial opex savings, as well as potentially lower network latency.
At the same time, the barriers to adoption of these products are also very clear. Many CTOs tend to break out in a cold sweat at the mere whiff of anything resembling a "god box" and prefer "best-of-breed" procurement distributed across multiple vendors. Also, while the balance of control and data plane requirements in wireless and wireline gateways is converging, there is still a considerable gap between the two. And most integrated operators still have different organizations managing their wireline and wireless networks; indeed, many even have different organizations managing different wireline access gateways for consumers and enterprise customers.
For all of those reasons, I expected the AIG product concept to be received by carriers with a hefty dose of caution regarding the timing of market introduction. But while some of that caution has come out, it's been quite a bit less than I expected.
In January, for example, I hosted a Light Reading Webinar on the subject. During the Webinar, we had an audience poll that asked, "What functionality do you think is most likely to converge in a multi-access gateway that operators will use to serve both wireline and wireless access networks?" More than half (51 percent) of respondents answered, "Both gateway and service intelligence"; 23 percent responded, "Just service intelligence"; and 11 percent responded, "Just the main gateway functionality." Importantly, only 7 percent responded, "None – wireline and wireless are too different"; while 8 percent responded, "Don't know." Separating out the carriers from the rest of the sample also yielded a very similar distribution of responses to the poll question.
I also presented the AIG product concept to a group of Eastern European carriers last week. Again, the balance of responses I expected wasn't forthcoming. The feedback I got was that the case for this product type is clear.
These are certainly still early days in terms of bringing these products to market, let alone assembling the business case for deploying them, let alone executing on those plans. Moreover, there will certainly be multiple deployment models, featuring wide variations in the amount of feature bundling that goes into any one product that is deployed on the ground. Nevertheless, while my report showed that the first handful of commercial deployments are tentatively underway, it's becoming clear that in many cases, the drivers for adoption are at least as compelling as the barriers – if not more so.
— Patrick Donegan, Senior Analyst, Wireless, Heavy Reading