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Asian Heavyweights Tackle FMC

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
1/24/2005
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The world of fixed/mobile convergence (FMC) has just experienced that same phenomenon that has gripped the rest of the telecom industry: the Asian invasion. Several influential Asian equipment manufacturers are taking significant steps towards creating the blueprint for commoditized next-generation network (NGN) equipment. This once disgruntled group is now actively adding ingredients to a group of standards that will guide the systems carriers buy for building tomorrow's networks -- standards that will, no doubt, give companies with manufacturing prowess a huge advantage. The pack is being led by Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., which is playing a key role as rapporteur for the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI)'s technical report (see Huawei Participates in ETSI NGN Work).

In a meeting last week on the French Riviera, a group called Tispan (Telecoms & Internet Converged Services & Protocols for Advanced Networks), which is a key FMC group at ETSI, discussed specifications, based on the unifying IP Multimedia Subsytem (IMS) standard, for systems that can deliver SIP and traditional telecom services across fixed and mobile networks (see Unstrung Insider Analyzes IMS and Fixed/Mobile Convergence Ramps Up).

The discussions are significant because of the involvement of these key Asia/Pacific companies in the Tispan group meeting, where delegates convened to prepare Release 1 of ETSI's Next Generation Network (NGN) standard.

Only a year ago, the Tispan group faced resistance from Asia/Pacific firms when it presented its work to an NGN Focus Group held by the global standards body International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The ITU is considering whether to adopt Tispan's specifications and recommendations for a global converged network standard (see ETSI Drives Convergence Standard and ITU Holds Standards Pow-Wow).

Huawei's role is central to the Asia/Pac's renewed interest in commoditizing NGN equipment. As a rapporteur, the company collects comments on a work in progress and presents them in a draft proposal to plenary meetings such as last week's gathering. "It's the first time anyone from the Asia/Pacific region has fulfilled this role," says ETSI spokesman Kevin Flynn.

Delegates from NEC Corp. (Nasdaq: NIPNY; Tokyo: 6701), Samsung Corp., and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) were also registered for the event, Flynn says, and "anyone could have joined in proceedings via an audio bridge."

The importance of network convergence issues is clear from the level of participation and interest in last week's meeting, notes Flynn. "We had 149 registrations, the meeting's been very well attended, and I don't know how many joined in remotely. That's an outstanding number, far greater than for other meetings."

Though relatively new, the involvement of firms such as Huawei and ZTE should come as no surprise. Many other global vendors, such as Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), and Siemens Communications Group, have long been involved with Tispan, which has been developing specifications that not only address fixed/mobile convergence but also the migration from circuit to packet networks.

Major carriers, including BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) and France Telecom SA (NYSE: FTE), are also involved in Tispan, and have been driving the group towards open specifications that will suit the needs of traditional carriers wanting to shift from their current infrastructures to next-generation, IP-based networks (see BT Moves Ahead With Mega Project and 21CN on Track, Says BT ).

The likes of Huawei and ZTE can't afford to fall behind their more globally established competitors in the race to land lucrative contracts for NGN rollouts, and the Chinese vendors are desperate to make headway with West European incumbents such as BT and FT.

Getting involved with Tispan's work, and developing products based on its specifications, will be "absolutely critical" for vendors wanting a slice of the capex dollars that carriers will spend on their NGNs, says Heavy Reading analyst at large, Graham Beniston. "It's critical for convergence and migration, as Tispan has modified IMS to cope with PSTN services in a VOIP world," notes the analyst. "This is a standard that could dominate global developments."

Beniston does see a downside, though, given that Tispan's Release 1 is not yet available. "It's a very promising development, but it'll extend the period where there's a lack of clarity about VOIP architectures."

But Tispan's work, and IMS in general, is having a major impact on vendor product roadmaps, adds Beniston. For example, Beniston notes that Alcatel radically altered its softswitch strategy less than a year ago and became heavily influenced by IMS developments. The vendor then accelerated that program by acquiring Spatial Wireless last September (see Alcatel Lands Spatial for $250M).

In case any cynics should see this as a local phenomenon restricted to Europe, ETSI is keen to stress the extent of Tispan's global engagements.

The group "is working closely with all of the standards players for future/next-generation networks as part of the increasing global effort that includes ETSI liaison with 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS), the International Telecommunication Union, Standardization Sector (ITU-T), and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), as well as other important fora, including the DSL Forum and the MPLS/Frame Relay Alliance (MFA)."

Add to this the support among telecom vendors for the AdvancedTCA , a set of specifications for standards-based telecom hardware platforms, and you have a recipe for commoditized, standards-based networking systems that can be adopted the world over (see The ATCA Chain Reaction, ATCA's at a Fork in the Road, and Huawei, Korea Telecom Adopt ATCA).

And who better to exploit the resulting economies of scale than Asian manufacturers such as Huawei? Those vendors still peddling proprietary systems are already waking up, realizing this inevitability, and panicking about their top and bottom lines.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading


Need to know more about the latest developments in AdvancedTCA? check out the coming Light Reading Live! conference:

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This one-day event, hosted by Simon Stanley, Heavy Reading Senior Analyst, will provide qualified attendees from Light Reading's global audience with original research into the ATCA components market, from its Heavy Reading market research division.

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