That's the conclusion reached here at a panel of service provider members of the Multiservice Switching Forum, a collection of service providers and equipment makers that gathered for their fifth anniversary meeting to talk about new architectures and service models for carriers.
There was almost universal agreement that the move to converged, multiservice networks based on IP/MPLS standards is already well underway, echoing the findings of a current Heavy Reading report, Setting a Course Toward Convergence: Incumbents' Wireline Strategies.
Peter Willis, chief data network architect at British Telecommunications plc (BT) (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA), pointed out that new services need to be introduced over a common network, rather than by building "stovepipe" or overlay networks for them, as has been done in the past.
"If it's not flexible and I can't change it, it's not the way to go," said Willis. He says BT's new multiservice network, which is based on an MPLS core, aims to consolidate equipment and eliminate hundreds of network elements in the metro and access networks.
Participants on the carrier panel here included representatives from BT, NTT Group (NYSE: NTT), KT Corp., Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q), SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM), and Telus Corp. (NYSE: TU; Toronto: T). All agreed there's an pressing need to move their networks to flexible multiservice architectures based on IP and MPLS.
Building the converged network is one thing. Then there's marketing, and making money on the applications that use this network.
"To me, the focus has to be applications," said Joe Glynn, vice president of product strategy at Qwest. "If we enable those applications, a dam is going to break. We have to design an infrastructure that can adapt to those applications. There's been very little service innovation in the PSTN."
So if there's one blockbuster new telecom service for the multiservice network, what is it? That question had panelists scratching their heads. The following applications and services were cited:
- Wireless e-commerce
- Presence-based voice services (services that follow a user around the network)
- Converged broadband data and voice
- Wireless LANs
Carrier panelists indicated that the advent of IP messaging and VOIP -- along with the decline in voice revenues -- means there is a new urgency to develop these services.
NTT's director of research, Tadanobu Okada, put the problem most succinctly:
"NTT is not happy about the current IP phone business at all. This year the shift from [PSTN] to VOIP will reduce NTT's revenues by one trillion yen."
Okada says that, according to Japan's Yano Research Institute, there will be as many as 28 million VOIP users in Japan by 2007.
NTT, in response, is working on advanced conferencing applications that employ SIP and VOIP, as well as Web collaboration. "The service development is in multimedia, interactivity, and social control within the network," says Okada.
Mobile carriers also see the need to use VOIP and SIP for new applications, even though the costs of these technologies are substantially higher in mobile networks, which have much less bandwidth. Sungtae Cha, director of network R&D for SK Telecom, a mobile provider in South Korea, said that SK will be rolling out SIP in an integrated voice and videophone application in 2004.
All these plans seem ambitious and futuristic. But to hear the carriers talk about it, their enactment is imminent, because it's a matter of survival.
— R. Scott Raynovich, US Editor, Light Reading
For more on SIP, check out Boardwatch Insider's September 2003 edition, The SIP Revolution: Winners and Losers.