Optical/IP Networks

ETSI Drives Convergence Standard

As the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) races to meet a self-imposed deadline to deliver standards for converged, next-generation networks, it could lean on ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute for help. [Ed. note: That's ETSI, not SETI].

So far the ITU has created a special Focus Group that will attempt to publish the first round of technical specifications by as early as mid-2005 (see ITU Puts Convergence Center Stage and ITU to Define NGN Standards).

The urgency is understandable. Major operators are keen to build converged, IP-based networks based on non-proprietary technology. And, though the ITU has set a highly ambitious timeframe, some work has already been done in this area by ETSI's Tispan technical committee (see ETSI Holds IP Multimedia Services Workshop and ETSI Creates Tispan).

ETSI says it's keen to help: Alain Le Roux, Tispan chairman and a senior consultant for network evolution at France Telecom SA (NYSE: FTE), has made Tispan's work available for the ITU NGN Focus Group to adopt as a basis for the global standards specifications.

The ETSI committee's progress appears to suit the ITU's needs. The ITU says its NGN Focus Group will "build on existing fixed/mobile convergence architecture," such as the IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) developed by the mobile standards bodies 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and 3rd Generation Partnership Project 2 (3GPP2), "to provide transparency between fixed and mobile networks."

That's exactly the work Tispan is currently engaged in (see ETSI Holds IP Multimedia Services Workshop), and Le Roux believes there's a decent chance the ITU Focus Group will decide at its second meeting (July 19-23) to adopt his group's recommendations and specifications.

Though not directly involved in the process, he attended part of the ITU Focus Group's first meeting and presented an ETSI proposal, sponsored by France Telecom, BT Group plc (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA), and Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), to the Group. But he says it's too early to say whether Tispan's work will be adopted.

"I hope the ETSI approach, which is to revise the 3GPP's IMS specifications for use in fixed networks and provide specifications on a release-by-release basis, will be accepted" by the ITU Focus Group, says Le Roux. "But the ITU is still looking at the NGN from a general architecture viewpoint, and as yet there is no formal agreement between ETSI and the ITU. I expect the forthcoming meeting to clarify the situation."

He says there were some objections raised during the Focus Group's first meeting to the ETSI proposal, mostly from representatives from "the Far East, from China, Japan, and Korea." He thinks this is because the Asian carriers and vendors believe that basing global standards on ETSI work would give the Europeans an inherent advantage and control over the intellectual property that would need to be licensed to make NGN systems.

Le Roux adds that the North Americans are "waiting to see what happens, presumably because some of them believe the Internet is already an NGN." But, he believes, "Some of them realize that, besides the Internet, which will continue to evolve, there will be a complementary approach that can provide carrier grade services," and benefit the carriers, vendors, and end users by enabling the convergence of fixed and mobile networks and services.

That convergence is one of the two major requirements driving the NGN standards work, says the France Telecom man. The other is the "migration of existing networks to new IP-based platforms using SIP as the call control protocol. This is an urgent requirement because the traditional voice switches are becoming obsolete."

By July 23 it should be a lot clearer whether the ITU Focus Group stands a realistic chance of reacting to that urgency and also delivering globally-applicable standards within a timeframe that would see carriers source affordable, interoperable systems sooner rather than later (or ever).

— Ray Le Maistre, International Editor, Boardwatch

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