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Media Gateways Flatten Out

Recently my colleague Patrick Donegan provided an update on some of his discussions with carriers on the factors that are stimulating the development of a radically new class of gateway – the access-independent gateway. (See Carriers Flip for AIG.)

While the AIG product space is at the edge of next-generation networks and germane to combinations of functions such as provider edge router, B-RAS, and GGSN, it's also clear from parallel research that similar innovation is happening in the core, as I documented in my most recent report: "The Rise of the Session-Aware Media Gateway: A Competitive Analysis."

The report noted that trunk and access media gateways have already transitioned from a master-slave model, in which they simply take commands from a higher-order node such as a softswitch, to a peer-to-peer model, in which they communicate with peers of equal stature using protocols such as SIP. To this end, the report also reflected that vendors have therefore leveraged this intelligence model to deliver commercially deployed products that integrate support of new capabilities such as session border control (SBC) into media gateways blurring the lines between traditional product segments.

Although the session-aware media gateway is arguably not as profound a technological shift as the AIG, it does provide some early important validation proof points that this multi-functional model is relevant. This was confirmed in a case study included in the report that captured input from a network operator that had deployed a hybrid media gateway/SBC. This operator considered such a multifunctional product as key to reduce ongoing opex by simplifying network administration. In addition, such products also have the potential to reduce power consumption costs and, therefore, are aligned with carrier initiatives to reduce carbon footprint.

Although in the past multi-functional products have tended to be labeled "God boxes," the industry-wide move to flat, all-IP networks is driving the combination of previously distinct functions into a single node. For example, if in 2002 a single vendor proposed a proprietary 4G combined RNC and BTS, promising increased coverage and lower power consumption, that product might legitimately have fit the God box mold. In 2009, however, such a product is defined in LTE standards as an eNodeB.

In addition, with new high-capacity, blade-based hardware continuing to come to market, introducing new capabilities into gateways becomes a more straightforward proposition and allows customers to gradually address the decline in TDM-to-IP and the ramp in IP-to-IP traffic. Even though it is still early days in bringing AIGs to market, gauging from the interest I encountered with respect to session-aware core media gateways, it is evident that the migration to multi-functional gateways has already commenced – and that, for these products, a "world is flat" mentality is actually a very good thing.

— Jim Hodges, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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