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Media Gateways: New Roles or Old News?

It is fair to say that although trunk media gateways play a crucial role in next-generation networks (NGNs), from a newsworthy standpoint they appear to have largely fallen into the "where are they now?" file. When they do garner coverage in the press nowadays, they tend to be merely discussed in a context of business arrangements or market-share metrics. (See Genband Gets a Gateway to NSN.)

That is not overly surprising, since limited innovation has made its way into trunk media gateways recently. However, in some respects it also confirms that many of the media gateway products deployed today were well designed from initial release, and although they continue to have densities upgraded in subsequently releases, they have not required a lot of additional development. When you consider the broad number of functions, protocols, and codecs that media gateways must support, the design of such a truly carrier-grade product is no trivial feat.

Nevertheless, the role that media gateways play in the future could start to drive not only more converged products, but also a new class of trunk media gateways as flat IP networks become the norm, and therefore, the focus moves from TDM to IP conversion to IP session control. Accordingly, integration of new capabilities such as session border control (SBC) should not be discounted in the next wave of media gateway products. While controversial, such an approach, if done correctly from an architectural standpoint, could enhance the media gateway's overall NGN value proposition and help it avoid the dreaded commodity label.

Several outstanding questions first need to be answered. First, will a baseline set of new capabilities become informally agreed upon based on market direction, and will motivated vendors be able to shape new market opportunities based on an aggressive next-generation media gateway program? In a world where many vendors are progressively adopting an OEM model, will they undertake development of new capabilities and new products? Finally, what do network operators want? Are they willing to accept new roles for media gateways, or do they simply want to leave these products in status quo mode?

In view of the potential for profound change, Heavy Reading is currently researching the evolutionary options of access gateways and trunk gateways to capture opportunities, timelines, and vendor strategies. With a little luck, by next year media gateways will once again be generating market buzz from a technology and evolution perspective – instead of simply how many codecs they support and the number of port shipments.

— Jim Hodges, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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