MSF Offers NGN Seal of Approval
The scheme could be useful for operators and vendors alike, but its success will likely be determined by recognition and buy-in from a broad body of carriers and vendors, and not just MultiService Forum (MSF) members.
First, though, let's look at what the MSF is doing, and why.
Global tests to find the best
Until now, the Forum has focused on setting up extensive GMI (Global MSF Interoperability) service and technology tests using the live networks of its major Tier 1 carrier members, including AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD). (See Verizon Wraps Up Interop Tests, Tier 1 SPs Trial IMS, Carriers Line Up for IMS Test, and MSF Claims IP Demo Success.)
Those global tests, which take place every two years, include a broad range of service scenarios based on what the MSF calls Implementation Agreements (IAs). Once those IAs are validated during the tests, they are pulled together to form NGN Guidelines that aim to "provide a coherent framework for the practical implementation of large scale NGNs." The MSF has just unveiled Release 3 of its NGN Guidelines, based on the 2006 GMI. (See MSF Releases NGN Guidelines.)
Now, though, the Forum wants to go a step further by enabling equipment providers to submit their technology for a lab-test-based certification process that will show their products meet specified technical levels that carriers can rely on when building an NGN. The MSF has appointed test house Iometrix Inc. , best known for its work with the MEF , as its certification partner.
The RTCP problem
The certification process is starting with a set of pilot tests, involving unidentified MSF members, that will focus on implementations of RTCP (RTP Control Protocol) in residential gateways, access and trunking gateways, media servers, session border controllers, and SIP devices. RTCP provides performance measurement information about RTP (Real-time Transport Protocol) flows, which carry audio and video packets over IP networks.
Variability in RTCP reporting has been identified as a major concern by the MSF's carrier members, BT in particular.
Iometrix will verify the technical components of RTCP in the equipment tested, and measure the accuracy of the reported network statistics generated by the network elements and SIP end points.
"The consequences of a poor implementation of RTCP can be very damaging in an NGN rollout," stated Bob Mandeville, president of Iometrix, in a media briefing about the scheme. "The statistics RTCP generates are very important."
Chris Gallon, head of systems engineering at Fujitsu Telecommunications Europe Ltd. and a member of the MSF board, notes that RTCP helps to produce vital statistics on jitter and delay, providing real-time analysis of network performance and feeding information into other operational and business systems, such as billing engines.
"We need to be able to trust the RTCP statistics, so we can figure out what's going wrong and why," said Gallon. "If the statistics generated are wrong, it can waste a lot of time and money." The certificates the MSF will award will help carriers to know that the measurements from certified equipment can be trusted and be used to underpin measurement and troubleshooting strategies, he added.
Mandeville noted that, once the pilot phase, which begins in September, is complete and Iometrix and the MSF have developed a complete test process, the first group of certified vendors will be announced in the first quarter of 2008. Then, vendors will be able to register to have their gear tested on a first-come, first-served basis. The cost of each test, which Mandeville claims will "be reasonable," must be met by the vendor, which must be a member of the MSF.
That will limit the field somewhat, as the MSF currently has only about 35 vendor members, though that list does include many of the industry's big names, such as Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , Nokia Networks , Nortel Networks Ltd. , and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763).
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