Monday, June 26, 2006

Network Convergence..The Benefits Of Merging Voice And Data Networks

In the high-speed telecommunications industry, “convergence” means the merging of the traditional voice and data networks into one shared infrastructure. The value of this convergence is in efficiency and cost savings. A major long distance carrier representative stated at a major conference the implication of convergence in large networks. He said that if there were actually a single network in their company for all voice, data and other applications -- a truly 'pie-in-the-sky' view since it probably cannot ever be 100% true -- he estimated that a converged network for all services would save in the neighborhood of 70% on administration (far fewer boxes to manage) and 40-50% on maintenance and operations. So if providers and users could even achieve half this efficiency it results in tremendous savings on these primary operating expenses.

This impact is reflected in typical customer premises scenarios. For example in many buildings there is cabling, PBX or Centrex equipment, telephones, equipment rooms, and staff to engineer, maintain, plan budgets, plan strategy, manage change, etc., to support the voice infrastructure. Then there is cabling, routers, switches, computers, equipment rooms and staff to engineer, maintain, plan budgets, plan strategy, manage change, etc., to support the data infrastructure. If these two environments -- voice and data -- could be provided over the same infrastructure, the savings would be immense. These two worlds are historically separate for many reasons including technology, political-economic development and social dynamics. In addition, the requirements for quality provisioning of constant-bit-rate services such as voice, as well as the expectations of the end user, are very different from those of bursty data applications. Both are respectively complex.

But service providers envision this 'one world' and strive to be the single provider. For example, regulated voice phone companies have talked about and attempted to do data for decades. ISPs have toyed with voice. Cable companies are one entity that has come close to being a ubiquitous provider of both services well, but most of their offerings are still in the trial stages. Migrating current infrastructures to a single technology is a great challenge. But what that single technology should be is becoming less and less a topic of discussion.

Data networks have become critical to business, and some would say perhaps more important than the voice network. Many businesses could do without their dial tone for half an hour, but if their servers or routers went down, it would be a disaster. Home users use "data" with each email or web browse. The de facto protocol for data networks is TCP/IP, the protocol of the Internet.

Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the Internet, believes that the Internet is the vehicle for convergence:

“What is the future of the Internet? It will become the 21st Century's telecommunications infrastructure. It will become our medium of commerce and education, of research and medicine. It will become a repository of the knowledge, wisdom and creativity of the human spirit. Internet will be there, for everyone” (Cerf).

Much work in the standards arena, in trial environments and emerging products support voice over the Internet Protocol, or "VoIP". The "data over voice" standards of several decades ago are virtually forgotten. It is anticipated that the protocol for both voice and data networks -- and for any converged network -- will be highly dependent upon, and perhaps even totally reliant upon the TCP/IP protocol. Thus, expanding broadband data networking today sets the stage for the ability to provide converged services tomorrow.

But convergence is not just for businesses. These same providers want to be the single provider for residential voice, data and video applications. Thus broadband data services to the home are as important a driver of convergence as to the business.

The trend toward convergence will continue because the cost savings of one network for data, voice, and all applications is significantly attractive from the standpoint of building, maintaining and operating this key business infrastructure component. For assistance in finding the right bandwidth solution for your business convergence efforts I suggest you use the free consulting services of DS3-Bandwidth.com.

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