Wireline, Wireless Providers Converge on Shared Mobility
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For traditional cellular carriers and wired broadband providers, the writing is on the wall: the future lies in convergence with wireless packet-based technology. The creation of a working group to study the best way to bring together the parties is just the latest sign of change.
The goal of the Wireless Wireline Convergence Working Group, created by the International Packet Communications Consortium (IPCC), is providing "feature transparency and seamless mobility across wireline (DSL, fiber, cable) and wireless (3G, Wi-Fi and WiMax) networks."
Some numbers to ponder:
60 percent of carriers' spending goes to packet-based technology, according to Farshid Mohammadi, co-chair of the working group.
Spending on VoIP, or next-generation networking equipment, will jump from $1.71 billion in 2004 to nearly $6 billion by 2008, according to Infonetics Research.
By 2009, 50 percent off all voice minutes in Western Europe will be from cell phones.
"As we move deeper into the 21st century, it becomes more apparent that IP networks are the next gen networks for all forms of communication," according to Kevin Mitchell, the Infonetics Research analyst.
"We are at an inflection point in our industry as various packet and wireline and wireless networks are converging," said Michael Khalilian, Chairman and President, International Packet Communications Consortium.
The consortium may be best known for its promotion of VoIP and soft-switches that make easier the integration of traditional telephony with packet-based communications.
The IPCC announced plans to spur wireline and wireless convergence during the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes, France. Alacatel, a network infrastructure company and founding member of the wireless and wireline convergence working group, told the conference the move will revolutionize the way enterprises communicate.
"A large number of carriers are onboard," Mohammadi tells Wi-Fi Planet.
"It's hard to find a carrier not modernizing their network with VoIP or planning to do so," says Mitchell. The research firm reports a 36 percent increase in next-generation equipment sales to carriers.
According to Mohammadi, primary drivers for the group's establishment are tri-fold:
Bringing under control the costs for carriers managing both voice and data networks.
Extending to the office features and services already familiar to so-called road warriors.
Understanding that upgrading data networks to support Wi-Fi or WiMax will be more easily accomplished if voice and data networks are combined.
The IPCC "found carriers putting together business plans" on how to integrate Wi-Fi and WiMax support into their wireline networks as wireless vendors solved many of the technical issues, says Mohammadi.
Along with co-chair of the wireless/wireline working group, Mohammadi also serves as chair of the IPCC marketing committee and is general manager of switching for North America and International at UTStarCom, a networking equipment vendor.
Payam Maveddat, the other wireless/wireline convergence working group co-chair, is also the assistant vice president of next generation wireless switching solutions at Tekelec, a telecom vendor.
"We established this working group to foster industry collaboration in order to find the best solutions in these critical areas in the least amount of time," according to Khalilian.
While converging wireline and wireless networks opens abundant opportunities for carriers and vendors technical and business issues must be resolved. On the technical side, one of the remaining technical questions is whether connections "tunnel over Wi-Fi or use the SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), common in VoIP.
SIP is drawing attention because it is independent of location and can establish one address whether a person uses a laptop, cell phone or other device.
Convergence with wireless will include the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) within 3GPP (Third-Generation Partnership Program). IMS integrates with SIP, permitting video, voice and data to work alongside each other. Alcatel sees IMS as an important part of the seamless mobility between mobile telephony and fixed wireless which the convergence workgroup hopes to define.
On the business side of the equation, molding a Wi-Fi connection to the needs of wireless carriers carries with it a more drastic response. A Wi-Fi connection must appear to the carrier like any other cellular connection, such as GSM to GSM, according to Mohammadi.
"If GSM has to change, it will be a non-starter," says the wireline and wireless convergence.
Accordingly, high on the working group's list of priorities are seamless mobility (roaming between Wi-Fi hotspot and GSM cellular) and feature transparency (a user should be able to move from an outdoor GSM environment to an indoor Wi-Fi network without losing any features like caller ID.)
Within the next four weeks, the working group hopes to release its first whitepaper detailing how such seamless and transparent movement will occur between GSM and Wi-Fi, according to Mohammadi.
Such seamless travel between Wi-Fi and wired connections is at the heart of the working group's target of an "access agnostic network."
With nearly 60 percent of a carrier's capital expenses going to the packet side of their networks, a fundamental change is occurring in how providers view themselves.
"Carriers are looking at themselves as supporting consumers rather than offering services," says Mohammadi.
The group "will work to convert diverse standards and technologies into revenue generating services by simplifying reference architectures, interconnectivity rules and management systems to meet real world service deployment requirements," said Mohammadi and a prepared statement.
To further that goal, the working group plans to form liaisons with industry bodies, such as the DSL and WiMax Forums.
Asked how a working group composed of vendors and carriers can deliver "unbiased advice to regulators, implementers, financial and industry analysts, and the media," Mohammadi argued the Wireless Wireline Convergence working group "will not promote a specific technology."