Smarts Make For a Better Network Experience

CHICAGO — The IP networks of today aren’t particularly smart or open. Simply put, they carry traffic.

The IP networks of tomorrow, according to a panel at the NXTcomm conference here that included Juniper Networks , Verizon , BT Group  and Microsoft , will be more open and offer degrees of dynamic control that improve the network experience for all.

“The IP network is already open isn’t it?” Shailesh Shukla, vice president of service provider marketing and partnerships for Juniper, asked the audience rhetorically.

“What we’re talking about here is, we believe that the world is moving from static-oriented services to dynamic which are riding on top of the IP networks of today, which may be open in a sense. It’s not open in the sense of the application coming in and changing networking behavior.”

Shukla argued that service providers live in a hypercompetitive landscape where they have to grow their network capacity by 80 percent ever year just to keep pace. To keep pace, Shuka said service providers must move towards a service-aware next generation network (NGN).

Such a network includes a layer of policy and control that serves as the unifying point between the network and the enterprise application that run over it.

However, the challenge of growing the network for service providers is compounded by the difficulty they have in making money, according to Yankee Group analyst Mark Bieberich.

According to his data, average revenue per user (ARPU) is currently flat to down for a lot of services. In particular, voice revenue is declining and that spells a challenge to service providers to create new revenue sources.

“How are we actually going to enforce policy and guarantee quality of experience as the number of services proliferate on the network?” Bieberich asked. “Policy control is not the only answer and neither is adding more bandwidth. It will be a combination of both.”

Daryl Dunbar, director of portfolio innovation at BT Group, sees policy control and the intelligent network as a way for service providers to better control their relationship with customers.

He argued that content providers have become the ones that have relationships with customers. With the intelligent network, the service providers can maintain that which is rightfully theirs; namely, a direct one-on-one experience with customers.

For Verizon, that means bringing the intelligent network right into the home. Tushar Saxena, director of home networking technologies at Verizon, argued that the home network, as the last mile, is critical.

“The last 100 feet are always the Achilles heel. No matter how much you build up the network core, unless the home is up to snuff you’re not going to make money,” Saxena said.

To that end, Verizon now has its own home network management system router that it is installing for home users so that users can enjoy services without having to deal with networks and devices, Saxena said. Home network installation and operation need to be transparent to the customer.

What all this intelligent network gear leads to is for a content provider like Microsoft to step in and reap the benefits.

“Thanks to all the companies here to put in all the hard stuff so that Microsoft can come in and do the fun stuff over the top,” said Paul Harris, said Paul Harris, solutions architect for customer solutions at Microsoft.

Harris demonstrated how dynamic bandwidth for Xbox Live, an intelligent network feature that Microsoft is working on with Juniper, can enhance the user experience.

Instead of simply downloading a file or having static access during an online gaming session, Xbox Live automatically sends a request to the network to increase bandwidth when needed.

The big question for service provider though, is how they are going to make money from the new dynamic intelligent networks.

“How do you make money? I’ll be honest we don’t now,” BT’s Dunbar said. “It’s possible consumers will pay more and it’s possible content providers will pay more.”

Ultimately it’s not just about a new individual revenue source for service providers either.

“It’s not about carving up the pie anymore,” Dunbar said. “It’s about how do we make the pie bigger so we can all share it.”

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