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Converging convergences?

Nov 18, 20024 mins

I love a term like convergence. Its dictionary definition, “coming or getting together,” is broad enough to cover just about anything. So it’s pretty safe for us to say that convergence is happening, which is what we’ve been doing for the last five years or so.

Only now, maybe some kind of converging really is happening. It’s not clear what is converging or what we’re converging on.

Take the optical space. Last month Ciena announced it was buying into WaveSmith Networks, a new-age edge multiservice player. In January, Ciena announced it was buying into Equipe, another new-age core multiservice player. Is this an example of new-age convergence? Multiservice convergence? Add the fact that Sycamore Networks is supposedly looking at a marriage with a multiservice player and you can add optical convergence to the list of possibilities. After all, these players are certainly coming together.

Carrier players as diverse as AT&T and Verizon; WorldCom and Cable & Wireless; and Level 3 Communications and SBC Communications all are talking about multiservice networks – which is what all the vendors are talking about, too. But before we jump to the conclusion that they’re all converging, we’ve got to acknowledge that some of these players seem to think multiservice means Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) and others think it means ATM. So while we can admit to carrier convergence on “multiserviceness,” we can’t get too precise on just what that means.

To thicken the plot, there are players that think ATM and MPLS are converging. WaveSmith, in fact, traditionally has positioned itself as a player in bringing about that very convergence. So has Equipe Communications, the other Ciena partner. You might even recall that in the late ’90s, vendors such as Nortel were arguing that MPLS should be made more ATM-like. See, we’ve even got convergence historicity!

Then, of course, there’s that old IP convergence stuff. The carriers are now all talking about IP Centrex, which sounds like the converging of at least IP and Centrex. Last month some Internet mavens even suggested that the Federal Communications Commission essentially let the regional Bell operating companies and interexchange carriers sink, and have everything converge on the Internet. That was before the big distributed denial-of-service attack on the root servers, and of course distributed DoS is convergence, too.

Well, can we learn anything from this? Despite the fact that I probably sound like Andy Rooney, yes we can.

First, we’ve had common carriers endorse IP voice. IP voice on the premises is a good idea for business; otherwise, offering IP Centrex is dumb. Planning to replace a PBX or key system? Converge on IP.

Second, we’ve agreed that MPLS is the right answer for the WAN, we’re just arguing over the flavor. And make no mistake, whether we get to MPLS by making IP more ATM-like or by making ATM more IP-like, we’re left with something that’s going to be a lot closer to IP than to ATM. For users, IP-centric carrier infrastructure will mean more variety in IP service features. Despite our decadelong love affair with all things IP, most companies aren’t ready for the Big Convergence on IP-based carrier services. It’s time to stop thinking about tunneling over the Internet and start asking just what IP services a profit-centric carrier might sell you.

Third, if we’re re-engineering carrier data networks around an MPLS framework and premises networks around IP voice, can we really expect that the two won’t, dare we say, converge? What’s likely to happen is that carriers would use packet infrastructure built for supporting data services to gradually extend packet voice services to high-value users, where the customer premises equipment framework is IP-friendly. How could you get friendlier than premises IP voice? The best voice deals two or three years from now are going to go to the shop that has IP voice equipment on premises, period. To be sure, we won’t be replacing Class 5 switches in that time frame, but we’ll be starting to unload traffic from them, and by the end of the decade they’ll be going away.

So what do you think? Interesting? Want to hear more?

Let’s get together.


Tom Nolle is founder and principal analyst at Andover Intel, a unique consulting and analysis firm that looks at evolving technologies and applications first from the perspective of the buyer and the buyers’ needs. Tom is a programmer, software architect, and manager of large software and network products by background, and he has been providing consulting services and technology analysis for decades. He’s a regular author of articles on networking, software development, and cloud computing, as well as emerging technologies like IoT, AI, and the metaverse.

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