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Managing Editor

Convergence: Are we there yet?

Oct 23, 20023 mins
Cisco SystemsSystem ManagementVideo

From one, to many. Which are you referring to?

What is the state of convergence after at least seven years (according to Network World archives) of hype?

What is the state of convergence after at least seven years (according to Network World archives) of hype?

The definition of convergence seems to have been scaled back quite dramatically from the voice/data/video-on-one-IP-network nirvana everyone’s been shooting for.

In the data world, convergence means aggregating multiple data types – ATM, frame relay, SONET, Ethernet and IP – on a common IP or ATM infrastructure. Voice and video are still on separate networks.

In voice, convergence means IP routers pulling Internet calls away from the circuit switches and processing them in an “off-load” fashion. Voice calls and voice telephony features are still handled by the Class 4/5 switch infrastructure.

“Convergence is not happening,” says Andrew Feldman, vice president of marketing for Riverstone Networks. “It’s converged services to the customer, but converged networks? We don’t see it. We see bridges between networks. Carriers rarely tear down working gear.”

Service providers will continue to run parallel networks and move traffic back and forth between them for the time being, Feldman says.

There are some exceptions – almost. Two weeks ago, Telecom Italia and Cisco announced that 100% of Telecom Italia’s telephone calls made between Rome and Milan, as well as 50% of all Telecom Italia’s International European telephone calls, travel over an IP network. This represents over 3 billion minutes of telephone calls per year.

The project will allow Telecom Italia to save two-thirds of its transit operating expenses over “the forthcoming years,” the carrier and vendor say. By the end of 2003, Telecom Italia estimates that 80% of its transit voice traffic will travel over the IP network.

But Cisco has been working with Telecom Italia for six years on this project. And where’s the video?

Ah, video. As a carrier service offering, video-on-demand is still at the future-speak stage after seven years. Multicable system operators may finally beat a path to this door, and perhaps some independent telcos.

But incumbent local exchange carriers and regional Bell operating companies will continue to lag behind. They want the ability – and equipment – to support their millions of subscribers before rolling out service.

And to the customer? Convergence means bundled services: local, long-distance, wireless and Internet access services available at packaged pricing, with the charges all consolidated onto one bill. Convergence to customers and subscribers means converged pricing and billing – bundled services – vs. a single access line (cable TV and cable Internet access, by the way, will still be delivered over a separate infrastructure from a separate service provider charging you with a separate bill).

So when someone says convergence, ask, “Which?”

Managing Editor

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 28 years, 23 at Network World. He covers enterprise networking infrastructure, including routers and switches. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy and at

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