Virtually every aspect of the telecom landscape is undergoing a profound transformation - from the kinds of services that consumers demand to the operators that provide them. That transformation largely is being driven by the internet, which has changed the nature of communication. Voice service has been relegated to a commodity; the new order of business is about being "always on," mobile and interactive.
Mobile operators worldwide are making the move to IP networks to meet the demand for multimedia services like mobile web, gaming, mobile IM, and video-on-demand. The transition from a voice-centric to a service-centric network requires not only a rethinking of the architecture but of the tools and metrics used to ensure its performance.
While end-to-end IP networks seem inevitable, operators are taking a variety of paths to get there. Some are deploying next-generation networks (NGNs) like VoIP. Others are using NGN as an intermediate step to IMS. And, a few bold operators are jumping right into IMS technology. Whatever the route, the reality is that that hybrid networks - a combination of circuit-switched, NGN and pre-IMS, session initiation protocol (SIP)-based technologies - will coexist well into the foreseeable future. Operators will have to interwork a multitude of technologies, protocols and network resources for many years to come to ensure seamless service delivery.
New players like Google (You Tube), eBay (Skype) and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are moving in to claim a stake in the lucrative, converged multi-service market. Telecom operators must expand their business model to include new partners such as content providers, advertisers and MVNOs. This new value chain presents new arbitration and SLA requirements.
IP enables a new universe of media-rich applications that expands the realm of communication from simple person-to-person to person-to-content and group services. Creating a multimedia experience is a complex task that requires the orchestration of applications, a staggering array of access devices, multiple technologies and network resources. Adding presence- and location-based capabilities to those applications further compounds the operator's challenge.
Beyond basic monitoring
Building a next-gen network is just part of the equation. Equally important is operational excellence -- a key differentiator in this service/subscriber-focused business model. New protocols, new network elements and the complexity and variety of services can all have a serious impact on service quality. This converged environment requires a fundamental shift in focus - from basic network monitoring and troubleshooting to overseeing end-to-end network connectivity and service interaction to ensure a positive customer experience.
The complexity of network management increases dramatically as operators move from the delivery of predictable, low-bandwidth voice services to advanced, high-bandwidth data applications. Operating hybrid networks requires the interworking of numerous technologies and overseeing interconnections between multiple domains and partners. More network elements are required to blend real-time services such as voice and video with non real-time applications like presence, availability and user preferences. Operators have to manage the health of the end-to-end network and all of its associated resources. Niche monitoring systems do not have the flexibility and scalability to provide a complete view of the network with the data, reports and alarms required to proactively manage multi-technology, multi-protocol networks.
QoS is more problematic in IP networks than in the circuit-switched world. Yet, in today's highly competitive environment, it often is the single most critical factor that separates one operator from another in the subscriber's mind.