The new zone of opportunity in telecom networking is on the edge

Traditional signaling networks are increasingly looking to Internet technologies with a track record for solving such challenges as routing, security mechanisms, and NAT-like address translation.

The accelerating fluidity of our business and technology environments has caused the telecom business to rethink its traditional approach of introducing change into a network by modifying core network elements. Traditional practice, developed during the monopoly era where it provided questionable value at best, is no longer suitable. Investment in the core networks is being minimized with a strategy towards incremental growth at the edge of the network.

When the carrier networks’ primary prerogative was to provide rock-solid point-to-point connections for a small array of mass market services, the core model made sense. In the new carrier model that is taking shape, however, reliability must co-exist with flexibility and the ability to address markets that are as dynamic as the Internet itself. To keep pace in the current environment, carriers must constantly add and modify services that are more and more often provided by specialty vendors. The core was not designed to accommodate changes at this pace, and such change can put fundamental business functions at risk each time the carrier adds or changes a service.

For many reasons, including risk and cost, future services will not be deployed in the network core; they will instead be deployed at the network’s edge. We can think of the edge as the boundary between networks, but more importantly, the edge is the boundary for technology and revenue transition. The edge of the network is the point where change is most acceptable because it is least costly.

An edge-oriented transitional network strategy, as shown in Figure 1, builds on existing network capabilities by adding new value at the boundaries of the network without change or impact to the core network. An edge-based network architecture focuses on adding capability to an existing signaling network with minimal impact to the existing structure, administration, and operation. That contrasts with the traditional core model, which involved changing components in the core of the network to optimize overall network behaviors. An edge-oriented network transformation strategy focuses on adding new functions and managing, or optimizing a subset of the signaling traffic with minimal impact. This strategy also allows multiple changes or updates to occur in parallel, increasing the ability of the network operators to be responsive to ever accelerating demands for new services.

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Figure 1

If we consider the edge of the network as the opportunity zone for new services or new network interconnections, then we think of creating situations where existing network resources are connected to new resources. The focus needs to be on access to the subscribers using the traditional technologies (wireless and wireline). The boundary or dividing point in these scenarios is the component that matches the old network capabilities to the new features. That lynchpin is the edge Signal Transfer Point, or edge STP.An edge STP is a turnkey IP-SS7 hybrid network element based upon proven STP capabilities and concepts derived from the world of routers, gateways, and firewalls. It makes advanced routing decisions as packets cross between networks or network segments, differentiate services, optimize traffic flow, enable new hybrid services, control access, hide information, and more.

The edge STP is central to edge architectures’ inherent adaptability and support for innovation. The traditional process for adding a new service typically required modification of core network elements. This could involve adding triggers into switches, creating the need for deployment of new generic releases to all switches. The process often involved new generics for service platforms such as Service Control Points (SCPs) and STPs.In a large carrier environment, the costs of the software upgrades alone (not includingthe actual cost of the new service) could approach hundreds of millions of dollars. This is why the intelligent network concept was never fully realized.

Using an edge-oriented network transition model, the core network remains unchanged, removing the huge cost for core network upgrades. Instead, network operators adapt new services to the network by using router functions to intercept existing traffic and send it to new application servers. Sometimes the routing functionality alone is sufficient to be identified as a new service.

Real innovation in an edge-oriented solution comes about as carriers consider that they are applying proven Internet technologies such as routing, security mechanisms, and NAT-like address translation to the problems of the traditional signaling networks. Using an Internet style of message routing and combining it with modern IT-style server farm technologies, we can do things that were not possible in the traditional model, and at dramatically lower costs. That makes the edge not just an opportunity for innovation in network architecture, but instead, the edge becomes a true zone of opportunity.

Steve Davis is Product Line Manager, nSignia products atMount Laurel, New Jersey-based Ulticom. He is responsible for Ulticom’s edge STP product, nSignia eSTP.