Thursday, June 28, 2007

NGNs, the future networks

Features of the week:

The need to offer converged and qualitative telecommunications services have paved the way for the focus on Next Generation Networks (NGNs) to further reduce digital divide, reports REMMY NWEKE.

Recently the Seventh Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) ended its three-day meeting in Dubai, with a 38-point roadmap as guidelines for migration of telecommunications infrastructure into the Next Generation Networks (NGNs).

The roadmap, GSR said has been designed to encourage regulatory frameworks towards fostering innovation and best practices guidelines required to facilitate migration to NGN platforms.

What is Next Generation Network (NGN)

Experts at the International Engineering Consortium (IEC), defined NGN as seamlessly blending the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and Public Switched Data Network (PSDN), in addition to creating a single multi-service network.

They explained that rather than large, centralized, proprietary switch infrastructures, NGN architecture pushes for what they called Central-Office (CO) functionality to the edge of the network, stressing that the result is a distributed network infrastructure that leverages new, and open technologies to reduce the cost of market entry dramatically, while increasing flexibility, as well as accommodating both circuit-switched voice and packet-switched data.

Even as scholars at the University of Columbia defined it as future networks that was spurred by a need to transport multimedia and data services over the same network, just as it has flexible deployment and capability to change the economic models of any given state for the better.

ITU-T & co version

The global telecommunications regulatory department in charge of standardization, the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) also defined NGN as a packet-based network with the ability to provide services including telecommunication services and simultaneously able to make use of multiple broadband, quality of service-enabled transport technologies, which service-related functions are independent from underlying transport-related technologies.

Hence it offers unrestricted access to the users by different service providers, even as it supports generalized mobility capable of allowing consistent and ubiquitous provision of services to users.

And from a practical perspective, experts at ITU pointed out that NGN involves three main architectural changes that need to be looked at separately, namely the core network via PSTN architecture, wired and cable access respectively.

As for the core network, this implies that NGN consolidates several dedicated or overlay transport networks with each historically built for a different service into one core transport network and often based on Internet Protocol (IP) or Ethernet, stressing that migration of voice from a switched architecture (PSTN) to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and also migration of legacy services such as X.25, Frame Relay either as commercial migration of the customer to a new service like IP Virtual Private Network (VPN), or technical emigration by emulation of the “legacy service” on the NGN are veritable and viable.

In the wired access network, NGN implies the migration from the “dual” legacy voice next to Digital Subscriber Lines (xDSL) setup in the local exchanges to a converged setup in which the DSL Access Multiplexers (DSLAMs) integrate voice ports or VoIP, thus allowing removal to the voice-switching infrastructure from the exchange.

DSL basically uses sophisticated modulation schemes to pack data onto copper wires such as telephone wires and could reach speeds of up to 32 Megabytes per second (Mbps) downstream, but is limited to short runs from the central office, usually around 20,000 feets.

While DSLAMs as explained by Lucent Technologies are network devices, frequently located at a telephone company’s central office that link multiple customer DSL connections to a single high-speed circuit, usually from an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) line to an Internet Service Provider (ISP). They provide simultaneous high-speed digital data access and Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) analogue service over twisted-pair telephone lines.

However, in the cable access network, NGN convergence implies migration of constant bit rate voice to CableLabs PacketCable standards that provide VoIP and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) services. Both services ride over Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) as the cable data layer standard.

ITU-T explained that in NGN, there is a more defined separation between the transport connectivity portion of the network and the services that run on top of that transport.

This, experts said means that whenever a provider wants to enable a new service, they could do so by defining it directly at the service layer without considering the transport layer. That is, services are independent of transport details, thereby increasing applications, including voice which tend to be independent of the access network via de-layering of network and applications whereas residing more on end-user devices, which include phone, Personal Computer (PC), and Set-top box to name a few.


The Global Symposium for Regulators was an initiative that began in year 2000 and had its inaugural meeting with the launch of its dialogue among regulators with 215 participants drawn from 80 countries and presided over by the then Executive chairman, Botswana Telecommunications Authority, Mr. Cuthbert Lekaukau.

Participation in GSR has steadily grown over the years with 369 taking part in year 2001 from 102, 200 from 50 countries in 2002, 300 from 98 countries in 2003, 350 from 106 countries in year 2004, 390 from 110 countries in 2005 and 417 from 111 countries in 2007.

The remarkable thing about GSR is that each session ended with defined best practise outlined on a given topic that formed its annual theme since year 2003. While 2003 had as its best practices guideline, universal access, 2004 was licensing in an era of convergence, and year 2005 was on spectrum management to promote broadband access and this year, centred on Next Generation Networks (NGN) migration.

This year’s meeting was presided over by the Director-General, Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), United Arab Emirates (UAE), Mr. Mohamed Al Ghanim, with a focus on the 38 roadmaps to next-generation networks and how regulators could promote investment and achieve open access. The meeting also examined pressing regulatory issues such as NGN investment, competition, interconnection, consumer protection, universal access and international Internet interconnection among others.

Guidelines for NGNs migration

According to the ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, the goal for NGN guidelines on migration was to encourage the design of regulatory frameworks that foster innovation, investment and affordable access to NGNs, facilitating the migration to NGN and ultimately lead to bridging the digital divide.

“We believe the best practices adopted at this meeting will ultimately offer the possibility of delivering real benefits to providers and consumers, through cost reduction as well as offering innovative new services” he said.

Dr. Toure pointed out that the guidelines underscored the importance of embracing the principles of a clear and transparent regulatory process including the adoption and enforcement of rules; technology-neutral and competitive network provision under a coherent approach that addresses the issues raised by convergence.

Also, he said that the guidelines called on regulators to adopt forward-looking regimes subjected to regular reassessments to ensure that undue regulatory barriers to competition and innovation are removed, just as the on-going monitoring would ensure that users and providers are able to migrate to future networks whenever market conditions are met.

Chairman of GSR 2007, Mr. Al Ghanim noted that GSR as the industry’s premiere symposium for ICT regulators were elated that it has concluded on such a high note.

“We at the TRA of the United Arab Emirates are firmly committed to adopting the best practices identified at this symposium and tailor them for the UAE market”, Al Ghanim said, encouraging all members to reap the benefits of these guidelines in order to collectively raise the standards of the telecommunications industry globally.

For the Head, Corporate Communications at ITU, Ms Francine Lambert and Head, Regulatory Reform Unit at ITU, Ms Doreen Bogdan-Martin, the regulators were also urged to adopt investment friendly regulation considered as of paramount importance for the success of NGN network deployment, while maintaining a level playing field and protecting consumer interests.

“The adoption of flexible but accurate interconnection models are also encouraged to allow smooth transition to NGNs,” ITU officials informed.

Participants agreed that regulators should take steps to ensure that the market suffers no undue distortion of competitiveness, especially in view of the high level of convergence both at the transport and service level, just as they felt that there was a risk that NGN providers and operators could be in a position to restrict service level competition to their own advantage.

Meanwhile, a deal was reached that regulators should be vigilant by monitoring any incident that could require a regulatory response in a way that would not act as a deterrent for NGN service providers and operators, tasking regulators to keep in mind the need to create regulatory certainty for both incumbent and competing or alternative providers.

Director, ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), Mr Sami Al-Basheer Al-Morshid, explained that NGN is seen as somewhere between the telecom and Internet worlds, thereby creating a whole new range of issues to be tackled by regulators.

“The best practice guidelines endorsed by over 100 CEOs and board members of national regulatory authorities come a long way in addressing the issues and provide the way forward for all regulators around the world,” he said, attributing this to deployment of NGN, which will not happen overnight.

“The best practices encourage regulators to define policies that allow for the co-existence of legacy and IP networks, alternative voice services such as VoIP or bundled services that can offer voice together with TV and Internet also called triple play. In doing so, regulators are to consider applying the same obligations to all operators and providers of telephony services whether traditional irrespective of how they are delivered to consumers, under the symmetrical regulatory approach,” he said.

Senior Advisor of Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) of Saudi Arabia, Professor Ibrahim Kadi, said the meeting this year set objectives of providing networking opportunities and the symposium format facilitated the sharing of knowledge and experiences amongst regulators from all over the world.

He added that the guidelines covered all aspects of service provision including authorization, access, interconnection and interoperability, numbering and NGN identification systems, universal access, quality of service, consumer awareness, security and protection.

Equally, this year’s event introduced a new feature, Speed Exchanges, to provide additional opportunities for participants to meet informally and exchange views. Topics discussed in the Speed Exchanges included interconnection, the enabling environment, consumer protection, quality of service, regulatory implications of VoIP, why holding public consultation on NGN, international roaming, regulatory issues for convergence and what to do with regulatory bottlenecks. Speed Exchanges were also held on building confidence and security in the use of ICT as called for by the Action Plan of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and on the next steps in the negotiations of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Senior Counselor, International Development at the United States (US) Federal Communications Commission International Bureau, Ms Roxanne Maria McElvane in her remarks said the Speed Exchanges session, for instance, proved extremely useful and came at the right time.

. “After two days of high-level presentations and discussions, the exchanges allowed us to address specific topics and areas of interest with other regulators from around the world providing greater interaction and networking opportunities,” she said.

For the chief executive, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, the commission is poised to ensure that the leading mobile market on the continent benefits optimally from this guidelines by following it to the letter.

He added that NCC is committed to concentrate presently on technology-neutrality, assuring that government through the commission would facilitate a level playing ground for all stakeholders, especially the operators in ensuring that telecom industry in the country abide with global standards.

Also, appraising the guidelines, chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo applauded the outcome of GSR-07, stressing that the ball is now in the court of NCC to safeguard the industry through implementation of this global guidelines and to make sure that Nigeria is not left out of the accompanied benefits.

He maintained that ALTON members as law abiding corporate entities would do everything to co-operate with NCC to actualise this dream, which invariably would affect the economy positively.

As we look forward to actual implementation of this roadmap as outlined by the forum early February this year, by member regulatory agencies, the fact remains that NGNs is the future networks, while enjoining collaboration with the stakeholders and mostly the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) and ALTON, because the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the regulatory apex body on telecom in the country can not do it alone, therefore forming public-private partnership.

After-all, there is a saying that two hands if not three in this case are better than one.

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Unknown said...

its an well written piece, and full of information, thanks Rem for this enriched piece...

Karthik said...

Interesting article..
Have a look at NGN Migration here