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A Gig Ticket: A Chance for Operators to Grow the Market for 1Gbps L3 Services

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Recent innovations in customer premises equipment (CPE) mean that operators can now bring 1Gbps Layer 3 connectivity to a much bigger market. Just in time, too, explains Pravin Mirchandani, CMO, OneAccess Networks.

Industry dialogue about ‘the race to 1Gbps’ has, until now, largely focused on the challenge of laying fiber and how operators might backhaul via ‘dark fiber’ laid in the dotcom boom.

Huge strides have been made. In the US, ultra-fast networking university collective, Gig.U., revealed last year that ‘scores of American communities are now deeply engaged in deploying ultra-fast networks’. And it’s no secret that forward thinking players like Google and AT&T are intent on hooking up America’s major cities to fiber networks. Across Europe, challenged by terrain, borders and a fragmented marketplace, all-fiber connectivity has been harder to achieve but, like the US, fiber to the premises rollouts are well underway in most major cities.

It’s a good job, too. As the world’s businesses continue to migrate into the Cloud, the global market’s appetite for 1Gbps Layer 3 connectivity is growing, fast. Business adoption of increasingly bandwidth-hungry cloud apps and services is driving up speed requirements and putting pressure on operators to democratize 1Gbps connectivity by offering service contracts to the masses of distributed enterprises and SMBs at price points they can afford.

In this effort, operators have faced an equipment challenge. Cost effective 1Gbps in Carrier Ethernet has been around for some time but, until now, application-oriented ‘Layer 3’ 1Gbps connectivity has remained exclusive to the enterprise HQ. This is largely because the customer premises equipment (CPE) capable of delivering 1Gbps Layer 3 services has been ill-suited to mass deployment by operators. Having been designed for the Enterprise HQ, it is disproportionately expensive, big, cumbersome to deploy and laden with ports and features that operators simply don’t need. As a result, ultra-fast connectivity ‘for the masses’ has been neither economically nor operationally viable.

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Is integrating SBC functionality into the router the way forward for accelerating the availability of SIP trunking services?

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Although many businesses have deployed IP-based PBX systems to handle their corporate telephony needs, so far relatively few have then taken the next step to a full SIP trunking service particularly in Europe.

To some extent this can be explained by the “if it is not broken – why fix it” approach but is actually more to do with service providers looking to leverage maximum return from their substantial infrastructure investments and disincentivizing customers who may want to transition from their still lucrative ISDN connections.

However, many companies are now re-assessing the merits of integrating their video, data and voice requirements in a unified communications (UC) package opening up new opportunities as well as challenges for service providers. With many of these enterprises sensibly opting for a phased transition to an all-IP UC platform to avoid potential costly business disruption, CSPs are faced with connecting SIP trunks into an array of IP and legacy PBX and mixed PSTN/IP voice environments.

For Telcos and service providers this means facing an array of non-standard SIP trunk implementations, involving a mix of old and new technologies, that can result in increased operational expenditure combined with reduced revenue potential. Given this double-whammy effect it is understandable why they tend to be less than enthusiastic in actively promoting an end-to-end IP telephony platform. For that reason, TDM trunks has remained the preferred demarcation line of choice for service providers, even though TDM is converted to VoIP within their network.

However, there now seems to be an increasing momentum and growing market demand for SIP trunking services from enterprises. A recent Infonetics1 research report forecasts growth in the business adoption of UC and VoIP services to reach $35bn by 2018. Part of the report showed a massive, 50% increase in SIP trunking in the US in 2013, with similar growth in EMEA expected to follow in 2014 and beyond.

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Tomorrow’s CPE: the Wimbledon of network virtualization?

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Despite the industry’s charge toward network virtualization, the need for customers to connect their routers to non-Ethernet legacy connections is not going away. Couple this with the fact that a bunch of emerging network functions require an on-prem appliance, and the virtualized ‘CPE of the future’ starts to feel, well, really rather physical. So, is the CPE the Wimbledon of the network; ever-present, resistant to change, but perhaps also capable of surprising us all with its innovations?

Take Wimbledon’s white dress code, for example; a deeply entrenched tradition that has become a defining characteristic of the tournament. But in recent years, however, the dress discipline has been partially relaxed. Today, the tournament accommodates at least some expressions of color. Similarly, the majority of CPE appliances that today deliver network connectivity and voice gateway functions are specialized devices, and will stoically remain so for the next few years. It’s just too expensive to do otherwise, until fiber with G.fast as a short-haul copper Ethernet extension become ubiquitous and all voice terminals are IP-based. Out of necessity, therefore, incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) will have little option but to support this CPE model. In other words, it looks like the traditionalists, both at the tennis and on the network, can rest easy. For now, at least.

But pressure to change is mounting. Competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs), together with alternative network operators, are more agile and, since they can target Ethernet-only network connections, can move more quickly to a vCPE approach. That said, some network functions will need to remain ‘on premise’, namely link management, service demarcation and service assurance. The network functions that can migrate to the virtualized center will do so over time. In our Wimbledon analogy, this equates to another tournament altogether, played on a far more contemporary surface than Wimbledon’s time-honoured grass. Competition indeed for the ‘historic home of tennis’.

The need for some functions to remain on premise means that the CPE will increasingly comprise hybrid devices – ones that support both traditional network functions and those located in a centralized and virtualized core. Incidentally, this won’t be just a single data center, but rather a set of distributed virtualized centers located with the network infrastructure (most likely at POPs) to mitigate traffic tromboning.

The huge IT challenge of accommodating virtualized delivery of services mean that the CPE will also need to become a multi-tongued device able to speak next-generation protocols – Netconf, Openflow – as well as traditional CLI, TR-069 and SNMP. It seems inevitably that that, after holding out for as long as they can, traditionalists at both Wimbledon and in the CPE, will be forced to accept some variations, but only within ‘proper’ limits of course!

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Two killer forces shaping the future of the CPE

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Powerful forces are steering the development of the CPE, explains Pravin Mirchandani, CMO at service-enabling network access specialist, OneAccess.

As the telecoms industry continues to hack a path toward network virtualization, the terms used to describe future customer premises equipment (CPE) are under almost continuous review. ‘White box’, ‘virtual CPE’ (vCPE) and ‘physical CPE’ (pCPE) each represent their own specific and shifting vision of how the network functions present in today’s CPE will be virtualized. But beneath the jargon, two powerful forces are steering the technology’s development.

1. The need to support non-Ethernet legacy connections

Ethernet is the assumed and, by and large, the only connectivity option for a low-cost white box approach, yet it is far from ubiquitously available as a WAN connectivity option at the customer premises. What’s more, the cost of increasing Ethernet coverage for connecting customer premises (typically by fiber) is growing as the lower cost, high-density deployment options become exhausted. Consequently, one of the key issues that virtualization faces is the need to support legacy connections between TDM-based PBX, alarm and other serial connections to various types of DSL-based WAN access technologies. This means that the bridging technology - the purpose-designed CPE - will be around for some time, especially for network connectivity devices and voice gateways.

2. To work, some functions need to be on the network’s edge

As the guy responsible for products at an access platform CPE vendor, what strikes me about our current work plan and roadmap is the huge amount of additional functionality that our CSP and MSP customers are asking us to deliver in our current-generation CPE. These include link management schemes for failover, bonding and offload; as well as shaping and event-based schemes, to ensure that business-critical Cloud-based applications flow regardless of the state of the network. Additional measurement capability is also being demanded, to remotely diagnose issues and ensure that SLAs are met. Security-hardening is also a request. The list goes on. By their nature, these types of intelligent functions have to reside in the CPE; you can’t failover, offload or measure local service levels remotely from the Cloud.

Given that you can’t economically ‘white-box’ legacy connectivity requirements, nor can you centralize network functions that rightly belong on the customer premises, only part of the CPE is ripe for virtualization. With this in mind, don’t expect today’s CPE appliances to disappear from the network’s edge any time soon.

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Latest News

  • EKINOPS Celebrates MEF Technology Solutions Award Win

    EKINOPS (Euronext Paris - FR0011466069 – EKI),a leading provider of open, future-proof and flexible network solutions to service providers, has been recognised with a Technology Solutions Award at the 2019 MEF Awards, which took place during the leading industry conference, MEF19 in Los Angeles.

     
  • EKINOPS and IEC Telecom Group deliver next-generation maritime satellite communication solution

    EKINOPS (Euronext Paris - FR0011466069 – EKI), a leading supplier of optical transport equipment and router solutions for network operators, has launched with IEC Telecom Group, one of the leading global providers of managed network communication solutions, OneGate, an agile solution that protects the critical communications functions of maritime vessels.

     
  • EKINOPS to showcase joint SD-WAN Proof of Concept at MEF 2019 together with TELUS and Inmanta

    EKINOPS (Euronext Paris - FR0011466069 – EKI),a leading provider of open, future-proof and  fully flexible network solutions to service providers, has been selected by MEF to participate in the sixth annual MEF 3.0 PoC Showcase at leading industry conference, MEF19, which is taking place from 18 to 22 November 2019 in Los Angeles.

     

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