Next Generation Networks ( NGN) and Next Generation Services are something we keep hearing about. And we also keep hearing warnings and advisories from OSS vendors about how their management is going to be difficult and unsustainable in the circumstances of rapidly falling revenues and growing expectations. So- what are these NGN networks and services? And what is different about managing them? Let us take a quick look.
NGN Networks - Features
The Next Generation Networks have the following striking features:
• They are all-IP networks, with TDM and other proprietary/inefficient technologies being edged out.
• Their main focus is CONVERGENCE – which refers to the bringing together of multiple services, devices, and geographies. Convergence will be at the level of both the End User devices and at the Core and the Access Networks.
• At every level , the networks will be aware of the services running on them, and will have the ability to adjust their properties accordingly.
• Users are a very crucial part of the network, having evolved from being passive end-points to becoming active components and rich sources of information – User Generated Content (UGC).
Next Generation Services
• Triple-Play and Quadruple-Play Services: Triple-play refers to Voice, Data/internet, and IPTV services. Quadruple –Play refers to all the above, plus Mobile Services. But they are not the end. Operators are already of talking of Penta-Play and above, adding more and more services seamlessly to the convergent bouquet of their offerings
• Blended and Converged Services: This refers to unified services like Fixed-Mobile-Convergence( FMC), etc.
• Location and presence-based services
• Other entertainment services like triple-shift services (geography , time, and screen-shift): An example of this is when a user starts to watch a video in the cab on the way to the airport, then while boarding the aircraft he pauses the video for digital recording, then when he lands he goes home to watch it on the big-screen TV ( time-shift and screen-shift) and so on. Hence the three shifts involved are time-shift, geo-shift and device/screen-shift.
All these offerings are made on the underpinning basis of high-speed broadband access pipe
Major changes on Account of NGN – from a Networks and a Services Perspective
NGN networks and services are predicated upon the following major changes in people’s lifestyles, as well as in the underpinning network infrastructure.
Lifestyle changes: People use a plethora of personal communication, computing and entertainment devices and want their connectivity to be seamless- and they want their content and applications to be accessible and work seamlessly across all the devices and networks. For the Service Provider this implies a shift from absolute Quality of Service, to a more subjective Quality of Experience ( QoE) paradigm.
Network Infrastructure and Management Changes: The older , TDM-based network were inherently more secure – security by obscurity- because they were not widely known and understood. But since the NGNs will be primarily IP-based and hence open and widely understood, there are increased concerns around security. The traditional FCAPS ( Fault Management, Configuration Management, Accounting Management, Performance Management and Security Management) management paradigm prioritized the areas in the order in which it is written- Fault first, Security last. But with NGN, Security will become the most important aspect, followed by Performance, and so on. Also, the traditional Signaling Systems will be replaced by the convergent IMS ( IP Multimedia Subsystem) which will offer wider choices and faster development of products and offerings.
Service Delivery Platforms with open APIs are transforming the way services are developed and delivered; applications need no longer be tied to the SP but can be offered equally easily and speedily by third parties. This gives greater challenges to the Operators and wider choices to the users.
Home Network and Gateway Changes: As homes get wired up and equipped with multiple devices, challenges for Service Providers multiply by leaps and bounds. Since the end-to-end quality of service is largely impacted by the the Home Network component, Service providers are finding ways to introduce Home Gateways to service ( and in a way, cordon-off) the home premises part of the network.
Regulatory Changes: With the rapid expansion in media-based services, regulating the content, protecting copyright etc. will move more and more into the Telecom Regulatory domain as well. With the Telecom Regulators already reeling under the impact of Spectrum Allocation challenges, this will throw huge challenges upon the capacity of the Regulatory bodies, who may then resort to stringent demands on inherent protection at the network level. All in all, this period is not going to be a dull one for the Regulatory Authorities.
Service Aware Networks: Since users have differing expectation from different services ( for example, packet drop might be acceptable but delay unacceptable in a
VoD scenario- but the case being precisely the reverse in Data Communications!) the networks have to rise to the challenge of providing appropriate priorities and policies to the traffic running on them. The priority will also have to flex depending on the SLA signed with a particular customer. Hence the application of priorities and policies will have to be on a per-customer-per-service basis. In addition, the networks will have to have the ability to deal with special cases like natural calamities, man-made calamities etc., by their ability to reroute and prioritise the traffic in such scenarios in accordance with pre-arranged policies.
The present era of competition brings the following imperatives upon the operators:
a: Continuous improvement in the broadband access speed
b: Continuous enhancements in the content offerings- like IPTV evolving from Standard to High Definition video, 3D TV, better support for UGC and Social Media, and so on.
In addition to the high-tech networks and services themselves, Operators will need the aid of the highest-end Network Management tools and techniques to overcome these intimidating challenges.
In the next part of this article we will look at the Network Management – OSS -aspects of next Generation Networks. Please do write in if you have any queries.
Resources and further reading:
1 Next Generation Telecommunications Networks, Services & Management: Thomas Plevyak & Vehi Sahin:IEEE 2010
2 Numerous web resources including Wikimedia commons