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The State of IP

It's been years since IP slowly but surely began infiltrating into mainstream carrier networks. In 2010 it's poised to make its biggest impact ever.

Forget about the attention-getting but ultimately underwhelming VoIP softswitch overlays or IPTV service deployments of yesteryear. In today's carrier networks, IP may not always be hyped or even seen, but it is indeed everywhere – and in 2010, it's only going deeper and making an even bigger impact.

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Today the wireline network core is largely based on Internet Protocol -- or IP, for shorthand, the packet-based protocol that most famously handles Internet traffic. Long-haul transport is becoming increasingly so as well, with not just IP but Ethernet – which began its life on the local area network but whose simplicity and compatibility with IP has made it the network of choice almost everywhere – becoming largely predominant. Next up: the access network, where fiber-to-the-node and a focus on network/protocol convergence – not to mention the proliferation of IP applications – are pushing IP into tomorrow's connected homes (and pockets). Also on tap: greater levels of IP interconnect, in which carriers pass traffic from network to network as pure IP.

On the wireless network front, meanwhile, LTE and other 4G technologies are driving IP into tomorrow's mobile packet core. Not to be outdone, IP is moving into the mobile backhaul network as well, where IP and Ethernet are replacing yesterday's leased T1s as bandwidth requirements boom and timing issues challenge backhaul providers mixing voice and data packets on new converged networks.

Finally, there's a world of progress being made with IP at the application layer, with deep packet inspection (DPI), policy servers and other IP elements providing a new network intelligence layer while IP-based architectures like IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) and evolving application approaches like Rich Communications Suite (RCS) aim to drive IP throughout the network and out to the client level – not to mention the proliferation of over-the-top IP services and applications straining carrier networks.

"We live in a world that is truly evolving to unified communications – brought together by IP," said Seamus Hourihan, vice president of marketing and product management for Acme Packet. "In all areas of the network, enterprise to cable to wireless to traditional fixed line, IP is happening, and more than that, the convergence of data and voice and video over IP is happening."

Not that the acceleration of IP isn't causing new challenges: carrier-grade security and service assurance remain omnipresent concerns, as does address exhaustion, which may finally be heralding the long-awaited move to IPv6, the next generation of the core Internet protocol.

So as a new decade dawns, and carrier networks stand ready to face new challenges and take on new opportunities, we decided to take an in-depth look at the "state of IP" – circa 2010, focusing on two key areas, the network and application layers. Here's what we found.

The Network: IP in the Core – And Beyond

Both traditional incumbent carriers and newer upstarts are betting their businesses on IP everywhere-style strategies.

For instance, in December, nationwide CLEC Bandwidth.com formally launched FlexNetwork, an all-IP network that it says enables IP-based voice origination for a variety of "voice 2.0" players, like Voxeo and Ifbyphone – not to mention Google. By not only being all-IP but also fully exposing external voice APIs, Bandwidth.com is basing its entire business on the idea "that voice is simply an IP application that can be mashed-up in many new and interesting ways," said T.R. Missner, CTO of Bandwidth.com and architect of its FlexNetwork. 

Not to be outdone, incumbents like Verizon are systematically moving IP into all corners of their existing networks – made all the more daunting, of course, by having to retire, or simultaneously manage, their TDM circuit-based network.

Today, for most global, tier one carriers, IP already rules the day in the core of their networks. But the transition to IP isn't stopping there. Consider Verizon, for example.

"It's clearly not going to happen overnight, but we're always looking for areas and ideas for how to transition our voice infrastructure. Internally, a lot of our traffic is already on IP," said ProdipSen, director of packet network architecture for Verizon. Beyond that, Verizon has announced and is busy working on an IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) architecture that will underpin all its future services – including voice. Meanwhile, Verizon's much-touted FiOS service today delivers its video-on-demand service via switched IP, and while its vanilla cable channels run over cable-style QAM, Verizon has set an all-IPTV migration path, Sen said. Converging all services onto IP allows for new blended services, Sen said, as well as underlying cost savings due to decreased operations and maintenance expenses.

Despite the costs and technical challenges associated with retiring TDM networks, the time has come where the advantages of IP are beginning to outweigh those concerns.

"Efficiencies and efficiencies of scale are the primary thing providers are looking for. Even when we're doing some things like TDM-to-IP legacy service migration for them, the faster we can get it to IP the happier they are. They want to push that to the edge as fast as they can," said Jay Wilson, Adtran's senior vice president and general manager of its carrier division. "From a carrier perspective, the biggest thing is efficiencies, not necessarily just efficiencies of scale but efficiencies of bandwidth and ease of provisioning, improved visibility."

On the residential side, driving IP deeper into the network is part of an ongoing "major refresh of the subscriber edge," said Lindsay Newell, vice president of marketing for Alcatel-Lucent's IP activities. Specifically, now-legacy broadband remote access platforms, implemented largely to support basic DSL service roll-outs – and supporting ATM aggregation and ADSL termination -- are being replaced by new broadband network gateway access technologies optimized around IP, Ethernet, VDSL and the delivery of high-def-capable, more real-time triple play services, Newell said. On a box level, that means a lot more multi-service routers on the network edge; on a protocol level, it involves moving to more IP-native DHCP tunnels and IP traffic management techniques focused on a new class of multi-service metrics, such as latency and jitter; in short, "really a much more sophisticated set of higher-capacity, more real-time IP traffic control," Alcatel-Lucent's Newell said.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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