Pipeline Publishing, Volume 4, Issue 9
This Month's Issue:
New Doors, New Access
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Edge/Core Collaboration:
Navigating the Ocean

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By Wedge Greene and Trevor Hayes

It would seem to a disinterested observer that the future of the telecom industry will be decided by the victory of one armed camp or another: Edge vs. Core – but what if we could find the right symbiotic way to make money together?

Sailing off the edge of the world?

They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea.
Sir Francis Bacon]

In the old days, the edge of the telecom network was just the analog black phone. In the POTS, world the network owners were the service providers (SP). These national and regional companies planned and built the network and the edge. They knew their well-defined market boundary, for this was the boundary of their home territory. The call was the product. SPs controlled what edge devices were available since only their devices could connect to this network. They bought from their domestic equipment provider and software developer – indeed, like old Ma Bell, often all three divisions were in one corporation. Do you long for these simpler days? We do not.

As competition became national policy, the market divided into service providers, equipment manufacturers, and independent software vendors (ISV). Next came intelligent networks, digital networks, and some consumer product choice. But everything proceeded in an orderly fashion. Planning cycles were long and well managed.

Then came data networks and the Internet; vendors began to specialize and their numbers exploded. Access was the service product while networks were the asset being built. The capacity of networks began to exponentially increase and specialized networks were built to service the many new protocols that were churned out by standards groups and industry associations. This was the communications industry’s industrial age. But still, all was controlled in the executive clubs of the communications industrials where long term purchase, cooperation agreements, and interwoven managements provided closed leadership to the telecom industry.

During this period of explosive growth during the nineties, a new strategy surfaced. It was not good enough to make money from calls and data connectivity. Explosive growth and explosive valuations required more revenue than could be pulled from these “network-based products.” We remember the strategy as it was introduced to engineering at MCI in the mid-nineties: to survive we had to move up the value chain. This was seen as moving up the old DEC stack from network protocol and connectivity to the applications running on the computers connected to the network. We would do this by combining the “intelligent network” to the data networks.

During this period of explosive growth during the nineties, a new strategy surfaced. It was not good enough to make money from calls and data connectivity.


We all would move up the value added chain to services.

Then a decade ago, David Isenberg, in The Rise of the Stupid Network, spoke to the importance of the edge. He laid out his proposition that the network service providers soon would no longer control the future development of telecom networks. Instead, this power would increasingly shift to the edge. This was one of the first manifestos that suggested that the edge had value, although the argument did not impress many in the traditional service provider community. But what was the edge?

There was not much there when Isenberg first spoke. While service providers were growing the networks, other industries connecting to data networks and the Internet soon discovered the values of connectivity and immediate collaboration for themselves. SP account teams sold the connectivity, but the customers understood the value proposition better than the sales people, because they knew how the connectivity would be used. The customers understood the potential of this new connected environment and began inventing new ways to use the shared network.

Innovation at the edge is continuing, creating novel ways to connect people, business, and systems. New services just keep coming – faster than we can keep track. The result is that complexity is increasing dramatically both at the edge and in the patterns of connectivity this creates across the service provider networks. In fact, it is difficult to visualize the extent of this growth in complexity. New mathematical approaches are being developed to address this, for example the use of dandelion diagrams to chart the major nodes of the Internet and the network domains reachable through them.

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