Pipeline Publishing, Volume 3, Issue 10
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Beyond Quad-Play: XoIP
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Buying Telecom Futures?

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By Wedge Greene, LTC International

Selecting the future you
During the crest of the ATM standards movement, one of the mavens of routing and I were sharing a car back from an ATM Forum meeting in Denver to the brand new Denver airport. We were both long time IETF junkies who had joined the ATM Forum at its inception because of our respective jobs in telecommunications – he was a switch engineer for a vendor and I was a telecom engineer for a service provider. He asked me a question that burned into my mind and stayed in my memory: One of those pivotal questions on which your life turns.

He said he was getting tired and overwhelmed from attending both IETF meetings and ATM Forum meetings, and with leading and participating in working groups in both. “I think I need to choose between the IETF and the ATM. Wedge, which do you think will win out; which is going to be the winning technology?” Up until that moment it never occurred to me that one technology was better or would displace the other. I only saw a complex network of many technologies delivering different kinds of communication. I truthfully answered that I did not know, and I was going to keep feet in both ponds for now; but that the IETF seemed more robust, if undisciplined, … and definitely more fun.


That, I remember, was his last ATM meeting, and he certainly wound down his involvement and went on to start spearheading the introduction of large network architecture design into the internet. I held on with both forums, but the question kept working through my mind. Soon thereafter, at the ATM Forum meeting in Alaska, when faced with the Anchorage Initiative (which stated ATM was now complete enough to implement), I stood as one of only two companies to stand and speak against it in the general session. I voted our companies negative position and never went to an ATM Forum meeting again. I had made up my mind to cast my lot with IP technologies as well.

“I think I need to choose between the IETF and the ATM... which is going to be the winning technology?”

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Earlier, I made a similar choice in 1990 when I had opportunities to work for a major energy company or join MCI in starting its data division. Energy or Telecom: which would be the best opportunity? Predictive modeling or communications protocols: which would be more satisfying? I chose telecom, and for the last decade of the 20th Century, I clearly chose correctly. Still, industries swing back and forth and certainly the energy sector has done better this decade. Did I make a mistake in not switching?

But why this preamble about questions at the balance point? I believe similar questions face us today: traditional or non-traditional communications? Traditional or SOA software development systems. Traditional or next generation OSS models? Where should we cast our carriers? Who will win out at the turn of this decade? Every one of these questions is crucial.

Is telecom still relevant?
Traditional communications is a world where the service providers are responsible for building the networks, providing the new communications services, and managing the lot. Non traditional communications is the evolution of the “Stupid Network”: a world where innovation comes from computer companies (e.g., Microsoft, Apple, Intel), Portal companies (Google, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon), and software companies (Oracle, SAP, IBM) and networks are distributed lily pads in a peer-interconnected pond.

Putting it on the line for this pivotal question, The Insight Research Corporation has just released a new study "The Future of Telecommunications 2006-2011". I am not here to review this study or say they are right or wrong, but rather to show that they are clearly touching on a major question confronting us today. In the wake of the burst bubble and the dual trends of service provider consolidation and growth of the internet fringe industries, what will tomorrow’s communications world look like?

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