Ray Gilbert, assistant vice president for IT enterprise collaboration at Alcatel Lucent, tells ZDNet.com editor-in-chief Dan Farber how the telecom services provider is addressing mobility needs and convergence challenges for the next generation of digital devices.
Below is an excerpt from the video interview.
As someone who's deeply involved in talking to CIOs about networking, what are you hearing from them? Are they really confused about telecom?
Gilbert: There are a lot of things at play today in telecom. There are items you might consider over-hyped and there are things that have gone through a number of phases. One of the most common topics that keeps coming up continually when I meet my peers and talk to them and share our own experiences about IT projects, is the question of the next generation in the network and how to embed mobility effectively in corporations.
How do you embed mobility into telecom? Could you give your definition of converged network?
Gilbert: I think we're seeing convergence happen in a couple of ways. One is voice and data -- sort of the traditional convergence we've heard about historically a number of times. That's very real today. The other part that's becoming very common is the mixing of mobility with what would have been more traditionally wire line services -- making them available in the office and immediately, and allowing them to be available as you wander about in, say, a wireless environment. So that is a new transition that's taking place now.
So, for example, that would be the kind of content services that we're seeing start up.
Gilbert: Correct, content would be very important with the ability to have handsets or devices that will give you VoIP over Wi-Fi in one facility and at the next juncture will run on a cellular network and do that seamlessly -- maintaining sessions, maintaining conversations. That kind of ability is becoming very attractive to organisations.
You mention that that kind of passing off between Wi-Fi or WiMAX to 3G or whatever is attractive to organisations, but where are we really at with that technology?
Gilbert: It actually exists. You can see very strong demonstrations available today to show how that's working. The biggest part of it is, clearly, you want to be able to get that on a ubiquitous, very large geographic footprint. The people who give us that capability are the carriers around the world. So they haven't fully deployed those, although most of them have trials that have been going on roughly for the last year and I'm sure more into the future. But they need to get to the point where they're very comfortable with that, where they see the very strong business attraction of it and then get a chance to roll it out on large geographic footprints.
One of the issues around voice over IP has been, at least in the past, quality of service and levels of service that can be guaranteed. Is that being overcome at this point?
Gilbert: I personally haven't had that experience yet. I know there are plans in the system but I really couldn't offer feedback from peers or others who have worked with it. I have got some feedback from individuals who really are at the edge of testing it. What I mean is actually doing VoIP over wireless experiences. They're seeing how attractive it is but they're not yet convinced it's the kind of thing they'd roll out as a standard tool inside their organisations.
Where does WiMAX fit into the rollout plans?
Gilbert: I think WiMAX is a couple of things. First of all, it's an excellent tool if you're doing fixed-point communications today as a bypass for what people would call normal DSL wire line connections -- a very, very useful tool. There's large promise for what it can do on the mobility side. That's still being worked out and I think we're still a couple of years away from seeing that roll out in huge volumes across different markets. But you'll see announcements today where there are different jurisdictions and different carriers who are demonstrating they'd like to put in WiMAX today and begin to provide it. So we're seeing the first evidence of it.
Similarly: the Internet protocol in the back office iPBXs, do you see that overtaking the traditional PBX?
Gilbert: I think most statistics have demonstrated that today. I think the other part that, if you meet enough CIOs and talk about what's possible, there really is a strong appetite for VoIP on what I'll call traditional wire line infrastructure. They see ways where that convergence is giving them terrific opportunities. They are very hungry. We're at the conference here today at UCLA where there must be half a dozen speakers talking about the desire to watch convergence take place, to get people down to one cell phone or one phone number, or get people down to one mailbox or one experience at their desk and the mobility off their desk. So there is a demand for it. Most are articulating that they see the current Legacy equipment they have holding them back a little bit. It'll take a couple of years to be able to migrate their businesses into that environment, but they're very eager to see that happen.
And this notion of the converged network that results in unified communications where you have one number and you have a very smart so-called cell phone -- when do you see that becoming more mainstream and where we see more CIOs and companies in general willing to make the big investment?
Gilbert: I think I'd like to reflect a little bit of what our colleagues shared today at the conference. Very few are looking for a mass switch, big huge investment in going down that road immediately. The reason is because most organisations have a legacy physical infrastructure, either in offices and plants or telecommunications equipment, so they can't just switch it out that quickly. What I do see is medium, small-medium business, or anyone actually, it was reiterated multiple times today, anyone who has a new greenfield project -- that's the only direction that they're considering. They want to see it go in. They want to see a plan of everything isn't here today what's the steps going forward, so they can actually migrate and stay on that unified platform in the future.
When you talk about unified platform, there's also the issue of working globally.
And how does the unified platform map when you've got offices in 40 countries?
Gilbert: It can be very hard today. There are some relationships you can have and some carrier relationships which will help that a long way, but it won't cover every corner of the Earth today. It just isn't possible. But what is visible is as all of these companies and all of the carriers begin to focus on those standards, like IMS, that the ability to transfer those experiences and those services around the world will get better and better. It's just not going to be an overnight thing. I've been at multiple conversations with folks and every company is different. Someone has an operation somewhere in Brazil where the service just isn't available. They can't get that ubiquitous coverage. But if you're in the European or North American environment, the ability to move that experience across those continents is becoming easier and easier.