Despite vendors' bold claims touting network convergence, a lack of open-platform standards is thwarting the promise of integrating voice, data and video across a common IP infrastructure.
"Everybody's talking about convergence, and the dirty little secret is that there are no standards," said Milan Merhar, director of strategy for Lucent Technologies Inc.'s InterNetworking Systems group, in Murray Hill, N.J.
The Multiservices Forum—which includes most equipment vendors and service providers—continues to work toward consensus on open interfaces for converged voice, data and video networking. Meanwhile, vendors such as Lucent and Cisco Systems Inc. are prematurely proclaiming that their convergence products are already based on open, interoperable specifications.
At NetWorld+Interop here last week, Cisco unveiled AVVID (Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data), which the San Jose, Calif., company claims is built on open interfaces.
Also at the show, Lucent showcased a suite of convergence products—which it has positioned as an open, programmable architecture—built around its SoftSwitch technology. SoftSwitch uses server-based software in place of hardware switches in provider networks.
The lure of convergence offerings such as AVVID is the ability to offer intelligent virtual call centers, unified messaging and complete enterprise communications integration. Convergence represents "clear and immediate advantages to be gained from using a single architecture," said Donald McFarlane, network manager at Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., in New York.
Yet interoperability of these platforms remains a challenge for leading-edge companies moving to an all-IP network architecture.
As service providers look to standardize on converged services riding on an all-IP backbone network, "we will have common interfaces and common APIs," said Fred Briggs, chief technology officer at MCI WorldCom Inc., in Jackson, Miss. "And the industry is just about at critical mass in terms of finalizing standards."
But right now, no such standards or specifications exist. Until they do and are firmly in place, MCI WorldCom, for one, won't modify its network infrastructure with a broad movement to converged platforms. Instead, it is pushing networking hardware vendors to develop an open-platform multiservices switch.
The carrier has requests for proposals with all the major networking equipment vendors for such a device, which must be able to interface multiple services across any type of network while handling call control with software intelligence that resides outside of the switch, Briggs said.
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Requirements of converged voice/data service standards
Interoperability among platforms
Compatibility with legacy telephone systems
APIs for third-party developers of telephony applications
Open interfaces across multiple networks and traffic types