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Advancing Utility IP Migration Takes Time and Care

Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

This is the third in the three part series looking at how IP, which has been playing an important role in business transformation for some time, now has become critical to the utilities industry as it is leveraging the transformation of communications networks to IP to maximize smart grid deployments. In short, taking full advantage of things like smart metering and big data means to improve usage, real-time information and improved interoperability.

The future of the smart grid has unfolded slowly partially because adoption is more than a technology issue, and because while businesses want reliability, utilities demand it; a cautious IP migration is almost a given. In fact, part of the path to adoption goes through social challenges, not just technology investment.

IP Migration Picking Up Speed among Utilities

Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

A few years ago, the idea of a smart grid and things such as smart metering was the stuff of science fiction. But thanks to recent innovations, a utility that is not working on a migration to IP is behind the curve.

In this second of a three-part series on the value of the migration utility infrastructure to IP as the means to enable and enhance the value of smart grids, we look at an expert’s view of the challenges as highlighted in a recent GridTalk posting by Bart Vrancken, utilities solutions architect at Alcatel-Lucent, who noted, “Utilities telecom used to be very simple, handled in the background with a very small team…The explosive growth in intelligent grid devices with communication capabilities was not foreseen at all several years back. But now we see numerous examples of customers deploying these technologies.”

IP Network Investments Enable Enhanced Smart Grid Value

Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

The future of the smart grid looks bright. Innovations such as IP/MPLS network connectivity and the desirability to all potential stakeholders in smart cities projects have helped propel smart grid spending in general and investment in the enabling networks. In addition, government programs such as the U. S. Smart Grid Investment Grant Program have pumped $7.8 billion into smart grid systems with accelerated activities taking place around the world. In fact, driven initially by government stimulus, investments by the electric power industry in IP technology is accelerating, with US$200 trillion projected in global expenditures by 2030.

In short, the networking piece of smart grid deployments is critical, as the migration of utility infrastructure to meet the needs to remotely monitor and manage their grids grows in complexity.  “The new IP/MPLS technologies offer a great deal of benefits within the utility in cost savings, operational efficiency and cost savings, and they also mandate a new way to operate, bridging those traditional organizational silos,” noted Mark Burke, VP of Intelligent Networks and Communications for DNV – GL, in a recent GridTalk posting.

Enterprises Need a Converged Network to Meet Current and Future Requirements

Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

Bring-your-own-device, mobile video, virtualization and a greater need for quality of service have prompted the need to rethink the network. In fact, the exponential increase in traffic has added a sense of urgency on the part of enterprises to upgrade their networks.

What’s needed is a converged network, according to a recent paper by Alcatel-Lucent (ALU). Enterprise Converged Network Solution, which carries the subtitle, Deliver a Consistent and Quality User Experience, Streamline Operations and Reduce Costs.  With a long and deep history of providing state-of-the-art enterprise networks, ALY is advocating a converted, application-aware network that accounts for the latest evolutions in computing, yet is a resilient enough to meet both today’s needs and those of tomorrow.

Cable MSO Discovers the Benefits of 10G EPON

Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

Bright House Networks loved its 1G Ethernet passive optical network (EPON). But there was just one problem: demand was increasing, and 1G EPON was quickly becoming not enough.

The cable multiple system operator, the sixth largest owner and operator of cable systems in the United States, serves roughly 2.5 million subscribers with its video, high-speed data, home security and automation and voice services.

Bright House Networks is a proponent of EPON because it allows the company to provision multiple customers onto one fiber and still provide dedicated bandwidth without oversubscription. It is their preferred way to accelerate the transformation of their network to an all IP ultra-broadband infrastructure.

Alcatel-Lucent CEO Michel Combes says Europe Must Stop its Cellular Race to the Bottom

Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

As leaders in Europe debate whether the EU is “back” during the World Economic Forum, the region is increasingly falling behind when it comes to telecommunications, according to Alcatel-Lucent CEO Michel Combes.

“There is a real danger,” noted Combes in a recent blog post on Europe’s digital divide (published in the Wall Street Journal, “that Europe is losing ground in the information era.”

That’s because there is an increasing gap between what the latest smartphones can deliver and what Europe’s telecommunications companies can support due to a price war that inhibits infrastructure upgrades.

“Europe is locked in a vicious circle of competition focused exclusively on price, one that forces operators to reduce their investments and destroys their innovation capacity,” noted Combes. “This type of competition is bad news for a digital Europe and its consumers.”

LTE Growth Explosive, According to Alcatel-Lucent Data

By Mae Kowalke, TCMnet Contributor

They like it, they really like it!

The story of 4G LTE is not just the massive infrastructure upgrade, it also is one of intense subscriber adoption as the increased data transfer capabilities of 4G LTE make themselves known.

The number of active LTE subscribers jumped an average of 20 percent per month in 2013, according to a recent Alcatel-Lucent blog post by network intelligence general manager, Patrick Tan.

Your Current IP Session Border Controller Won't Cut It Long Term

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

Conversations are changing.

In the past, people could expect to call each other, e-mail or meet in person. But the new conversation experience includes the ability to instantly interact via multimedia with others, video conference from any location and without installing special software, and seamlessly merge several different voice and chat streams.

The session border controllers currently used by many network operators are not meant to handle this complex new communications environment.

OpenTouch--Welcome to the Personal Cloud

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

What mobility has done is change the conversation. For the past 30 years, enterprise data communication was about the personal computer. But that’s shifting as smartphones and tablets have given the world the ability to more easily perform work from any device with a cellular and/or Wi-Fi connection. The cloud has then given business the ability to perform business with these devices, effectively taking enterprise computing resources and making them available to any employee with authorized access at any time.

The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend within the enterprise is the manifestation of this. And, IP-based communications of all types has also changed quite a bit driven by mobility and the cloud. Collaborative conversation is much easier, and video conferencing is easier than ever.

Helping to meet the needs of the new direction of business companies such as Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) have developed services that help enable this transformation of business.

IP/MPLS Enables Robust Public Safety Capabilities for Calgary

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

This is the third in a series of blogs that have taken a look at natural disaster communications and how public safety organizations around the world a leveraging next generation communications to better prepare and respond to emergencies.

In this final installment, the focus is on the Canadian city of Calgary which had catastrophic flooding in June. But it also got lucky.

That’s because just as the worst flooding in the history of the city was overflowing the riverbanks and flooding downtown, taking down infrastructure as it went, Calgary was testing its new, next-generation IP/MPLS-based network infrastructure.

As its infrastructure was endangered by the flooding, the city’s IT team was able to move over to this new system and start the migration of 50 remote locations in a matter of hours, preserving its essential communications needed to deal with the flooding and preserve business continuity.

Social Media Increasingly Plays a Big Role in Public Safety

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

Middle Eastern revolutions and national ad campaigns are not the only situations that benefit from social media. Natural disaster communications also can be greatly helped by effectively harnessing the opportunities of social media.

“Communication reliability depends upon how we engage through the media, and new media is the conduit through which we negotiate those relationships,” noted Marya L. Doerfel Ph.D., an associate professor at Rutgers University who focuses on natural disaster communications in a recent Alcatel-Lucent LifeTalk article, Social Media, Relationships Boost Emergency Communications

Ultra-Fast Broadband the Path to End-to-End IP Telephony and PSTN Migration

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

The TDM-based public switched telephone network (PSTN) still brings in revenue, but operators need to start thinking about PSTN transformation as vendors start to move away from TDM equipment support and existing revenue from the PSTN network dries up.

Adding fuel to the need for PSTN transformation is the increasing cost of maintaining the PSTN network.

The direction of the PSTN migration is clear.  Operators need to move to an IP-based network. This has been an inevitable and desirable trend for many years. In addition, it presents the opportunity for operators to converge their voice and data services onto a single network architecture that can drive revenue and cost reductions.

Scaling Microwave Networks Effectively Requires a Mix of Optimization Techniques

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

The data storm kicked up by the rise in data use from smartphones and tablet computers necessitates a focus on scaling microwave capacity efficiently.

Microwave networks can be adjusted for spectral efficiency on a link-by-link basis, but this is not practical. What’s needed is a network-based approach such as that used in the Alcatel-Lucent 9500 Microwave Packet Radio that can avoid optimizations that are only valid on a small scale, and reduce the amount of spectrum used to help save rights-of-use costs.

According to a recent Alcatel-Lucent TechZine article, operators have two good microwave scaling methods at their disposal on the topic, hierarchical quadrature amplitude modulation (HQAM) and packet compression.

Next Generation Public Safety Communications is a High Priority for Houston

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

It might be an understatement to say that Harris County in Texas takes its public safety first-responder communications seriously.

The county, which encompasses the fourth largest city in the United States, Houston, also is home to the country’s petrochemical industry. The county also is no stranger to natural disasters.  Hurricanes are common for the area, and big one named Hurricane Ike ripped through the region in 2008. In fact, Hurricane Ike was the third most costly storm in U.S. history, and $60 million has gone toward the recovery effort with another $100 million committed for the future.

As a result, natural disaster communications for enabling not just fast response during a crisis but also for preparations and dealing with the aftermath has been recognized as a top priority. The county believes that to best protect its citizens and give first-responders the capabilities they need to work in a high-performance manners is to have a communications network that is second to none. A next generation public safety communications network is the one thing they know they cannot do without when a natural disaster strikes.

Cable MSOs Need a Flexible Network Edge

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

It seems these days that no matter how much bandwidth and services multiple systems operators (MSOs) it is not enough. Subscribers want higher quality user experiences not just for their televisions but for the exploding number of other network connected devices they possess which are multiple media bandwidth hungry. 

Even if cable MSOs can meet current demands the pressure to go faster is intense, especially when the competition is only a click and a quick connection away.  This need for speed to the market and in the market is placing increasing strains on cable system architectures and creating a need to accelerate cable network IP transformation.

As Time Warner Cable senior director and chief network architect Michael S. Kelsen has written: “Cable operators are seeing their network capacity requirements double approximately every 24 months to keep up with customer demand and the launch of new services.”

One way to cope with increasing capacity demands is ensuring cable operators have a flexible network edge. A flexible network edge helps maintain growth but reduces costs at the edge of the network by supporting the evolution of residential, commercial and even mobile services.

A High-Performance Evolved Packet Core is Essential to Handle Mobile Data Demand

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

The glass can be half empty or half full when it comes to mobile broadband.

On the one hand, data usage is growing at exponential rates, and seems to be no end in sight. In fact, it is projected that by 2017, the monthly mobile broadband usage of the average subscriber will reach 5 GB, according to research from Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs.

On the other hand, the emergence of LTE enables operators to more cost-effectively monetize this traffic demand by rolling out quality-of-service (QoS) guarantees for sensitive data traffic such as voice-over-LTE (VoLTE), as well as other data service packages that until recently did not make sense.

Finding the glass half full from the emerging data storm requires some planning when rolling out LTE, however. Network optimization is not a given. While LTE flattens IP traffic and enables new business models it also introduces new problems. Chief among them is increased network signaling rates.

Oil & Gas: Dynamic Communications Enables Faster, Farther and Safer Operations

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

The demand for oil and gas capabilities has never been greater and continues to grow. In fact, world energy needs are expected to increase by roughly 40 percent by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency, with the fast-developing China and India leading the way in energy consumption growth. The demand for oil is expected to grow by 20 percent, and gas needs should expand during this time by 50 percent. As much as dependency on fossil fuels is seen as needing to be reigned in, clearly oil and gas demand is going to go up despite greater reliance on alternatives. .

With that said, meeting energy needs is getting more complex. Hydrocarbon delivery is challenged by the fact that so much of the relatively low-hanging fruit has been plucked. The energy reserves of the future will increasingly come from deep-sea drilling, tar sands mining and other more challenging methods. Hydrocarbon delivery also will have to travel farther distances.

To effectuate cost-effective and efficient exploration and fuel deliveries in more challenging environments, it has become paramount that gas and oil communications be upgraded to next generation capabilities.

The Mobile Gateway Could Choke LTE Networks if Telcos Are Not Careful

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

LTE is the future of the network. That much is no longer in dispute in dispute.

Mobile network operators are embracing IP-based networks, and the numbers prove it. By the end of 2013, predicts the GSA, there will be 260 commercial LTE networks in 93 countries.

“Telecom operators like IP-based networks because they are interoperable and flexible,” noted Patrick McCabe, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Alcatel-Lucent, in a recent TechZine article, 3 Reasons for an IP-Optimized Mobile Gateway. “This makes them easy to modify as new IP-based functions, features, and applications become available.”

But getting there could have some bumps unless mobile network operators improve their mobile gateways, leveraging enhancements to their wireless packet cores. The mobile gateway needs to be IP-optimized if it is going to deal with the deluge of traffic that has begun and will only get worse as users get their hands on the fast speeds that come with LTE.

Chinese City Ensures its Railways Provide Superior Service by Leveraging Next Gen Communications

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

Railways came into their own several hundred years ago thanks to England. But today, modern railways are being pioneered by China, which has plunged headlong into railway development as part of its rapid growth and evolution as an emerging superpower. And, as part of the deployment of its extensive next generation railroad network, Chinese railway operators are relying on dynamic next generation communications networks, to assure operational excellence and provide passengers a high-quality user experience.

When China began work on its new metro network in the city of Xi’an, home to the famous terracotta army, it wanted to ensure that it had both a cutting edge rail communications network for its operations and complete wireless coverage in stations for its passengers.

Railways See the Benefits of IP Convergence - Customer and Network Operator Perspectives

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

TDM just doesn’t cut it any longer when it comes to rail communications. Railway operations decision-makers the world over are moving from TDM-based rail solutions to a single IP-based communications network that maximizes bandwidth and delivery true multi-tenancy. When it comes to communications, rail solutions in 2013 are all about IP convergence.

“The necessity of an IP network transformation is due to the increasing need to host more services and its ability to converge these onto a single piece of infrastructure to provide a truly multi-service network,” Stefano Pasetti, director of mobile and telecommunications for Milan’s metro rail service provider, Azienda Trasporti Milanese (ATM), said recently in a blog post by Alcatel-Lucent.

MPLS-Based Networks Keep Public Safety Communications Humming

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

When it comes to first responder communications, network quality matters a lot. Public safety organizations need reliable, secure communications networks.

Traditionally, public safety networks have used plesiochronous digital hierarchy (PDH), synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH) or synchronous optical network (SONET) TDM technologies for their networks. But as communications have evolved, TDM is proving insufficient for IP-based voice, video and data systems.

“Many public safety communications networks are evolving to broadband solutions which utilize an IP WAN for first responder radio networks, video surveillance, LTE, improved interoperability, and better integration with growing IT applications, noted a recent white paper on the topic by Alcatel-Lucent, "Mission-Critical Communications Networks for Public Safety."

IP Convergence Delivers for Railway Operators

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

Rail communications have not been immune from the information technology revolution, but any new rail solutions need to be rock-solid since safety is on the line. Rail communications failure is just not an option.

Moving from separate network services to a converged IP/MPLS multi-service network is helping railway operations make a step-change in flexibility and efficiency while reducing total cost of ownership.

IP convergence--and IP/MPLS in particular—bring safety-related train control communications under a single unified architecture while delivering new railway communications flexibility.

One railway operations pioneer, Portugal’s REFER Telecom (the telecommunications subsidiary of Portuguese railway infrastructure manager, REFER E.P.E), has been using a fixed IP communications network since 2004. Since 2008 it has been running on IP/MPLS technology provided by Alcatel-Lucent.

Viable Carrier Wi-Fi Starts with ANDSF

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

Mobile technologies such as smartphones and tablets have made users a little more ornery. They now expect both a high quality of experience and high bandwidth availability to run their mobile devices. Yet, this can be a challenge for operators.

One solution to tackle the bandwidth issue is leveraging carrier Wi-Fi, which eases the cellular load. But Wi-Fi has historically been challenging in terms of user experience, as logins and moving between cellular reception and Wi-Fi have made the experience anything but simple and elegant.

Policy empowered carrier Wi-Fi control looks to change that, however, delivering both bandwidth and a high quality of experience. This empowered Wi-Fi is possible thanks to 3GPP, Access Network Discovery and Selection Function (ANDSF).

How to Win the Battle of Core Router Cooling

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

As broadband traffic continues to increase, it is increasingly becoming a challenge to scale power management accordingly to keep power consumption down and heat dissipation up enough to not overhead core routers.

“Traffic growth sets off a vicious cycle in the Network Operation Center (NOC): higher power consumption to run the additional equipment, more heat generated by the additional equipment, more cooling needed to stay in optimal operating temperature range, and higher power consumption to run the cooling elements,” noted a recent TechZine article, Why Hotter Networks Need a Cooler Core, by Arnold Jansen Senior Product Marketing Manager, Alcatel-Lucent.

Shared Data Plans Mean New Charging Challenges

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

The move to LTE networks, increasing data usage, and the proliferation of multiple devices per user has ushered in the concept of shared data plans.

Shared data plans offer benefits both to consumers and operators. For carriers, shared data plans mean the ability to have a single pool of data minutes that they can use across their multiple devices. For carriers, shared data plans mean increased customer loyalty and additional revenue opportunities.

However, shared data plans also mean challenges for carrier charging systems.

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