In 1999 I had an interesting discussion at a Lucent Technologies luncheon with Arun Netravali who then headed up Bell Labs for Lucent Technology. Netravali spoke of the future of communications being an all encompassing communications skin which would have all sorts of devices connected to it.
The idea made sense and wasn’t such a logical leap but at the time it was something that wasn’t really happening. Networks did not interoperate so well with one another. Arun predicted this would happen at around 2025 or so.
Although the concept seemed a bit far off, I decided to write about it in the January and February 2000 issues of Communications Solutions Magazine.
Here we are in 2007 and it seems like to concept of a communications skin is farther away and closer than it ever has been before. It is farther because more and more disparate networks keep popping up such as WiMAX and 3G. It is closer because there is talk of using IMS to unify these disparate networks under a single architecture or framework.
A more tangible and immediate goal in the communications industry is fixed-mobile convergence where users will be able to connect to disparate services over disparate networks in a seamless manner.
While this is an admirable goal, with so many authentication methods, security challenges and networks of various bandwidth levels, it seems FMS is more a journey than a destination.
In a recent conversation with David Hayward the Director of Marketing of ReefPoint Systems he described the FMC environment as the wild west. By that he seemed to imply great opportunity and a lack of laws (which I imagine would be loosely translated into a lack of standards/common architectures.)
Some analysts in fact think the FMC market will soon be worth just shy of a $100 billion dollars and this could be the primary reason ReefPoint recently received an additional $25 million in funding as it is looking to tackle the biggest challenges the FMC space poses.
As service providers explore ways of utilizing, WiFi, WiMAX, picocells and femtocells to augment their network infrastructure there needs to be an architecture of some type enabling border control when supplying services to enterprise customers and consumers.
ReefPoint has introduced their FMC Border Architecture with the hopes of allowing service providers to safely and securely provide multimedia services with a faster time to market.
The FMC Border Architecture addresses the following major IP access networks:
- Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) over WiFi
- 3G Mobile (3GPP IMS)
The architecture includes three key elements:
- A consolidated, standards-compliant specification of security, QoS and mobility functions required for all major FMC networks (i.e., IP mobile, wireless and fixed-line access networks)
- Categories of functions include:
- User Authorization
- Secure Access
- Network Address Translation
- Denial of Service Attack Prevention
- Traffic Shaping
- A policy-based definition of session and flow border functions required for service provider to plan their FMC border management rules, including:
- Network Policies
- User Policies
- Application Policies
- Core Policies.
- An FMC implementation reference model including:
- Network deployment topologies for consolidating the FMC border
- FMC network roadmap aiding service provider infrastructure evolution to a single, all-IP core network.
In case you are wondering if this initiative is the same as IP multimedia subsystem or IMS, Michael Khalilian the Chairman and President of the IMS Forum thinks the FMCBA compliments and does not compete with the 3GPP IMS architecture.
The FMCBA is designed as the control point between service providers’ core networks and subscribers’ access networks and it allows the service provider to deploy a comprehensive set of FMC border architecture security, QoS and mobility functions.
Providers know as they provide more services their aggregate offerings become more sticky and drive higher ARPU. The question service providers grapple with is how to add more and more services across disparate networks in a manner in which the complexity level doesn’t cripple the provider’s ability to function.
Carriers worldwide must grapple with how to enable a user to view their place shifted TV programming (similar to TiVo) on a mobile phone and moreover how to allow the mobile device and the home recorder to work seamlessly together.
I asked Hayward for details on what carriers are working with his company to roll this architecture out today. He responded by saying while we are in trials with carriers, we are under nondisclosure and cannot state their names, but here are a few details we can publicly share:
While many carriers are building their “access network agnostic” IMS core over long-term, they are marching to deploy FMC a lot sooner. So in other words, they will likely consolidate the access networks at the edge long before they consolidate their core networks.
We are trialing with major European carriers who each need to deploy a common FMC border control mechanism across 3G, WiFi, WiMAX, fixed-line broadband and PTSN networks. We are also involved with major US carriers who each need to deploy a common border control mechanism for 3G, WiMAX and picocell.
So as Arun predicted, the network of networks which will become tomorrow’s communication skin is going to happen. It seems ReefPoint wants to define the manner in which disparate networks handle authentication, secured access, firewall provisioning, NAT, denial of service protection, traffic shaping and mobility support.
The challenge for service providers is to build an FMC border architecture that will allow for any access network to plug-and-play directly with core networks. Achieving a common border control fabric or skin for all FMC access methods will lower the cost of operating the network and also allows the service provider to realize the full potential of blended services.
Without a common FMC border control fabric, security, QoS mobility and other functions will be deployed piecemeal for each access network. This obviously increases cost and limits service transparency across the various access options.
This is quite an ambitious goal for ReefPoint Systems but without a doubt the concept will resonate with service providers everywhere. The vision of a communications skin is now a step closer and ReefPoint has a starting point to get us to where we know we must all evolve to.
The question is how the other vendors in the market will respond to this initiative? Will they mire it in FUD until they come up with similar solutions or will they band together to come up with a competitive solution.
While the future is not easy to predict we all must realize networks are becoming more complicated and interconnecting said networks is no picnic. A solution such as the FMC Border Architecture makes good sense and is worth exploring.