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Living in Interesting Times
|26 марта 2009|
Most of us have heard the two-edged blessing, "May you live in interesting times." As interesting as the current times are, it's easy to see why this is considered more a curse than a blessing.
Things have been interesting for anyone working in telecommunications for quite some time now. First we had the explosive growth of the late '90s, stimulated by the Telecommunications Act and the emergence of the Internet as a mass market phenomenon. Then the bubble burst, exposing the Potemkin village of WorldCom for what it was and dousing the rest of us with a hard splash of reality. Now, just as we thought the industry had righted itself, we get soaked along with everyone else by an economic tidal wave.
I'm a technologist at heart, though. For me, the most interesting story remains the network transformation that has continued to advance throughout these times. It is rooted in those heady days of the last decade, when net-heads and dot-com upstarts shook the telco world awake to a packet way of communicating. Today, IP-based networks form the core of the next generation infrastructure to support converged communication services: wireless and wireline, voice, data and video.
The most profound transformation of network technology since the introduction of digital switching in the 1960s began in the mid-'90s when network engineers woke up to the impact of large volumes of modem-generated traffic on the telephone network. Even though the notion of routing packets as an alternative to switching circuits had been around for more that a quarter century already, it took the near melt-down of a few central office switches to bring home the point that it was time to stop carrying data traffic on networks optimized for voice communications, and start building data networks that could deliver a wide range of communications services, including voice.
There is much more to this transformation than simply exchanging switches for routers. Those feature—rich Class 5 switches were—and still are in most places—the source of most of the services the old telephone companies had to offer. The transformation to an IP-based network infrastructure has brought with it a new architecture with services delivered from network elements distinct (and potentially distant) from the ones providing basic connectivity.
To be sure, the intelligent network architecture developed at Bellcore for the old circuit-switched network anticipated a structure with separate platforms for delivering services. That architecture still assumed tightly integrated operations of the switching and service platforms, however. It is hard to imagine a proliferation of "over-the-top" service providers emerging in that environment, providing communication and information services over a network controlled by someone else.
It's true that the Internet, which has enabled the likes of Google and Amazon to emerge and thrive, has managed to grow to its present size with a lot of last generation network infrastructure providing access and connecting the pieces. As IP-based network technology becomes more pervasive throughout the global communications infrastructure, the potential for more of these game-changing enterprises is breathtaking.
Yes, we live in interesting times. I wouldn't have it any other way.