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Converging on an opportunity
By Paul Mankiewich, Alcatel-Lucent

Mar 3, 2008 5:29 PM

As an industry, we see signs that the convergence of the Web, wireline and wireless networks is well underway. Telcos and cablecos have been offering bundled broadband wireline and third generation (3G) wireless services, and now some carriers are offering mobile video services in addition to IPTV services to homes. This represents a convergence of formerly separate TV, computer and telecommunications (wireless and wireline) services. From a Web perspective, applications such as Google Maps, the Weather Channel, Dow Jones quotes, etc. are today readily available on your wireless device as they are on your laptop. The next logical step is the delivery of the same content to all three screens – TV, PC and mobile device. What will this mean for the people who will use the services?

Convergence means that you can have a security camera on the front door of your home, and when a visitor rings the doorbell it triggers a live video stream to a pop-up window on your computer or television, or, if you are not at home, to a portable wireless device or a screen in your car. Using these same devices -- which will be connected to a microphone and speaker on your front door -- you will be able to speak with the visitor from wherever you are. This is just one of a myriad of examples of the kinds of services a converged network will deliver.

The converged network also will spawn a variety of new service provider business opportunities, featuring services such as network-based collaboration, advanced social networking (and associated advertising models), avatar creation and video communications; enterprise services such as 3D, total-immersion training; and profit-sharing between the service providers, promoters, retailers and content providers.

Convergence also enables a new world of user-generated content. For example, at the site of an earthquake, engineers could use wireless devices to stream video of a building inspection to the network. Remote engineers could then pull up the collection of video streams on wireless or wired devices and select from various camera angles to analyze the structure. Today’s Web 2.0 environment combined with Convergence and the ultimate evolution of the Semantic Web (i.e. Web 3.0) will unleash the combined intelligence of both to create a new network paradigm.

This is a vision of a network that is more efficient and effective than today, one that offers a better and more interesting communications experience. To make this vision a reality requires sufficient bandwidth in the wireline and wireless sections of the network, and the ability to effectively manage the bandwidth and application inter-play to provide a personalized, high-quality, multi-screen experience. Consumer research shows that individuals in the U.S. want to share content – regardless of whether they are in front of a TV or computer or on the go; they want services that cut across historical silos such as caller ID on their TV; they want to use technology to create real-time, two-way virtual communities with friends and family near or far.

These innovative applications – which are rapidly being adopted by end-users – are beginning to strain the data capabilities of existing networks. Already, regulators are making more wireless spectrum available and carriers are selecting next-generation, higher-speed technologies, such as WiMAX and Long Term Evolution to deliver the wireless broadband capability needed to make these services ubiquitous.

Mobile devices will play an important role in the needed end-to-end eco-system and the industry has taken the first steps on the right path, as Apple’s introduction of the iPhone triggered a tidal wave of larger-screen wireless devices, including similar phones from Samsung and LG.

With the user, provider and network dynamics coming together, the industry can develop a converged network where services dominate and the network becomes a “silent partner”, almost taken for granted. The sooner we move ahead on this path the better it will be for individuals using the services, and therefore the industry as a whole.

Paul Mankiewich is CTO, North America, of Alcatel-Lucent.

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