Slump pervades SuperNet

Vendors used this week's SuperNet 2002 conference as an opportunity to reassure skittish investors, suppliers and customers that they are still committed to IP and the Internet despite the telecom slump.

Instead of any major product, service, technology advancement or customer win announcements, vendors used the conference to reaffirm their belief and continued investment in IP as the protocol and the Internet as the infrastructure for future telecom services.

To the scant attendees at the show, they spoke of brighter days ahead, when spending would pick up, revenue would grow, and IP would attain the reliability and quality-of-service capabilities of legacy service infrastructures.

"Clearly, we all know the bubble has burst," says Judy Estrin, CEO of start-up Packet Design Inc., a developer of technologies and incubator of companies to help scale the Internet. "But the Internet is not dead."

Estrin was part of a panel discussing the future of the Internet as a viable, reliable tool for business transactions and communication. Other members of the panel included officials from Cisco Systems Inc., Unisphere Networks Inc., Sprint Corp. and secretive router start-up Procket Networks Inc.

All sought to persuade attendees that IP and the Internet, with some minor enhancements, modifications and tuning, can be harnessed as a business-critical infrastructure. Estrin sought to debunk common "myths" that IP cannot scale, is inadequate for converged voice/data/video applications, and presents a security threat via denial-of-service attacks.

"Every networks has its vulnerabilities," she says. "Hackers are taking advantage of IP's distributed architecture. You have to learn to use routing to your benefit rather than for hackers to attack you."

Technologically, "IP can get us there," Estrin asserts. But service providers have to develop business models that help pay for infrastructure build-outs and remove obstacles to rapid absorption of IP and Internet applications by consumers, such as real or perceived security and privacy threats.

"Consumer access is key to the next wave of growth," Estrin concludes.

Also key to the growth and acceptance of IP services and service infrastructures are improvements and proof points in quality-of-service and service-level agreement capabilities. IP services are but a small slice of carrier revenue at present -- they accounted for less than 10 percent between 1999 and 2001, according to Current Analysis Inc. -- but they are expected to be a more significant contributor in the coming years.

That will depend on IP's ability to "prove itself" in Class 5 softswitch replacement, local access voice, multicasting, video, and convergence applications for small/medium businesses, says Ron Westfall, principal analyst for broadband infrastructure at Current Analysis. That's where measurable, quantifiable and guaranteeable QoS and SLA metrics come in.

"SLAs are a key part of all of our products," says Eric Borzich, vice president of IP services at Qwest Communications International Inc. "But they have a long way to go. The Internet is a network of networks. SLAs have to exist on an internetwork basis. There's lots of room for improvement there."

Service providers say they can adequately measure and guarantee availability, and minimal latency, packet loss and jitter on an intra-network basis. But complicated business and peering arrangements between service providers have to be hammered out, and continuous improvements to vendor products -- including interoperability -- have to be made in order to guarantee internetwork QoS and SLAs for IP, Borzich says.

"We need a model that operates how voice networks operate together, where handoffs are transparent to the end user," Borzich says. "QoS and (SLA) enforcement place requirements on the carrier to do things they don't do today."

Everyone seems satisfied with the way the telephone network operates for voice. But data is the future, and if IP and the Internet are the harbingers of next-generation applications -- including voice, which some say is the ultimate advanced IP application -- and revenue opportunities, there's still considerable work to be done.

"The Internet is a part of everyone's life. It's an integral piece of our world," says Randall Kruep, president and CEO of Procket. "But are people satisfied with the Internet they have today? The answer is a resounding 'No.'"

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