For quite some time now, the telecom industry has been witnessing the combined forces of convergence and deregulation, modeling the entire landscape of the industry with new trends. Contrary to what we could have anticipated, these trends could not simplify the infrastructure and scenario, and this transformation has resulted in an explosion of the types and numbers of telecom networks, services and applications, operators and service providers. The telecom world of critical heterogeneous elements exerts a demand for the concept of interoperability based on its variations like interoperability of networks and applications among operators. And thus, in order to set a foundation for critical command, control and intelligence of the telecommunication networks, achieving network interoperability has become one of the most challenging and important issues confronting the telecom operators’ community.
What is Network Interoperability?
Network Interoperability is the continuous ability to send and receive data among the interconnected networks, providing the quality level expected by the end user without any negative impact to the sending and receiving networks. Specifically, network interoperability refers to the functional interworking of telecom services across multi-vendor, multi-carrier inter-connections working under stressful or even normal conditions, as per the applicable standards and required specifications.
Why is network interoperability important?
Network interoperability becomes indispensable in order to achieve end-to-end connectivity. The more diverse networks exist, the greater becomes the need to ensure that they can interoperate in order to make end-to-end communication possible.
The benefits of interoperability to all elements of the value chain:
- The user benefits as he can communicate with whom he wants to with a single terminal.
- The telecom operator benefits as it can select the best equipment available from different manufacturers based on best performance and prices.
- The product/service manufacturer benefits as it can extend the same equipment set to different operators.
What are the challenges associated with the implementation of Network Interoperability?
There exist a host of reasons why implementing network interoperability successfully is considered difficult. Fundamental to all those problems is the correct balance between the telecom operator’s liabilities and benefits associated with these activities. From the cost perspective, designing the network architecture for interoperability implies the willingness to accept complex set of benefits and associated liabilities. The telecom operators are acutely sensitive to five major liabilities that can be incurred:
- Increased cost of acquisition associated with the addition of interoperable network/application modes
- Added cost and complexity of adding features to achieve all network compatibility
- Increased time for acquiring a new system (time to accept interoperability features and perform proper testing required to certify interoperability)
- Increased complexity and cost associated with the management of the configuration of interfaces
- Increased power and decreased speed to accommodate modes providing backward compatibility
How to achieve interoperability?
Network interoperability being the ability of two networks to communicate can be achieved in two ways: either by having the two networks confirm to a common protocol standard or by defining a standard interface to which all networks need to adhere, or by providing a gateway that translates between the two protocols.
Interoperability can be enabled at different stages of development through the following methods:
- Before any standard implementation, various barriers to interoperability can be minimized or even avoided. These barriers included proprietary standards and increasingly complex structures due to the convergence of multimedia services, competition among standard bodies, explosion of a number of operators due to deregulation and competition.
- The next step includes concentrating on a correct standardization approach. Interoperability can be enabled in a multi-network, multi-service environment. The specifications of the standardization should properly cover the architecture, requirements and protocols.
- Testing becomes the last step: conformance and interoperability testing in order to check that the equipment and network confirm to the standards.
The core need to evolve to a next-generation interoperable network is the attaining a converged IP infrastructure capable of carrying the voice, video and data service all together through a single connection. Thus, the concept of network interoperability may be anticipated to be the fundamental of evolution from a “one network-one service” approach to a “one network-many services” approach. The concept will gradually shift the telecom network to a next-generation access reducing any bandwidth bottlenecks existing today at the access level.