NGSON: An Interesting Standardization Effort
When user generated content began to populate the Internet, and to generate the revolution of content related services, researches understood that user generated services could be the next step to continue such service evolution. Over the last decade standardization efforts have emerge to provide answers and architectural models; efforts like TMF SDF, OMA OSE, ATIS SON, ITU NGN SIDE, OPUCE, SOA and SPICE, can be considered as the more relevant. Recently the IEEE WG P1903 was created to develop the concept of NGSON (Next Generation of Service Overlay Networks), a previous concept, SON (Service Overlay Network), was formulated with the intention to integrate service aware1 technologies created by SOA and delivered over multiple networks using SDP, but the concept lacked some critical features like continuity of the service over multiple networks, or the presentation of content over different devices, considering multiple and diverse contexts of environments. NGSON promises that these features are going to be included, so is natural to think that this new architectural model can revolutionize the way that today the industry develops and delivers the service over Telecommunications networks, this concept can be conceived as a big umbrella that not only integrates service aware models but also will allow the Telcos through the use of a powerful network scheme to provide the first truly pervasive service. The convergence of services, models and technologies in Telecommunications has been well criticized in the past, is obvious that adoption of convergence models hasn’t been massive or enthusiastic; can this new concept become the answer for Telcos seeking to keep services converging over their roof?
NGSON Brings To the Table…
Image courtesy of Paola Buelvas (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This concept can be thought as extra layer between the service and the network that today Telcos use to deliver service. What really calls the attention is that it allows the service provider to extend beyond its own network infrastructure to reach different networks, contents and even users. NGSON also includes three advance functionalities; Context Awareness, Dynamic Adaptation and Self-Organization. Context Awareness is a key tool for the service realization, it allows the network to evaluate the situational context of the user in multiple dimensions these being: the service, the user, the device and the network. The Dynamic Adaptation will allow the service to transcend beyond networks and devices (Total mobility) ensuring continuity. Self-Organization ensures that internal resources configuration of this new layer can adapt autonomously imitating the proved principle of resilience from the Internet. But what can you do with it? This architectural concept is divided in several layers and functions, investigation efforts and proof of concepts so far have focused on: User created service; the user choses from a list of services, those he wishes to be combined and delivered without having deep SW or telecommunication knowledge. As an option to provide temporal content storage and optimization functions providing core traffic offloading capabilities through its specialized layer that interfaces with the traditional transport networks. It also has been conceived as an option to aggregate Cloud computational resources. Finally, what I consider the one that generates more expectative is the possibility to provide a truly pervasive service; your identity, applications, contacts and preferences everywhere, in all your devices and without interruption.
The Technical Challenges Today
This effort is just starting and a lot remain to be done, given the current state of the art, the following challenges and work ahead needs to be considered to count with a complete technical proposal:
- Context Awareness feature must be used for traffic optimization delivery, P2P concepts can be integrated to optimize traffic movement through the network.
- The protocols to be executed in the different interfaces still unknown, but have to be compatible with the current service technologies in place.
- The layer that interfaces with the current Telco networks called the Delivery control plane hasn’t been completely developed; several issues and complexity definitions remain to be known.
- QoS transparently support is required throughout the different interfaces and layers of the model, needless to say how challenging this might be in some networks.
- Easy integration with Telco networks; the interconnection not only has to be possible, but has to be simple and very fast to deploy.
The Problems of the Past Could be Problems of Today
The industry has tried through different approaches to regain the user attention lost against the Internet content providers, the barriers of adoption faced by those different approaches are well known, let me summarize those barriers that I can recognize for NGSON and contrast it against its objectives and architecture definition:
- Failure to attract critical mass of applications developers for the Telecom service: The NGSON through its Service control layer that includes discovery, integration composition and routing seem to address this issue, but again without knowing the complexity definitions and compatibility with existing service platforms it’s difficult to forecast the success.
- Complexity of the model or service architecture: there are several dimensions of complexity to consider; for the model itself, for application developers, for integration with the existent service technologies, complexity to commercialize the model and to integrate it to the network of Telcos. Although the model seems to be realizable and simple enough at a high level to provide planning for growing and maintenance activities, the current information makes it hard to conclude if complexity will ruin the party.
- Compatibility: The dimensions to be compatible with are; current content providers and service platforms. Control protocols and signaling schemes both for user content delivery and control of resources and coordination among functional entities. Within current transport networks, again the communication protocols play a key role; it must also consider the negotiation of capabilities and resources for all possible transport networks. For this consideration NGSON implements in a separate way, a control plane for the service, another plane for unified signaling control and a different one for control of the media bearers, this is definitely one of the strongest points of this functional architecture.
- Time to market: When talking about adoption of new network infrastructure for service delivery (e.g WCDMA or LTE) is quite understandable that Telcos take their time, and even desirable that standardization bodies also pace their work. But when talking about the service creation infrastructure, time is a critical factor, if there isn’t a quick path of release and availability, the whole concept can be invalidated by a new service paradigm developed by industries less bound by convergence and complexity. NGSON doesn’t count with any advantages here.
- Services/Applications/Hooks: It has been proved that Telcos normally do not “nailed it”, when it comes to service creation, so this time around collaborative efforts must be convened, Internet innovators, young developers, content giants and groups of users must be called to make part of the service layer planning department. As usual, it seems very hard to find real collaborative efforts for NGSON, and no initiative is well known and strong enough to be taken into account for existing service aware technologies.
One of the main objectives of NGSON is to beneficiate, Content providers, Service Providers and users, the problem is that there seems to be a gap between the concept development and the communication of value to the possible key stakeholders, someone in the industry should bridge this gap.
What should the Industry do to Ensure Success?
Considering the huge potential this concept holds to provide the jump towards a new type of service for Telecommunication companies, and as a fan of technology, a professional of the industry and as a plain user, in my opinion this should the action plan for the industry:
- Take full advantage of advance features, this means in the short term, integrating under the technical functional concepts of EPC 4G, the various access technologies available, considering that one access technology would not reach as many users as all of them combined.
- Cannot be timid when it comes to displaying the capabilities of the architecture, in other words Telcos must give away the power of service creation to those who can execute it to the best this concept can provide.
- Industry must take the risk, different economy indicators are not favorable for Telcos anymore, ARPU continue to decline, and network usage spikes beyond reasonable network growing, It’s time!
- I’m not sure if everyone is convinced about services created by the user, but if the industry really believes that this could be the evolution path of the service, we need to start generating information about it, to explain it in a different way, the commercial conditions must be properly set.
I see this concept as an interesting opportunity that will provide the Telcos enough arguments for the first time to give away the control of service offering, ensuring economic survival and at the same time evolving towards the next phase of services.
So rephrasing the question that frames this blog: Would the new concept of service creation really revolutionize the industry? To the best of my understanding the NGSON is a well-conceived technical concept that overcomes several flaws of early approximations, has all the necessary components to be innovative and to become successful.
But, the cold truth is that still a lot of work to be done, various barriers faced by unified frameworks in the past still present today, industry leaders remain distant to the need of a new approach to the service, in other words innovators roles that could take us the next level remain vacant. In conclusion is a very interesting concept with huge potential, which has to overcome several non-trivial challenges but still have some time to accomplish its objective. As a user and fan of Telecommunications I really would like to see the realization of the service as promised by this interesting effort.
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- The concept of service awareness is a paradigm that conceives the service composition through high level functional blocks that abstract the complexity of lower transport and delivery layers