Network Convergence 101: Examples and Perspectives that Form a Connected World
Our world revolves around our access to media and technology, so we can do things like video streaming, internet shopping, and video conferencing with our peers, families, or friends. The growing need for access to these types of services is at the heart of our evolving networks and systems. Network convergence allows for seamless access where and when we want to use these tools in our life.
In this article, we will uncover what network convergence is and how it works. We will speak to the infrastructure and history, the challenges and successes of converged networks and examples of where we see it happening in our everyday world. Equally, we will dive into the future and what capabilities network convergence will offer in our evolving technology culture.
What Is Network Convergence?
Network convergence, simply put, is the process of merging existing network systems into a singular, multi-model communication platform that broadens use for users. It includes the integration of telecommunications, broadcasting, and internet networks. Network convergence is often referred to as “media convergence,” which relates to the merging of media systems, as we are seeing these systems converging currently.
Types of Network Convergence
The first type of convergence is the basic combination and connection of systems where professionals look at singular systems and the infrastructure necessary to bring them together for a simpler and broader use. The second type is the convergence of telecommunications, which includes cellular, internet, and streaming systems that can converge into a single platform for the user.
Other examples of network convergence include:
- Toyota utilized both system and infrastructure convergence to set up more streamlined and efficient solutions for video, voice, and data platforms. This type of network convergence enabled them to deploy any internet-protocol based software without adding additional physical structures.
- BDO Stoy Howard, an accountancy firm, wanted to provide employees a way to access voice options on several types of devices in various locations. The company merged voice network options using converged and centralized systems hosted by Teleware to achieve this goal.
Services Affected by Network Convergence
Clearly, network convergence doesn’t exist in a bubble as it enables many technologies to interact and connect with each other. The field of media and broadcasting benefit from network convergence by being able to offer streaming video, webcasting, and video conference. Perhaps, where we see the biggest revolution powered by network convergence is with the internet and how people use it for online banking and shopping, collaboration, e-mail, gaming, and more.
History of Convergence and Those Involved
With the diversity and depth of network systems in our world, there are authorities that oversee some processes around our communications environment. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. In the U.S., Congress and the FCC are responsible for creating and monitoring polices around network convergence.
As historical communications shifted, we saw the introduction of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which encouraged competition in the communications market and provided new guidance around regulations to oversee it. The act put in motion additional regulation and deregulation over the last 20 years to accommodate the shifts and evolutions of technology.
Converged Network Vs. Mono-networks: How History Has Shaped Our Systems
Network convergence has brought about the creation of mono-networks. A mono-network is created during the process of convergence when some networks and their infrastructure are considered in the process, but other networks are disregarded that once were all part of a bigger system. Focusing on one network, and not considering the needs of the other creates this discrepancy and must be taken into consideration when thinking about convergence. Converged networks provide options for users, mono-networks do not. Additionally, converged networks take into account the ability for all networks to utilize the same equipment and infrastructure.
The Architecture of Networks: A Look at Infrastructure and Standardization
Every day we interact with data. Using our technology, whether knowingly or unknowing, data is the information we gather, both qualitative and quantitative. This accumulation of data is a key consideration in network convergence since it is an important factor in how networks converge, maintain, and use this data; as well as how it is kept and provided to the user.
There are various pieces of infrastructure to consider with networks and data. These include, but not limited to:
- Fibre Channel
There are two ways to look at network convergence via infrastructure: ethernet or Fibre Channel. Both are different types of physical infrastructure used to deliver data and information in networks. Ethernet and Fibre Channel are two different technologies that are critical to the backbone of networks.
Infrastructure also needs to address broadband strength and availability of data. Quality of Service (QoS) systems are tools used to control and maintain data flow. Convergence of infrastructure allows for four new capabilities with these systems:
- Classification for traffic types
- Control of traffic
- Monitors for congestion
- Bridge for data
Quality Service Is Key in Converged Networks
The ability for customers to access every technology they want on one platform certainly is a vision for converged networks. However, quality is key. Users are looking for quality service. Creating an opportunity to use their cell phone to access a variety of services improve the quality of the product they are using. The experience also needs to be seamless, where glitches and faulty products are limited to non-existent. That’s why telco’s tend to evaluate quality based on speed, amount of dropped calls, and the overall integrity of the connection. This need for quality fuels the evolution of networks to deliver better quality at higher bandwidths.
Network convergence is working to create the most successful user experience, but there are always lessons learned in the process. Some include both the simplification of the architecture of converged networks, creating methods that customers can use to manage their own or converging networks that provide a seamless visualization for the end user. For example, cell phones provide convergence in accessing media, streaming, and email in one device, but movement and usage of those features have become more seamless with time and feedback.
Network professionals are also focusing on the security of these systems as the converge. For instance, what malware is necessary for protection, how do you protect the user, and what information needs to remain private. A good example is how our healthcare system utilizes online platforms to collect personal information. Privacy is of the upmost importance as companies develop converged networks and deliver them to organizations to handle their critical and often confidential data.
The Advantages of Network Convergence
Converged networks are moving us into a new world of technology. These systems provide flexibility and scalability in how we use our services, providing organizations and users new ways to interact with their technology. As well, they provide a seamless and smooth platform where the operator of a network or system can move back and forth between those services without barriers or glitches.
Cell phones offer a great example of this convergence. Users have access to streaming, media, telecommunications, and video conferencing simultaneously. Edward Schmit, Assistant Vice President with AT&T Entertainment Group, talks about the remarkable shift in 2006 around cellular devices and how options expanded for users to stream videos, access news, and embrace navigation.
He highlights this notable work stating, “A striking network capability is how we are unlocking entertainment for consumers in ways that haven’t been done before. We are changing things in a fundamental way. We are heading into greater change, greater opportunity, and impacting people in a deeper way.”
Not only did this example highlight cost-savings for users and organizations with converged networks, but the possibilities to change the user engagement with devices. One cell phone can provide an outlet of tools and simultaneously drives down the need for multiple platforms to experience services.
Network convergence also offers IT specialists, who operate and manage networks in a professional setting, a simplistic way to manage the information and data by reducing the systems they have to interact with on a regular basis. Converged networks can support higher utilization of resources within the company and can bring down power consumption.
The Challenges Surrounding Network Convergence
There are a few considerations in converging networks that cause concern in the market. These challenges are a result of continued learning about the capabilities of networks and their ability to create new options. These challenges include:
- Barriers of our current bandwidth
- Cost to both users and organizations
- Limited standards in how networks converge and the infrastructure surrounding them
- Moving to a converged system creates the potential risk to the business in the event of disruption and can leave them without another system to utilize
- Bottlenecks, unforeseen in infrastructure of the converged system
- Storage becomes an integrated system, opening issues for storage management
Hyper-Convergence: What Is It and How It Relates to Network Convergence
Daily, we touch data, media, streaming information, and interact with telecommunications. These various services coming together, for use on things like mobile devices, create a hyper-converged network (HCN) or hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI). An HCN consists of a physical Ethernet/IP-based network fabric that connects HCI appliances within a single rack, across multiple racks, across pods, and across data centers. The goal of an HCN is to converge the “LAN” and the storage area network (SAN) into a single fabric. HCN’s can allow storage and data lines to become one, taking away the need for two systems. The benefit of a hyper-converged network is that it offers simplicity and cost-savings for its users and the individuals managing those networks. Read the Introductory Guide to the Hype and Hope of Hyperconvergence to learn more about the topic and the role of HCI.
The Future of Network Convergence: Infinite Possibilities
As experts continue to develop the next generation of mobile devices and internet services, they continue to learn best practices and get an idea about what’s to come. Margaret Kosal, Associate Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, speaks about the importance of how people use technology, and that it is important to see the interaction of human and technology networks as they converge and change. Kosal says, “This is an area of impact where we can dive deeper. Understanding the networks of people and how we bridge to the technology networks can move us forward.”
The possibilities seem limitless, and each rollout of new technology unveils a new phase of network capabilities possible with converged networks. AT&T’s Schmit speaks to the future of possibilities in our networks stating, “Converged networks are changing things in a fundamental way. We are heading into greater change and greater opportunity. It is impacting people in a deeper way.”
Carriers have been working hard over the years to follow their respective technology paths that will eventually lead to a convergence between networks that will improve overall quality and make switching cell phones between carriers infinitely easier. We are beginning to see this type of network convergence come to fruition.
AT&T is thinking broadly and deeper about how these systems can impact people. The company is looking at how we consume information and entertainment, learning from experience and embracing the possibilities that network convergence can afford. There will be the continued opportunity to create a one-stop shop type of model on the user side. Cell phones are a prime example, but more opportunities are among us. Professionals, like those at AT&T are looking at the next generation of technology and networks, like 5G and virtual reality programs. They are engaging in how services can be more than two-dimensional and how we may use virtual reality products as part of our everyday tools. With lessons learned, the possibilities are endless.
Convergence Trends Will Continue With 5G
Paragraph text: Entertainment will become ambient. We will dip in and out of the entertainment flows, engaging in offerings that are contextually relevant and always available. Read about the array of technologies — from augmented reality (AR) to artificial intelligence (AI), immersive media to “magical” interfaces — that is driving this transformation in the AT&T Futurist Report: Blended Reality–The Future of Entertainment, 5G, & Mobile Edge Computing
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*The views expressed in this presentation do not necessarily reflect the views of AT&T