The Carrier Conundrum

Michael Vizard

You can't help but wonder with all the recent advances in network infrastructure technology these days why the quality of the networking services that customers actually receive is still such an issue. After all, with demand for network bandwidth rising for both mobile and cloud computing services, you might think that carriers would be trying to outdo each other in terms of delivering higher quality services as part of a concerted effort to gain market share.

But it turns out that the real problem carriers have is managing scale based on existing router and switching technology. Simply put, the expense associated with managing a carrier-grade network rises with each additional router and switch. In fact, the whole network infrastructure has reached a state of fragility that is probably going to require the introduction of new networking architectures if we're ever really going to address the core issue.

Case in point is the new Converged Supercore switch from Juniper Networks. Capable of speeds of up to 3800 terabits, the new Juniper switch combines optical transport and packet switching technologies in one combined platform. According to Luc Ceuppens, vice president of product marketing for Juniper Networks, this approach will make it easier for carriers and Internet service providers (ISPs) to slipstream optical transport technology into their environment without having to abandon packet switching all together.

There are probably several ways to go about addressing the many network bandwidth issues that carriers face. But they all require some form of capital investment. You can't help but wonder, however, if the slow pace at which new networking technologies are being deployed is the result of an honest evaluation of available technology, or is it because by creating an artificial constraint on a resource, the carriers see an opportunity to maximize short-term profits by getting people used to paying for, among other things, data plans for their mobile computing devices?

The carriers would no doubt deny this. But the fact of the matter is that none of the carriers in the U.S. have much in the way of credibility. So maybe the time has come for some committee in Congress to open some hearings concerning what's really happening with the country's network infrastructure, which we would all agree is crucial to our global ability to compete.

In the course of those hearings it would be enlightening to hear what industry experts have to say about the way the carriers are managing that network infrastructure and the impact that constrained network bandwidth is having on businesses.

This means that there might be some legitimate carrier issues that need to be aired. But the one thing that is for certain is that there is a general lack of transparency when it comes to the network infrastructure being managed by the carriers. And as a regulated industry under the auspices of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the public has the right to know a lot more than it does today. So don't forget to drop your local congressional representative a line about the state of broadband in the U.S. just to help get the ball rolling.
 



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