Converged Networks Create Simple Connections

By Bill Karambelas

When Alexander Graham Bell called for Mr. Watson to come in from the next room, never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined today’s complex world of “telecommunications.” From simple dial tone to Internet to data transfer to videoconference to frame relay, how could he have possibly known his simple discovery would link the world in such an utterly complex (some say chaotic) manner?

Most of us don’t quite understand how we got to this stage. Within all the cyber technology, I think it’s safe to say that most businesses today don’t know a voice switch from a data network, let alone how they all work together to make the phones work, provide Internet access, transfer data, and deliver e-mail. But these simple devices that we take for granted are the backbone of today’s business world,and virtually every other aspect of our modern-day lives. We may not see how they all work together (nor do many care), but for a business, understanding the basics of how our vital communication services “connect”,and how they can be simplified,can help reduce operating costs and create economies of scale of our vital communication services.

The typical business (whether executives realize it or not) uses and pays for separate networks for data, voice, frame relay, Internet, and interoffice communications traffic. Most of these networks are designed to operate independently, although interface is common. Still, because these networks are separate, the result often is redundancy,(translation: double or triple operating and maintenance costs).

Hello, Operator?

How did telecommunications get so complex? Basically, the original function of telecommunications,voice communication,has been surpassed by data communications. Gone are the days when telephone calls were transferred by friendly operators. The majority of information being passed through telecommunications networks today is data-based (text, graphic, video, images, and other forms of digitized information). Dedicated networks are required to accommodate the different functions in addition to regular voice traffic.

Enter the Converged Network

But where technology might have created this complex web (a truly accurate and ingenious description of the mess we call telecommunications), it’s just as likely to correct the problem. Technological advances are enabling telecommunications carriers to simplify communication networks through “converged networks.”

The idea behind a converged network is to integrate data, voice, and video communications over a common infrastructure. The converged networks can simplify corporate intranet and Internet access, as well as high-speed data network transport.

GST Telecommunications is an example of an organization that is moving in the direction of simplifying the telecommunications world for businesses. Like most telecommunications companies, GST currently operates several mutually exclusive communications networks. The company’s Virtual Integrated Transport and Access (VITA) network will combine each independent system onto a single network infrastructure. By creating the next generation VITA network (it sounds complex, but stick with me), GST is helping businesses reduce network management, improve network control, and enhance access and reliability to critical telecommunications services.

How it Works

When a business uses one of its dial-up functions such as voice, data, and Internet, and intranet networks, the service is forwarded to one switching device and transported to a common backbone network. In VITA’s case the individual lines will be put on GST’s backbone system, enabling direct links to GST’s network, other frame relay networks, the Internet, or other carrier networks.

GST’s VITA network is supported by an extensive fiber-optic network throughout the western United States. These fiber networks provide the needed “bandwidth” (speed and capacity) to transfer voice, data, and video information. This month, GST will “turn-up” its long-haul fiber-optic network that runs from San Francisco’s East Bay to Los Angeles and extends to Phoenix, Albuquerque, and Las Vegas. This network provides needed “bandwidth” along the north-south California corridor and into the southwestern United States.

But is it User-Friendly?

The advances being made through converged networks such as VITA are part of the ongoing transformation of how people communicate,whether for business, government functions, consumer banking, education, shopping, entertainment, or social correspondence. Converged networks promise enhanced reliability, integrity, security, capacity, speed, and ease,all at a higher quality of service and at increasingly attractive prices.

Perhaps I oversimplified, but the advantage of a converged network lies in its simplicity and practical applications. The technology and how it all works is truly complex, but not incomprehensible. The idea is to take the multi-networks of an organization and put them together in one neat package that operates a single system. Add reliability, enhanced functions, flexibility, and affordability and what you have is a converged network that can better meet the increasingly diverse communication needs of a business or organization.

And if Alexander Graham Bell were alive today, he’d be amazed at how much the simplicity of a converged system mirrors the remarkable theory of telephony he stumbled across more than a century ago.

Bill Karambelas is vice president and general manager of GST Telecom California,Southern California. GST Telecom California is a subsidiary of Vancouver, Wash.-based GST Telecommunications, Inc.

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