Editor's Note: This holistic SearchTelecom.com series, Service delivery platforms: Changing the networking paradigm, telecom-industry consultant Tom Nolle looks at how SDPs fit into next-generation network architecture and the business advantages they provide for carriers.
The business goals of network operators can be translated into one high-level technical mission in a single statement: Make networks increasingly valuable to customers. Pervasive network connectivity is only two decades old, and for a while, the mandate for value creation was satisfied by providing connectivity. But today, revenue-per-bit is eroding by 50% a year, which is a clear indicator that a new value paradigm is necessary if service providers are to stay in business, and that relies on service delivery platforms (SDPs).
Ironically, the roots of that paradigm have been around longer than the Internet. Voice calling as a service certainly demands connectivity, but even in the 1980s, it was well known that the value of voice calling was increasingly built on "custom calling" services like caller ID, call forwarding, call waiting and voicemail.
SDPs can package connectivity with valuable applications
Connectivity needs to be packaged into a series of applications that contribute in a positive way to how people live and work. In the PSTN, the Advanced Intelligent Network initiative provided a framework for enhancing voice services. A similar framework is now needed to enhance the utility of universal IP-based connectivity in a converged world.
Service delivery platforms (SDPs) provide that new framework by creating a standards-based set of APIs and protocols to link downward into the network to control connectivity and quality of service (QoS), and another set to link upward into application resources, databases and repositories of identity, presence and other customer data.
The service layer must be even more agile than the network because service value depends on creating a valuable mission for every network user.
President, CIMI Corp.
SDPs provide a sandbox for developing service features and assembling them into opportunity- or competition-driven service offerings. These offerings include voice services but can extend far beyond into message, content, location, advertising, and even telemetry and control applications.
Converged networks use general tools -- routers and switches -- to assemble universal connectivity resources, departing from the silo-services vision of the past. But to monetize their converged infrastructure, they need the same kind of generalized-tool approach to the service layer.
Service layers require the agility to personalize services
In fact, the service layer must be even more agile than the network because service value depends on creating a valuable mission for every network user. That level of personalization demands first a sense of the customer that transcends service boundaries and then the flexibility to adapt to that customer's behavior as an individual, without creating performance and operations problems that would overwhelm the opportunity with costs.
In the future, network services will become ever more abstracted from the basic facilities of transport and connection that have been the mainstay of networking from the beginning.
The bottom line is that the networks themselves are not less valuable; rather, their value increasingly depends on a higher-layer service mission that fits directly into the customer's personal or business agenda. Creating this new set of service missions, and defending value-based services against competitive threats, not only justifies but mandates SDP investment.
About the author: Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corporation, a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982. He is a member of the IEEE, ACM, TMF and IPsphere Forum, and the publisher of Netwatcher, a journal in advanced telecommunications strategy issues. Check out his SearchTelecom.com networking blog, Uncommon Wisdom.