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Will there be a next generation network?


By Scott Bradner


The ITU recently held a workshop on "Next Generation Networks: What, When and How?"  The assumption in many of the presentations at the workshop was that there would be a new IP network in the future that will augment then replace the Internet.  It was an interesting view, one that is not unexpected from the traditional telephone companies but one that brings a strong sense of deja vu.


The goals of the workshop included:


o Understand the service and technology drivers for NGN.

o Explore the emerging New generation service challenges.

o Examine how NGN and the Internet are complementary.

o Identify key standards needed, and discuss how standards gaps can be filled.


The presentations, all of which are online at <>, were mostly by representatives of traditional telephone companies, or companies that supply them with equipment.  A few presentations by ITU-T study group chairs and others, including one about what is going on in the, filled out the agenda.  Many of the presentations were quite well done and presented but, to me, represented a view of modern data networking with which I am not familiar.  (To paraphrase Bobby Jones talking about Jack Nicklaus, but I do not think the network they described is quite as real as Mr. Nicklaus.)


One theme that showed up in a number of presentations was that, since the Internet was not robust, reliable, secure or predictable, the carriers were going to have to develop a new IP-based network that would run in parallel to the Internet.  This new network would be all the things that the Internet is not (at least in some minds) and thus would attract business away from the Internet to an environment that one presentation said would have to include per-session billing for use.  The assumption is this new network, which is the Next Generation Network of the workshop title, might eventually replace the existing Internet.


This is an idea that does not want to die.  I ran into the idea at a next generation network conference I attended in the early 1990s.  I was on a panel that previewed the recent ITU-T workshop.  The question asked of the panel was something like 'is the Internet the model for the national network infrastructure' (the name in those days for next generation network). One of my co-panelists argued that the network of the future would be ATM-based and the other that it would be cable-TV based.  At that time I said, in essence, that the Internet <ital on>was<ital off> the network of the future and it was too late to replace it.


A decade or so later I said the same thing in the ITU-T workshop.  I still do not think that the Internet is reliably crappy enough to drive the creation of a new network.  I may not be right, time will tell that, but at least I'm consistent.


disclaimer:  Consistency turns out to be only a temporary condition in the context of organizations of the age of Harvard, but the above is my consistent opinion.