Recently, like me you may have noticed a significant increase in attention being paid to Next Generation Network (NGN) technology, not only in the tech and telco press but also in more mainstream business titles.

Despite this apparent increase, it can still be argued that there is not nearly enough practical information being provided to businesses.

Many IT managers are confused as to the realities of working with this technology or even what the exact definition of a NGN is, and as the proliferation of NGN technology becomes more widespread this could become a problem.

This article will aim to clarify definitions of NGNs, address common misconceptions and identify the challenges and opportunities that IT managers will be presented with.

Essentially NGNs are designed to deliver multiple communication services (voice, data, video etc) to end users via packet based technologies. A NGN is able to carry and prioritise these different IP traffic types as a result of the MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) network located at its core.

One reason that NGNs are receiving so much attention is because of the support for multiple high speed access technologies (DSL and Ethernet are currently two of the most commonly used access technologies) used to connect sites and individual users.

Prior to the development of NGNs, individual communication services were delivered via networks designed with that particular service specifically in mind. As a result of this practice there now exists a surplus of complicated and expensive legacy networks.

This trend has also made it difficult to develop new services, increase capacity and deploy business solutions capable of integrating multiple services. These issues are part of the reason that many providers with legacy services like PSTN/ISDN, SDH Leased Lines, ATM and Frame Relay are now keen to replace their networks with NGN technology.

Another reason for the increasing popularity of NGNs is the inherent flexibility of the technology. Increased flexibility can be attributed to the fact that a NGN’s transport layer, based on IP/MPLS, and its service layer are independent of each other. As a result, new services can be added without needing to change the transport layer. This means that a service provider or customer can implement a Wide Area Network (WAN) for transporting data traffic between sites, but could add a VoIP service at a later date without causing significant disruption to the underlying network.

NGNs are all about replacing multiple networks with a single network so one of the first tasks IT managers face is sourcing an appropriate network that can support current and future business applications, has the right access technologies to connect sites and users into the network, and fits in commercially with what the organisation is trying to do.

From a data perspective, a decision has to be made regarding the location of application servers, for example, these could be moved out of the office and into a data centre connected via the NGN. Other decisions must be made regarding the provision of voice; do you want to move to VoIP? Where do you want to locate the IP PBX - at headquarters with remote handsets spread around the network or centralised in a data centre?

Alternatively a hosted IP voice service could be implemented. When making these plans it is essential that IT managers consider what applications they will need in the future as well as those which are required immediately so that they are effectively integrated onto the network to service the sites and the users that are spread throughout the company.

NGNs are transforming the way services are delivered to end users. This change in the delivery of Internet access, MPLS VPNs, Hosted IT and VoIP services, video conferencing, security services and online back-up services will change the game for vendors, resellers and end-users alike.

It is therefore important that all parties are aware of the realities and logistics of working with this technology. By educating themselves on the realities of what this technology consists of, the reasons it is required, and what it can offer, all parties will be taking the first steps to ensuring that migration is as smooth as possible.

Michael Davies is head of product management at Viatel