So as we proceed through this material, try not to get frustrated with the constant mix of services, technological discussions, and costing issues. From time to time, we may also introduce some extra technical notes that are for the more technically astute but can be ignored by the novice trying to progress through the industry. As you read about a topic, do so with a focus on systems, rather than individual technologies. We have tried to make these somewhat stand-alone chapters, yet we have also tied them together in bundles of three or four chapters to formulate a final telecommunications system. Do what you must to understand the information, but do not force it as you read. The pieces will all come together throughout the groupings of topics.
What Constitutes a Telecommunications System:
A network is a series of interconnections that form a cohesive and ubiquitous connectivity arrangement when all tied together. That sounds rather vague, so let’s look at the components of what constitutes the telecommunications network. The telecommunications network referred to here is the one that was built around voice communications but has been undergoing a metamorphosis for the past two decades. The convergence of voice and data is nothing new; we have been trying to run data over a voice network since the 1970s. However, to run data over the voice network, we had to make the data look like voice. This caused significant problems for the data because the voice network was noisy and error-prone. Reliability was a dream and integrity was unattainable, no matter what the price.
Generally speaking, a network is a series of interconnection points. The telephone companies over the years have been developing the connections throughout the world so that a level of cost-effective services can be achieved and their return on investment (ROI) can be met. As a matter of due course, whenever a customer wants a particular form of service, the traditional carriers offer two answers:
1. It cannot be done technically.
2. The tariff will not allow us to do that!
Regardless what the question happened to be, the telephone carriers were constantly the delay and the limiting factor in meeting the needs and demands for data and voice communications.
In order to facilitate our interconnections, the telephone companies installed wires to the customer’s door. The wiring was selected as the most economical to satisfy the need and the ROI equation. Consequently, the telephone companies installed the least expensive wiring possible. Because they were primarily satisfying the demand for voice communications, they installed a thin wire (26-gauge) to most customers whose locations were within a mile or two from the central office. At the demarcation point, they installed the least expensive termination device (RJ-11), satisfying the standard two-wire unshielded twisted pair communications infrastructure. The position of the demarcation point depended on the legal issues involved. In the early days of the telephone network, the telephone companies owned everything, so they ran the wires to an interface point and then connected their telephone equipment to the wires at the customer’s end. The point here is that the telephone sets were essentially commodity-priced items requiring little special effect or treatment.
When the data communications industry began during the late 1950s, the telephone companies began to charge an inordinate amount of money to accommodate this different service. Functionally, they were in the voice business and not the data business. As a matter of fact, to this day, most telephone companies do not know how to spell the word data ! They profess that they understand this technology, but when faced with tough decisions or generic questions, few of their people can even talk about the services. How sad, they will be left behind if they do not change quickly. New regulations in the U.S., in effect since the divestiture agreement, changed this demarcation point to the entrance of the customer’s building. From there, the customer hooked up whatever equipment was desired. Few people remember that in early 1980, a 2400-bps modem cost $10,000. The items that customers purchase from a myriad of other sources include all the pieces we see during the convergence process. In the rest of the world today, where full divestiture or privatization has not yet taken place, the telephone companies (or PTTs) still own the equipment. Other areas of the world have a hybrid system under which customers might or might not own their equipment. The combinations of this arrangement are almost limitless, depending on the degree of privatization and deregulation. However, the one characteristic that is common in most of the world to date is that the local provider owns the wires from the outside world to the entrance of the customer’s building. This local loop is now under constant attack from the wireless providers offering satellite service, local multipoint distribution services (LMDS), and multi-channel multi-point distribution services (MMDS). Moreover, the CATV companies have installed coaxial cable or fiber, if new wiring has been installed, and they offer the interconnection to business and residential consumers alike. The CLECs have also emerged as formidable foes to the local providers. They are installing fiber to many corporate clients (or buildings) with less expense and long-term write-off issues. The CLECs are literally walking away from the telephone companies and the local loop. Add the xDSL family of products to this equation and the telephone companies are running out of options. The telephone companies today have approximately 15,000 xDSL connections across the U.S., whereas the CLECs have over 200,000. Moreover, the cable TV companies have close to 800,000 cable modems installed for high-speed Internet access. This is where the CATV companies see the convergence taking place. CLECs are also seeing the convergence in the local loop, and with xDSL in their potpourri of offerings, they are actually nudging the local telephone
A Topology of Connections Is Used:
In the local loop, the topological layout of the wires has traditionally been a single-wire pair or multiple pairs of wires strung to the customer’s location. Just how many pairs of wires are needed for the connection of a single line set to a telecommunications system and network? The answer (one pair) is obvious. However, other types of services, such as digital circuits and connections, require two pairs. The use of a single or dual pair of wires has been the norm. More recently, the local providers have been installing a fourpair (eight wires) connection to the customer location. The end user is now using separate voice lines, separate fax lines, and separate data communications hookups. Each of these requires a two-wire interface from the LEC. However, if a CATV provider has the technology installed, they can get a single coax to satisfy the voice, fax, data, and highspeed Internet access on a single interface, proving the convergence is rapidly occurring at the local loop. It is far less expensive to install a coax running all services (TV, voice, and data) than multiple pairs of wire, so the topology is a dedicated local connection of one or more pairs from the telephone provider to the customer location or a shared coax from the CATV supplier. This is called a star and/or shared star-bus configuration . The telephone company connection to the customer originates from a centralized point called a central office (CO). The provider at this point might be using a different topology. Either a star configuration to a hierarchy of other locations in the network layout or a ring can be used. The ring is becoming a far more prevalent method of connection for the local Telcos. Although we might also show the ring as a triangle, it is still a functional and logical ring. These star/ring or star/bus combinations constitute the bulk of the networking topologies today. Remember one fundamental fact: the telephone network was designed to carry analog electrical signals across a pair of wires to recreate a voice conversation at both ends. This network has been built to carry voice and does a reasonable job of doing so. Only recently have we been transmitting other forms of communication, such as facsimile, data, and video.
The telephone switch (such as DMS-100 or #5ESS) makes routing decisions based on some parameter, such as the digits dialed by the customer. These decisions are made very quickly and a cross-connection is made in logic. This means that the switch sets up a logical connection to another set of wires. Throughout this network, more or fewer connections are installed, depending on the anticipated calling patterns of the user population. Sometimes there are many connections among many offices. At other times, it can be simple with single connections. The telephone companies have begun to see a shift in their traffic over the past few years. More data traffic is being generated across the networks than ever before. As a matter of fact, 1996 marked the first year that as much data was carried on the network as voice. Since that time, data has continued its escalated growth pattern, whereas voice has been stable.
The Local Loop:
Our interface to the telephone company network is the single-line telephone line, which has been installed for decades and is written off after 30 or 40 years. Each subscriber or customer is delivered at least one pair of wires per telephone line. There are exceptions to this rule, such as when the telephone company might have multiple users sharing a single pair of wires. If the number of users demanding telephone service exceeds the number of pairs available, a Telco might offer the service on a party-line or shared set of wires. It is in this outside plant, from the CO to the customer location, that 90 percent of all problems occur. This is not to imply that the Telco is doing a lousy job of delivering service to the customer. In the analog dial-up telephone network, each pair of the local loop is designed to carry a single telephone call to service voice conversations. This is a proven technology that works for the most part and continues to get better as the technologies advance. What has just been described is the connection at the local portion of the network. From there, the local connectivity must be extended out to other locations in and around a metropolitan area or across the country. The connections to other types of offices are then required.
The Telecommunications Network:
Prior to 1984, most of the network was owned by AT&T through its local Bell operating telephone companies. A layered hierarchy of office connections was designed around a five-level architecture. Each of these layers was designed around the concept of call completion. The offices were connected together with wires of various types called trunks . These trunks can be twisted pairs of wire, coaxial cables (like the CATV wire), radio (such as microwave), or fiber optics. As the convergence of voice and data networks continues, we see a revisitation to the older technologies as well as the new ones. Fiber is still the preferred medium from a carrier’s perspective. However, microwave radio is making a comeback in our telecommunications systems, linking door-to-door private line services. Carrying voice, data, video, and high-speed Internet access is a natural for a microwave system. Lightbased systems, however, are limited in their use by telephone companies. It has been user demand that has brought infrared light and now SONET-based infrared systems in place. Recently, the introduction of an unguided light introduced by Lucent Technologies operates at speeds up to 2.4 Gbps with a promised speed of up to 10 Gbps by end of 2000. This offers the connectivity to almost anyone who can afford the system, because the right of way is no longer an issue.
The Network Hierarchy (Post-1984):
After 1984, ownership of the network took a dramatic turn. AT&T separated itself from the Bell Operating Companies (BOCs), opening the door for more competition and new ventures. Equal access became a reality and users were no longer frustrated in their attempts to open their telecommunications networks to competition.
The Public-Switched Network:
The U.S. public-switched network is the largest and the best in the world. Over the years, the network has penetrated to even the most remote locations around the country. The primary call-carrying capacity in the U.S. is done through the public-switched network. Because this is the environment AT&T and the BOCs built, we still refer to it as the Bell System. However, as we’ve already seen, significant changes have taken place to change that environment. The public network enables access to the end office, connects through the long-distance network, and delivers to the end. This makes the cycle complete. Many companies use the switched network exclusively, while others have created variations depending on need, finances, and size. The network is dynamic enough, however, to pass the call along longer routes through the hierarchy to complete the call in the first attempt wherever possible.
The North American Numbering Plan:
The network-numbering plan was designed to enable a quick and discreet connection to any telephone in the country. The North American Numbering Plan , as it is called, works on a series of 10 numbers. As progress occurs, the use of Local Number Portability (LNP) and Intelligent Networks (IN) enables the competitors to break in and offer new services to the consumer. Note that there have been some changes in this numbering plan. When it originally was formulated, the telephone numbers were divided into three sets of sequences. The area codes were set to designate high-volume usage and enabled some number recognition tied to a state boundary. With the convergence in full swing, the numbering plan became a bottleneck. Now with the use of LNP, the Numbering Plan will completely become obsolete as we know it. No longer will we recognize the number by an area code and correlate it to a specific geographic area. LNP will make the number a fully portable entity. Moreover, 10-digit dialing in the age of convergence becomes the norm because of the multitude of area codes that will reside in a state.
Many companies created or built their own private networks in the past. These networks are usually cost-justified or based on the availability of lines, facilities, and special needs. Often these networks employ a mix of technologies, such as private microwaves, satellite communications, fiber optics, and infrared transmission. The convergence of the networks has further been deployed because of the mix of services that the telephone companies did not service well. Many companies with private networks have been subjected to criticisms because the networks were misunderstood. Often the networks were based on voice savings and could not be justified. Now that the telecommunications networks and systems are merging, the demand for higher-speed and more availability is driving either a private network or a hybrid.
Some companies have to decide whether to use a private- or public-switched network for their voice, data, video, and Internet needs. Therefore, these organizations use a mix of services based on both private and public networks. The high-end usage is connected via private facilities creating a Virtual Private Network (VPN), while the lower-volume locations utilize the switched network. Installing private-line facilities comes from the integration of voice, data, video, graphics, and facsimile transmissions. Now VPNs are used on the Internet to guarantee speed, throughput, quality of service, and reliability. This new wave of VPN takes up where the voice VPNs left off. Only by combining these services across a common circuitry will many organizations realize a savings.
Equipment in the telephony and telecommunications business is highly varied and complex. The mix of goods and services is as large as the human imagination, yet the standard types are the ones that constitute the ends on the network. The convergence and computerization of our equipment over the years has led to significant variations. The devices that hook up to the network are covered in various other chapters, but here is a summary of certain connections and their functions in the network:
• The Private branch exchange ( PBX)
• The modem (data communications device)
• The multiplexer (enables more users on a single line)
• Automatic call distributor (ACD)
• Voice mail system (VMS)
• Automated attendant (AA)
• Radio systems
• Cellular telephones
• Facsimile machines
• CATV connections
• Web-enabled call centers
• Integrated voice recognition and response systems
This is a sampling of the types of equipment and services you will encounter in dealing with Telecommunications Systems and convergence in this industry.