What Network Transformation Means in 2020

By: Mark Delaney, GCS

Beginning about 10 years ago (give or take a few years), telecom carriers finally capitulated and accepted the reality that they needed to begin reinvesting in their networks and transforming them into the next-generation networks of the future. Initially, many carriers were reluctant to make these investments. Sure, these networks—and the associated technologies—offered new capabilities, but carriers had spent the last 50+ years perfecting and refining their voice networks. 

The Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) did its job well and many of the investments had already been made. Why change? 

This reality provided quite an impediment to the bevy of new solution providers who were touting the advantages of IP—and VoIP in particular. Why pursue this massive forklift upgrade of core network infrastructure when the PSTN seemed to be doing not just an adequate but an excellent job of supporting voice communications?  Why fix something that isn’t broken?

Revolutionary, not evolutionary benefits

As with all new technological revolutions, VoIP didn’t offer just evolutionary benefits, it offered revolutionary benefits. These technologies could greatly reduce the sophistication required to operate voice networks. Despite their reluctance to make these investments, carriers knew that voice was rapidly approaching commoditization on a global scale. Gone were the days where Sprint, AT&T, and others could claim superior quality over their competitors and command premiums and continued customer loyalty because of this quality. Carriers knew that their voice business would be shifting to a commodity market that would be governed by low differentiation and dynamic market demands. The questions were no longer “if” and “how” it would happen, but “when” it would happen and “how” carriers would respond.

Some carriers—the early movers—made these investments immediately, while others chose the wait-and-see approach (as if they were trying to time the market). But what became clear was the inevitability of IP/VoIP and what that meant to the carriers. They clearly needed to invest in their voice business, choose to sell it off or—in some cases—let it die.  

IP networks and highway systems

What was it about IP technologies, and VoIP in particular, that contributed to this inevitability?  IP network technologies are data-based networks. They are analogous to interstate highway systems. On the highway, you have cars transporting passengers, trucks transporting freight and packages, police cars transporting criminals, ambulances transporting patients, buses transporting tourists, construction vehicles… you get the point. The highway wasn’t designed to support transportation of one particular type of package. The engineers who designed it did not care what was being transported. Its purpose was transportation regardless of the package. IP data-based networks have been similarly designed. Similarly, if one can “data-fy” their package, one can use the IP network to transport it.  


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