Integrated Access Devices: Bridging the Gap between Modern IP Networks and End Users
Annual Review of Communications - International Engineering Consortium Vol 55

Peter Hall
Chief Operating Officer
Braintree Communications Pty Ltd

Integrated access devices (lADs) and intelligent protocol conversion is nothing new. However, the importance of the two is increasing rapidly as new-generation Internet proto­col (IP) networks become more readily available for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs).

The importance of lADs is rapidly increasing due to the slow uptake of modern lP networks by the SME market. Modern networks offer numerous added benefits to SMEs, so it is difficult to understand why the migration to the modern networks is slow. To explore the issues facing the SME market that is influencing the slow uptake, we will dis­cuss the role that lADs and protocol conversion can play in overcoming this problem.

There are many facets to the SME markets reluctance whilst home users and larger corporates are experiencing the ben­efits that modern networks have to offer. Why is it that the SMEs maintain their existing legacy networks?

To understand the situation, we need to look at all stakeholders involved with migrating SME end users onto IP net­works. The stakeholders exist of three major parties in the communications process: the carriers, the service providers, and the end users.

To understand the end-user environment and reluctance to migrate, business needs to understand the end user’s per­spective in migrating their businesses to a new network infrastructure. Do the benefits of the new network outweigh the costs involved in accessing this network?

The SME market does not argue that modern networks offer more benefits in comparison to their existing infrastructure. SMEs can gain access to new services, faster connection times, more reliable services, and long-term cost reductions. If SMEs can easily relate to the benefits, then why not migrate to the new networks?

There are three hurdles associated with migrating to modern networks facing SMEs, with one common underlying theme. The three hurdles consist of high capital costs in migrating, higher employee training costs, and higher support costs.

The underlying theme is the increase in costs in migrating to modern networks. Although SMEs can understand the benefits associated with the new networks, the costs associ­ated with migrating are far too high for the majority of SMEs. SMEs do not have access to large amounts of dis­posable capital that would enable them to migrate. SMEs cannot justify migrating to the elite option if their existing basic network infrastructure performs the job adequately and reliably.

To overcome such reluctance, carriers and service providers need to address the end-user hurdles. The first financial hur­dle is to replace all existing legacy equipment with modern appliances. Modern network protocols are significantly dif­ferent from many legacy network protocols. Customer-premises equipment (CPE) needs to speak the correct lan­guage (protocol) to be able to migrate to the new network. Therefore, SMEs will need to replace all existing equipment. This is simply an unrealistic financial burden that many SMEs cannot justify. There lies the largest hurdle in the reluctance to uptake new networks.

The second hurdle is the increased costs in employee train­ing. All employees will need training on the new equip­ment, which will not only be expensive, but also slow and frustrating for the SME. Most SMEs may need to replace all existing equipment simultaneously, not allowing the migra­tion to be phased in over time. This places a significant financial burden on SMEs through employee training and business downtime.

The third hurdle is the support costs. Learning on the new equipment SMEs will no doubt require ongoing support as they adapt their new network to “fit” their business processes.

After understanding the situation from the end user’s point of view, we can now look at the problems facing the other stakeholders in the communications process. Business needs to understand the importance of migrating existing customers to modern IP networks.

As modern IF networks evolve, it is becoming increasingly important for the carriers and service providers of commu­nications networks to migrate existing customers from redundant legacy networks onto these modern networks. The modern IP networks consist of numerous cost-saving benefits for the carriers and service providers, particularly in network management and maintenance.

Carriers and service providers also have limited services that they can offer to existing customers on these legacy net­works. New services that are being developed are increas­ingly designed for the modern IP networks with the aim to phase out costly legacy networks

However, carriers and service providers do not want to tell customers throw to out all of their old hardware because there is a new network. They are faced with competitive dis­counting to entice customers onto the new networks.

Rather than trying to sell new products that are compatible with modern IP networks, carriers and service providers need to consider the SME markets that do not have access to disposable capital or the business case to upgrade their existing equipment.

When looking at what is connected to existing networks, there is a big list of legacy protocols. Carriers and service providers could not say to major customers that the network is being replaced with IP only. lADs are a solution to inte­grating the communications equipment already installed at the site with a view of migration to IP using intelligent, yet seamless, protocol conversion. This allows rapid roll out of new networks with minimal customer resistance and future services deployment without using a technician.

lADs and intelligent protocol conversion cost-effectively entice end users to migrate to modern IF networks. lADs allow end users to connect their existing equipment onto the modern networks without having to purchase a new office full of equipment.

lADs can offer a fully integrated solution for a business’s entire communications network into a single carrier line, significantly reducing communications costs. SMEs today use a variety of separate lines dedicated for specific func­tions—for example, several public switched telephone net­work (PSTN) lines for the phone, fax, and personal com­puter (PC) with Internet connection, a dedicated line for electronic point-of-service (P05) financial transactions, and a leased line for security monitoring equipment. Four or more separate lines dedicated to individual functions. Some IADs on the market overcome this by offering a fully inte­grated solution for a business’s entire communications net­work. lADs can connect any asynchronous or synchronous devices, such as PCs, with Internet connection, a standard telephone/fax system, security monitoring equipment, POS terminals, and other services to a single network connection (see Figures 1 and 2).

lADs currently on the market are a simple plug-and-play technology that makes installing a modern IP network easier than a new VCR. The plug-and-play technology allows users to plug into the network, immediately minimizing down time. Quick and easy installation and use is another impor­tant aspect in migrating end users to modern networks.

The carriers and service providers could offer these access devices as inclusive with the installation costs. Carriers and service providers have the business case to carry this initial cost that will, in the long term, reduce their costs signifi­cantely by phasing out legacy networks fasten This will allow SMEs to quickly migrate to modern IP networks that will benefit all stakeholders.

Australia’s largest telecommunications carrier successfully addressed these issues by offering an IAD with their inte­grated services digital network (ISDN) as part of the instal­lation cost. This product enables end users to immediately connect their existing legacy equipment to an ISDN service without the capital cost increase to burden the SME. This solution is currently being successfully deployed through­out the Australian retail industry.

The carrier and service provider can remotely manage and maintain the network from a central management center through the lADs. This enables remote downloading of new software, which allows the simple deployment of network upgrades. This provides an extended life cycle of the lAD by adapting to the requirements of the users and their busi­nesses. Network diagnostics can be managed without hav­ing to send a technician to the user’s premises. This will decrease the downtime that a user may experience in a net­work failure.

Network management becomes easier, more cost-effective, quicker in downloading new services, and easier and quicker to maintain - all without the need for field techni­cians to go to the user premises.

Put simply, the lADs remote management capabilities sim­plify and centralizes the manageability of an entire network, easily reducing the costs incorporated in managing and main­taining the network. Remote management also provides the ability to move with new directions in communications, sig­nificantly increasing the devices potential and life cycle.

A retail petrol seller in Australia usually contains several businesses: gas pumps, mechanics, food stores, and take­out such as Burger King. With the IAD, it is possible for all of these businesses to use the same connection, significantly reducing communications costs.

These devices will enable carriers and service providers to quickly phase out expensive legacy networks that are fast becoming obsolete. Maintenance and management can now be performed remotely, reducing costs significantly. Both the service providers and the carriers can offer new services to customers that can be offered only on the mod­ern IP networks. The end user can now access the benefits available on modern IP networks in a cost-effective and timely manner

With the reduction in new communications equipment pur­chases experienced in 2001, it is important to have the mech­anisms to allow companies to access new technologies without the huge capital expense. With this in mind, the impor­tance of protocol conversion and IADs will increasingly play an important role not only for SMEs, but also for the business population wanting to keep up with cutting-edge technology infrastructure.

SMEs want reliability of service, speed, security, simplicity, and upgradeability. Having the latest technology would be great but on a cost basis it is not feasible for the majority of the SME market. lADs bridge this gap between the modern networks and the end user. All stakeholders in the commu­nications process can benefit from this intelligent protocol conversion device.


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