Telecom Eyes Platform-Based Design

By Cheryl Ajluni

Researchers expect that, throughout 2005, the mobile and wireless market will maintain a positive trajectory. While this may spell good times ahead for carriers and telecommunications vendors supplying next-generation equipment, obstacles still lay ahead. In particular, vendors will face increasing challenges from low-cost operators, mobile operators and Voice over IP (VoIP). As a result, they are now exploring platform-based design as a tool for meeting these challenges.

According to Grant Hyde, market research firm Deloitte’s (www.deloitte.com.au) Regional Leader for Telecommunications in Asia Pacific, “By year-end there will be close to 2 billion subscribers and several markets will have penetration in excess of 100%. In addition, billions of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags will be deployed, marking the start of another major wireless revenue stream.” What is especially interesting about RFID is that, contrary to popular belief, RFID is not just a replacement for the barcode. RFID is a transformational technology that can help reduce waste, curtail theft, manage inventory, streamline logistics and even increase productivity.

According to Deloitte, collecting, collating and presenting all of that data from those billions of tags will become a very sizeable industry, with Information Technology (IT) companies grabbing the lion’s share of revenue. As a result, IT spending for networking and telecommunications is expected to surge. Additional surges in spending will come in the coming years from developing countries like India and Thailand.

The challenge for carriers and telecommunications vendors is the increasing competition for those dollars from alternative options such as VoIP on mobile systems and from low-cost operators. One way for carriers and telecommunications equipment manufacturers (TEMs) to remain competitive in this challenging market is to differentiate themselves by developing services that will increase their average revenue per user (ARPU) and attract new subscribers. Such services might include video messaging or a unified communications and e-mail push.

One of the major challenges these vendors face, however, is how to achieve quick market deployment of solutions that are flexible enough to be scaled and adapted as subscriber expectation levels evolve. Platform-based design, whereby some portion of the chip’s architecture is predefined for a specific type of application, seems to be one viable solution to this problem. While the use of a platform may limit choices, it does enable extensive design reuse and therefore provides faster time-to-market. For the telecommunications industry, that equates to seamless integration of new processor and switching technologies into existing products. As a result, manufacturers and carriers would be free to focus their investments where they are sure to get the best return.

Just such a platform solution now hails from Fujitsu Siemens Computers and is targeted at enabling next-generation telecommunications infrastructure. Fujitsu Siemens Computers is one of many vendors committed to providing integrated communications platforms for the telecommunications infrastructure market and has joined other companies with the same intent as an associate member of the Intel® Communications Alliance. This organization represents a community of communications and embedded developers and solutions providers committed to the development of modular, standards-based building blocks, platforms, and solutions based on Intel® technologies, processors, products, and services (www.intel.com/go/ica).

Fujitsu Siemens Computers’ offering is the Application-Ready Telecommunications Platform for Continuous Services (ART4CS). This platform is the first industry-standard architecture to deliver SAForum compliant functionality and services for current and future telecommunications equipment (Figure 1). It allows carriers and telecommunications equipment manufacturers to develop next-generation applications with a common application program interface (API) and middleware layer that is independent of the underlying hardware.

Figure 1 - With the functionality of the ART4CS platform, carriers and telecommunications equipment manufacturers can focus on the key features that will differentiate them from the competition while quickly developing next-generation applications.

The ART4CS platform offers a selection of seamlessly integrated standard and blade servers from the Fujitsu Siemens Computers PRIMERGY and PRIMEPOWER families. It can run a variety of operating systems ranging from Solaris to carrier-grade Linux. While the ART4CS platform will not be available until the second half of 2005, it was recently debuted at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes.

As a complement to the ART4CS hardware, Fujitsu Siemens Computers is also now offering the SAForum Environment for Continuous Services (SAFE4C) suite of SAForum-compliant carrier-grade middleware. Carrier-grade environments now require extremely high availability (99.999%+) and manageability. To meet these needs, the SAFE4CS middleware is comprised of PRIMECLUSTER, a standard clustering solution, RTP4CS carrier-grade middleware, and ServerView - Fujitsu Siemens Computers’ systems-management tool.

To date, the SAFE4CS suite has been successfully deployed on a global level. It addresses scalable application availability up to carrier-grade needs and includes features such as standardized application interfaces, a self explaining graphical user interface (GUI) and advanced Wizard technology. Together these capabilities enable service providers to manage their network elements in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

The Fujitsu Siemens platform is not the only one emerging. Also presented at the 3GSM World Congress was ARTCENTER - an Intel® processor-based platform. ARTCENTER is a family of telecommunications-specific carrier-grade blade servers that feature Intel® architecture technologies and run under carrier-grade Linux. The ARTCENTER family of servers is expected to be available sometime later this year.

ARTCENTER is based on the emerging industry standard known as Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (AdvancedTCA); a specification from the PICMG information technology manufacturer group. AdvancedTCA, also referred to as the PICMG 3.X family, is a new series of PICMG specifications that provides standardized platform architecture for carrier-grade telecommunication applications. It offers support for carrier-grade features such as NEBS, ETSI, and 99.999% availability and incorporates the latest trends in high speed interconnect technologies, next generation processors and improved reliability, manageability and serviceability.

These platforms are only the tip of the iceberg. With service providers constantly on the look out for a means of rapidly responding to end user demands, the platform-based design approach will continue to help telecommunication’s companies quickly deliver the solutions their customers require. Platforms based on industry accepted standards, such as the AdvancedTCA, promise to make this design approach all the more compelling to equipment manufacturers and service providers in the months and years ahead. 

Cheryl Ajluni is the owner of Custom Media Solutions, specializing in technology-based content for publications and tradeshows. She has over 10 years experience covering the high-tech industry for such publications as Electronic Design and Embedded Systems Development and served as Editor in Chief of Wireless Systems Design. She has also worked in various engineering roles, holds a patent for the development of a solar cell detection system, and has a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and mathematics from the University of California, Davis.