The Finnish telco is the first national network to move from legacy systems to an IP-based network for voice traffic. Although others in the industry will be watching like hawks for signs of problems with the system's technological and commercial viability, most of the issues that once dogged voice over IP networks have now been resolved. Sonera's move should be a success.
After its questionable success at launching a 3G mobile network on January 1 (the network went live, but no handsets were available to use it), Sonera has now achieved a genuine technological feat. It has become the first national telecoms network to begin replacing its legacy backbone infrastructure with an Internet protocol (IP)-based network.
IP-based networks are by no means new, and IP networks that combine voice and data have been in use already. This, however, is the first time that an incumbent national carrier has moved all traffic over from legacy systems (in this case ATM) to the flexibility of a system based on IP. The system is currently active between capital city Helsinki and second largest urban region Tampere. Sonera plans to roll the rest of the network out in stages across Finland as and when it is deemed commercially viable.
The new IP backbone, supplied by Siemens, is based on the SURPASS family of next generation carrier products. It uses a new switching technology called MPLS, which enables the carrier to ensure service quality for voice traffic, while the interconnection between PSTN and IP-network is based on Media Gateway technology.
Although a few trial networks are currently in use elsewhere, everyone will be watching Sonera's live network with interest to observe the technological and (more importantly) the commercial viability of IP-based voice and data networks for national carriers.
In earlier first generation voice over IP (VoIP) networks, voice quality and accurate billing for voice traffic both proved problematic. However, current next generation VoIP solutions such as MPLS largely address these issues. Sonera's system is also designed to integrate into legacy interfaces, leveraging the company's existing infrastructure as far as possible.
As a result, the potential cost effectiveness and features should make the transition to IP-based solutions an attractive choice for carriers - especially in the current climate of changing dynamics in the telecoms industry where the flexibility enabled by IP can become critical.