Voice of reason

Internet protocol (IP) telephony presents a compelling value proposition for corporations and government organisations in the Middle East looking to leverage the benefits of a converged network.

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By  Angela Sutherland Published  April 26, 2006

|~|Avaya-web.jpg|~|"A converged network must be designed to comply with IT security policies for voice and data, while not impeding the performance of critical network applications,” explains Nidal Abou Ltaif, managing director for Avaya Middle East & North Africa. |~|Internet protocol (IP) telephony presents a compelling value proposition for corporations and government organisations in the Middle East looking to leverage the benefits of a converged network. Streamlined resource management, lower telecommunications costs, mobility and efficient use of bandwidth are encouraging corporations to either adopt or consider the technology. Another incentive for enterprises to use this technology is the deregulation of the Middle East’s telecommunications sector. The critical barrier to the adoption of IP telephony has been lifted. For instance, the UAE now has another player to compete with Etisalat. The launch of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (EITC), which operates under the brand du, opens the door for competition, customer choice and better pricing. “This new era will witness great development in both products and services that will benefit customers, spur growth and promote development of the local economy,” says EITC chairman Ahmad Bin Byat. “We are confident of our ability to face the challenges of entering a market that has such high penetration. However, we are committed to making du live up to its name by providing integrated communications solutions that include voice, data, and video over fixed and mobile networks,” he adds. The organisation will start by providing mobile services across the UAE from the second half of this year, and gradually launch fixed line services and voice and data in 2007. Taha Husseini, chief information officer, Information Technology Group at the National Commercial Bank (NCB) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), says deregulation is critical for the Middle East. Husseini says the region is growing rapidly and enterprises need a wide range of services. “Deregulation will bring in better services, cost reduction and business optimisation. The scope of services will be enlarged,” he says. “There may be some challenges with liberalisation, however they [offset] the advantages. Enterprises will be able to have a more advanced network topology. Instead of dealing with one vendor, end users will be able to use multiple vendor products.” The infrastructure of the Middle East may be in its infancy stage with many markets still being monopolistic and controlled by the government; the region’s telecommunications sector has undergone significant change over the last few years, and IP vendors are welcoming the change with complete enthusiasm. The move not only gives them the much-awaited opportunity to exploit the lucrative telecommunications space, but also opens doors to new business possibilities. Cisco Systems says IP technology is changing the face of communications. The vendor claims IP Next Generation Network (NGN) has become the de facto standard for operators. “Cisco is partnering with all major telcos in the region in their quest to evolve to an IP NGN platform. We are the IP platform of choice for almost all of those operators,” says Ghazi Atallah, managing director, Service Providers, Emerging Markets at Cisco Systems. “However it does not stop there, we are also helping the operators devise their IP services part of their go to market strategy,” he adds. The networking giant says end users are focusing on how investments in technology can directly influence their productivity. “As the region continues to competitively grow, IP based infrastructure solutions will provide an ideal platform by allowing organisations to adjust to rapid changes in the market place,” Atallah explains. NCB, which is using IP telephony technology to link its geographically spread offices and branches, says return-on-investments (ROIs) are immediate and significant. “KSA is a big nation and cities are scattered, IP telephony plays an important role in connecting all NCB branches. We have over 200 branches and all are linked via IP technology,” says NCB’s Husseini. “In addition, we now have the capability to better manage our network because we have the control of the system,” he explains. Panduit says IP telephony will allow businesses to introduce solutions such as intelligent contact management and unified messaging. By prioritising traffic in such a manner organisations can reduce costs and increase productivity. However, the vendor says in order to successfully implement IP solutions, it is critical to have a converged network. “Most businesses support two separate networks, one for PC and one for telephones. With IP telephony end users only need one. Available bandwidth will be fully utilised to carry voice and data simultaneously, allowing high quality and prioritised traffic to be delivered in a seamless manner,” says Pete Gough, Panduit’s regional manager, Datacomms. “Architecting for high availability is key to ensuring minimal downtime. If the network infrastructure is unable to provide a reliable and solid foundation over which IP telephony applications can run, performance potential will be lost,” he adds. The advantage of IP telephony in the Middle East is that end users are willing to give the technology a chance. The market is in transition; hence end users and vendors alike are willing to exploit every possible opportunity. Take Dubai Courts for example; the government body has implemented Mitel’s IP solution to update the existing communications system and increase call volume capability. “With such diversity and advancement we are now witnessing in the [region], Dubai Courts are keen to keep pace with the change and offer responsive services to both the legal profession and the public,” says Hashem Al Hashmi, spokesperson for Dubai Courts. “Over the years these organisations have maintained a high standard for all the services and legal facilities utilising 900 ports with the Mitel SX-2000. Due to the increase in call volume, the Courts recognised the need to update the communications system and selected Mitel for the migration and expansion to IP,” says Hisham Amili, general manager for Mitel, GCC. Furthermore, Etisalat has teamed up with Ericsson to modernise its network. The contract, which is worth US$54.5 million, will eventually allow the operator to offer carrier-class IP telephony based on Ericsson’s telephony softswitch solution, the first step in Etisalat’s plan to evolve its international switching layer from circuit switching to packet switching using IP telephony. “The agreements signed are part of our ongoing relationship with Ericsson to support the growth, allowing us to further enhance our networks while introducing [robust] services and technologies,” says Mohammad Hassan Omran, former Etisalat CEO. Oman Mobile, which has deployed a new telecommunications infrastructure to develop and grow its services in Oman’s deregulated wireless marketplace, says competition has become a defining element for the mobile phone market. The telco says anyone looking to succeed in this industry has to offer quality service, efficiency and new products tailored for specific customer segments. Oman Mobile has used Cisco’s technology to implement its end-to-end IP communications services network. “The network backbone we have installed ensures that we will be able to cost-effectively and quickly scale our operations as the competition in the market demands and enable our employees to operate efficiently,” says Dr. Amer Awadh Al-Rawas, managing director for Oman Mobile. Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan's largest integrated telecommunications operator, which is migrating its international circuit-switched infrastructure to Nortel’s VoIP NGN, says the move will help enhance its competitive edge by enabling new revenue generating services, optimising service delivery capabilities, and reducing operational costs. The NGN will also create a platform for future deployment of Nortel's SIP-based IMS service delivery architecture. "Nortel is the sole provider of VoIP NGN solutions across Chunghwa Telecom's Northern, Central and Southern region branches, and we are now bringing these same IP-based, converged network capabilities to its International Business Group," says Jackson Wu, managing director for Taiwan, Nortel. "In addition to 100% VoIP NGN market share with Chunghwa, we are also playing a key role in its transformation into a fully IP and IMS-enabled international voice, data and multimedia service provider." Security on a converged network has always been a cause for concern and probably the biggest challenge for IP vendors. According to a research by Integ, 25% of potential adopters of IP telephony rate security as their biggest concern moving forward. By bringing telephony onto the data network, the entire platform is exposed to increased security threats. In the past, the legacy PBX only ever came into contact with the data network was for manage capabilities. All telephony communications would use a separate infrastructure. As IP telephony leverages the existing data network platform to provide telephony communications, any threat to the data network now extends to the telephony platform. Integ says as a result, there will be a proliferation of new threats such as telephony worms and spam over IP telephony (SPIT); and network threats such denial-of-service (DoS) and password cracking. Integ says organisations need to have a strategic IT security plan, ready for implementation, and preferably prior to adoption of the new technology. It says IP telephony should be seen as a component of the broader IT security strategy, sitting alongside existing solutions such as firewalls, e-mail filtering and authentication. NCB’s Husseini says security is critical when it comes to IP telephony. He suggests end users encrypt all data that traverses on an IP infrastructure. “All our data is encrypted. Even the internal data is encrypted. We are compressing and encrypting to ensure the bank is operating in a secure environment.” Quality-of-service (QoS) is another aspect Husseini considers important when it comes to IP telephony. “QoS is important and we have it at our organisation. It prioritises the flow of information. It gives higher priority to data for instance, and this is necessary. Enterprises cannot have IP telephony supported by a data link if they do not have QoS,” he adds. Avaya says converged networks require converged security that expands traditional data security policies and procedures to protect the privacy of all network information, including IP traffic, since the technology can introduce unauthorised entry points onto the network. Also, traditional data security practices can impact IP telephony voice quality if not engineered correctly. “A converged network must be designed to comply with IT security policies for voice and data, while not impeding the performance of critical network applications,” explains Nidal Abou Ltaif, managing director for Avaya Middle East & North Africa. “Furthermore converged security services start with a security assessment in order to identify the network gaps that can be exploited by an attacker. Security Policy Development defines the procedures, responsibilities, controls and security measures required to protect assets in a converged environment,” he adds. Cisco says the internet is a collection of multitudes of networks and can be vulnerable. However, as telcos build their own IP network, they have the ability to have a total control over the security infrastructure. “Security technology is evolving in a tremendous way. Today the technology exists to allow an operator to build a highly secure IP infrastructure, if you then add on top of that the ability for a company to secure the data that it sends across an operator’s infrastructure, the result is multiple levels of security that is more resilient than a traditional infrastructure,” explains Cisco’s Atallah. Analyst firm IDC says liberalisation will play a critical role in shaping the region’s telecommunications market in 2006. The technology investments of the past two years will bear fruit this year. IDC says the continued increase in demand for telecommunications services and greater availability of both broadband and mobile access have contributed to the market's development. Moreover, the increasing number of countries moving toward liberalisation and privatisation will bring new players to the market and usher in an era of mergers and acquisitions, new licenses, and major financing deals. "This in turn will fuel competition, causing the region's markets to grow not just in terms of size but also in terms of the variety of services and solutions available to consumers and business," says Mohsen Malaki, senior program and consulting manager for IDC, MEA. "None of this would be possible without the substantial investments of 2004 and 2005 that fixed and mobile operators made into broadband, mobile network expansion and upgrades, internet data centres, and internal and regional expansion. Coupled with the loosening of market restrictions, these moves have laid the foundation for diverse market developments in 2006." Malaki says operators will launch multiplay services to help the sagging residential wireline business and arrest the continued decline in residential ARPU due to consumer migration to mobiles for voice calls. “Operators will clamour for television content as part of their offerings, forging partnerships with TV channels in the region.” An increased focus on enterprise customers by mobile providers will generate awareness and push adoption of wireless solutions. As organisations across the region start reaping the benefits of mobility, momentum will build, further fuelling the integration of wireless networks and telephony into business models. ||**||

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