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What is ITU-T's involvement in next generation networks (NGN)?

Next generation network (NGN) is a key area of study for ITU-T’s study groups. The convergence between internet protocol (IP), public switched telephone network (PSTN), digital subscriber line (DSL), cable television (CATV), wireless local area network (WLAN) and mobile technologies is a task that many believe is impossible without the development of global standards.

NGN work in ITU-T was kickstarted using a mechanism called the Focus Group, that met first in June 2004. (The Focus Group concept allows urgent standardization needs that are not addressed within existing ITU-T structure to be addressed quickly and with the minimum of red-tape. They are open to non-members, can adopt their own working methods, and participation is free of charge.)

Now, ITU’s Next Generation Networks (NGN) Global Standards Initiative (GSI) represents one of the largest, most wide-ranging standardization projects ever undertaken. A truly global enterprise involving cooperative work between all leading standards-making bodies to define the networks that will deliver tomorrow’s converged, broadband-based services, the project is being led by ITU-T Study Group 13.

NGN packet-switched technology will soon replace the traditional circuit-switched networks that have served as the basis of telephony since its inception. The result: seamless connectivity to high-speed services over any network, and any device, worldwide.

Touching on just about every aspect of performance and service delivery over a huge range of different network types, the size of the task is enormous, with a single meeting of Lead Study Group 13 regularly called upon to evaluate more than 500 technical proposals.

IPTV has emerged as one of the most important NGN services. In 2007 a Global Standards Initiative (GSI) was formed to build on existing ITU work. We have already seen first generation IPTV services and as these mature we may see a change in regulation or market demand that requires interoperation between service and/or network providers. A potential outcome of this will be that a customer can go into shop, buy an IPTV box, call their network operator and sign-up and then access services from a range of third party service providers. It is to meet that need that the value of ITU’s work on standardisation will be realised.

Another example of an exciting new NGN application is Telepresence – a set of technologies based on advanced video and audio codecs that will enable the transmission of high-definition images and CD-quality sound over huge distances. Telepresence vendors predict a billion dollar market for the technology, which will use emerging ITU-T multimedia protocols like H.325, anticipated around 2010 as the result of the advanced multimedia system (AMS) project underway in Study Group 16, to deliver a highly realistic videoconferencing experience.

Some early implementations of NGN are already up and running – BT’s 21st Century Network began delivering services to subscribers in late 2006, and Korea, ever at the forefront of broadband developments, expects to have almost all subscribers using IP-based networks within just five years’ time.
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