Will the Vision of a Modular Communications Infrastructure Pay Off?

By Tony Neal-Graves, General Manager Modular Communications Platform Division within Digital Enterprise Group


In 2000, the communications industry predicted cyclical surges of customer demand for new services with corresponding development of applications. At the time, most hardware was proprietary and costly, making quick-response development and deployment complicated and expensive. In response, Intel came together with others in the industry to develop standards that would speed deployment while reducing both capital and operating expenditures for service providers.

Today we are, indeed, seeing the surges in demand for new services and growth of new applications predicted in 2000, and numerous companies are developing on modular platforms. But many are asking, “Where is the volume and profitability? Will the standards-based infrastructure pay off?” I believe the answer is “yes”, and that we are close. But, we are only about half-way through the journey, with seven or eight more years before we see the full benefits.

The Journey Continues

So what’s causing the bumps in the road? What’s slowing down the progress towards a fully modular infrastructure? I suggest there are several things—all of them temporary.

    • Consolidations of major industry players slow the market segment temporarily as these new, combined entities re-set a common course related to modularity, and to the industry in general.

    • It is taking time to fully understand all the ramifications of RoHS compliance, and what still needs to be delivered at the component and system levels.

    • The industry has not yet solved the issue of interoperability—a key ingredient that, we believe, will unleash the true capabilities of modularity. Yes, it will increase competition within the communications market segment. But it will also increase the size of the pie, which is huge and will continue to grow.

The world-wide forecast for IP video anticipates 175 million homes by 2010, while worldwide fixed and mobile IMS subscriber forecasts predict greater than 200 million IP-based subscribers by 2011. For these users, service providers will want an infrastructure that supports quick delivery of new services and applications, even intermingling them to provide a richer end-user experience.

An example of this includes online card gaming that intermingles many services and capabilities on an IMS network, providing a very rich, personal interaction for players even though they may be spread throughout the world. Presence and availability (voice and MM messaging) allow players to engage together in real time, virtually “sitting around the table” to play the game and talk the talk. Security and QoS provide solid user interaction. The same infrastructure can be used and built upon quickly as services are developed and customer demands grow. From the service provider perspective, it’s a win-win.

Benefits of Modularity and Standards

Intel understands that companies need to see more return on investment for the deployment of new services. Consequently, we continually work to drive down the cost of silicon. For example, 50 years ago a transistor cost approximately $5.52. Today the same transistor capability costs approximately one billionth of a dollar.

Additionally, multi-core architecture is extremely well-suited to applications, services and products in the communications industry.

Service providers are also very concerned about power, thermals and heat dissipation—something I call “performance/ watt/liter”. Intel continually evaluates its product efficiency in order to deliver performance at lower wattage, reduce power consumption, and reduce the thermals required. We also believe that ATCA is extremely important in driving performance capability. Over three generations of development at the board level, Intel has achieved approximately 70% reduction1 in cost/user and 65% reduction2 in energy used3,4, and we will continue to make energy efficiency a priority.

Intel’s on-going commitment also includes platform software enabling, validation and certification including performance testing at the platform level, development of reference designs and software tools, and continued participation in the development of industry standards. We support application design centers, working with customers to help them understand how to use emerging technology. And we believe in strong vendor alliances. There are a host of players in the field that do an excellent job of delivering board and systems-based technology, and I believe Intel will continue to work closely with them.

The journey is long and sometimes challenging, but I believe it will pay off. Intel is committed to the vision that the communications industry needs flexibility in the infrastructure to cost-effectively and efficiently deliver new applications that meet growing customer demand for services. And modularity is an important factor in making this a reality.

1 Assumes same cost at product introduction for each generation. 2 Based on measured power. 3 Based on internal measurements using Radvision* (MPCBL0010, MPCBL0040) and Trillium* (MPCBL0050) SIP stacks. Performance measured as Busy Hour Call Completions and reflects approximate performance of Intel® products. 4 Performance tests and ratings are measured using specific computer systems and/or components and reflect the approximate performance of Intel products as measured by those tests. Any difference in system hardware or software design or configuration may affect actual performance. Buyers should consult other sources of information to evaluate the performance of systems or components they are considering purchasing. For more information on performance tests and on the performance of Intel products, visit Intel® Performance Benchmark Limitations.

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Anthony C. Neal- Graves is General Manager of the Modular Communications Platform Division within Digital Enterprise Group. This division develops building block technologies to create modular network solutions for enterprise and service providers, worldwide. His focus is on engineering, quality, and operations.

Tony earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Polytechnic Institute of New York and a Master of Science degree in Computer Science from University of Southern California. He is an alumni member of the National Society of Black Engineers, and has participated in the Congressional Fellows Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. Currently, Tony serves on the board of the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions.