The newly formed Nortel Networks said it's taking concrete steps to pull voice and data networks together by moving voice-switching features to its local area network products.
Nortel CEO John Roth and president Dave House disclosed the information in a NetWorld+Interop keynote address, their first joint appearance since the Nortel-Bay Networks merger was completed. The pair said that by mid-1999, the company hopes to have moved some of the capabilities of Nortel's Meridian 1 voice switch to a LAN architecture.
The company said the move will unify data and telephony on the LAN. "Voice-over-IP is the easy part" of IP telephony, House said. The hard part is getting all the functionality on a voice-network switch; Meridian 1, for example, supports 450 distinct features that improve administration, scalability, and performance. Having the voice-switch features is critical for companies that are considering IP telephony, House said. "The enterprise is not going to make a move if it has to step back," he said.
The LAN-based telephony product would run on a server, Nortel said, and would monitor voice-over-IP quality. If it slipped, the product would switch the telephony traffic back to a more reliable voice network.
In addition to the convergence between voice and IP networks, Nortel said the line between wired and wireless networks is also blurring. Roth estimated that 70% of wireless traffic will be data traffic by 2005, compared to 2% in 1996. That's a load the wireless networks can support, he said. "There's enough radio capacity in urban markets to move all of the wire traffic to the wireless network," Roth said.
The company said wireless networks will truly harness the Internet's potential because they will allow all types of devices to connect to the Internet, not just those near a phone jack. "The business implications of wireless communications over the Web are staggering," Roth said.
The two executives also said that although bandwidth capacity is growing rapidly, there will still be a bottleneck in the last few feet connecting to consumers and small businesses, in part because 40% of copper line loops won't support the ADSL technology that telephone suppliers hope will bring faster data rates to local lines.