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This installment of TMCnet's "Executive Suite," a feature in which leading executives in the Voice over Internet Protocol/communications industry discuss their companies’ latest developments as well as providing analysis on industry news and trends.

Technology Marketing Corporation President and Editor-in-Chief Rich Tehrani recently interviewed John Roese, CTO of Nortel.


John Roese


Nortel’s New CTO

Rich Tehrani’s Executive Suite is a monthly feature in which leading executives in the VoIP/IP Communications industry discuss their company’s latest developments with TMC president Rich Tehrani as well as providing analysis on industry news and trends.

John Roese has recently been appointed Nortel’s new CTO and I thought this was a golden opportunity to get his insights on what is happening in the communications market and at Nortel.  Based on these thorough answers, I expect great things from John and I am looking forward to getting more insight from him in the future.  Here is the result of our interview.

What does your appointment mean for Nortel?

First, I’m thrilled to be on board and part of Mike Zafirovski’s executive team.

In terms of what my appointment to Nortel means to both the company and myself, Nortel has a tremendous amount of innovation and intellectual capacity. Not many people really know the depth of the company’s technology leadership and innovation activity today. By having a visible and active CTO, we can re-assert our company as one of the industry’s significant technology providers in a much more aggressive manner.

To help make Nortel more successful, I plan to first, get the word out and make sure our customers and key stakeholders know about our strengths and innovation. Second, I will help unify our technology solutions and innovation to make communications simple. Communications technology has clearly become more advanced, but some of that advancement has impacted the complexity that customers experience. By linking and advancing our technology into solutions that are aligned to real customer expectations, we will make the communications experience seamless and more effective.

Where do you see the future of enterprise communications going?

Communications is a constant evolution, but a few key principles are almost always present. First, the end user expects to be isolated from the complexity of the underlying technology, and second, in order to make the communications experience effective, the communications technology, service, and access must be present whenever and wherever you want or need it.

The future of enterprise communications will depend on multiple network types — both wireless and wireline — working together to provide that pervasive networking access. More importantly, it will require that the common elements, such as application interfaces, security, resiliency, mobility, identity, and quality exist in a way that is common and consistent with the applications and users.

The data infrastructure is changing in multiple dimensions going forward. Bandwidth is increasing through Metro Ethernet and NGN wireless technology and is transforming the capability to migrate beyond the traditional office into a wider variety of locations. More important than simple capacity is the fact that each of the network elements must now participate in supporting the same users of the network. If you consider the typical laptop computer, you will notice that almost all have both a WiFi ( News - Alert) wireless interface and an Ethernet interface (some, today, even have integrated cellular data network interfaces). That device is used by a single human being and who uses a set of applications on that machine. He expects that, regardless of the network, the applications just work, and work well.

This is not a trivial exercise, as each of these discrete networks has evolved independently and, as such, has different applications, security, identity, quality, and other characteristics. Given this current disparity in experience and the obvious need to bring them together, Nortel is in a great position to capitalize on this and drive this evolution. We have expertise in both wireline and wireless technologies, in applications development, in the middleware needed to unify systems, and in the various layers of communications. This breadth gives us a huge head start in unifying the communications experience within the data infrastructure and continuing the underlying evolution of the network elements.

We have been driving the communications experience through the applications for a very long time. Something as simple as an IP telephone is an example of an application that has taken a form so simple to understand that users can transition to it without understanding the dramatic technological changes that occurred under the system to make it possible. Alternatively, new applications, such as instant messaging, driven by presence, are a much more radical change to the customer experience, since they have no legacy analog.

What both of these examples share is that they, at their very essence, improve the user’s ability to remain connected and to communicate when they want, with whom they want, and in a manner that is both cost effective and simple. As we move forward, the next generation of applications from Nortel will continue on this path. Using new technologies, such as virtualization, presence, context, and immersion, the experience, and by bringing these experiences together into a single, unified communications experience, the entire model becomes even more intuitive and effective.

In each of these areas, three paradigms are critical. The boundary between the enterprise and the carrier is blurring as virtualization across the enterprise, to partners, and to customers changes that boundary. Integration between mobile and fixed environments for commonality of experience and interactions will be required, and concepts such as Web Services and SOA will define new architectures and transformations that enable this cross-network experience.

One of the key advantages Nortel has over the rest of the industry in evolving the enterprise communications experience is its deep and broad carrier experience. As the carrier and enterprise boundary blurs, only companies that understand and participate on both sides of that boundary will be able to deliver the kind of communications experience and technology that customers will come to expect as the norm.

Nortel is focused on assuring that it is well positioned to lead in these transformations and has the innovation and products to deliver the elements and solutions that will enable its customers to create strategic advantage through these transformations.

What about the future of VoIP, SIP, and WiFi?

Let’s start with VoIP. Initially, VoIP was the manifestation of traditional telephony using Internet Protocol and networks to transport voice services rather than the dedicated TDM networks. This was good, since one could reduce cost and simplify the network design. This, however, was only the very tip of the evolution. Now, we see VoIP as a technology that not only is displacing the legacy technologies of the TDM world, but also as a technology that is being connected to the other elements of the applications experience. The future is not about a VoIP application by itself, but rather as a unified applications experience, in which the voice elements are a part of the overall communications and user experience.

Consider some of the new manifestations of VoIP, such as click to talk on a banking Web site. There are no separate voice applications; VoIP is now seen as simply an icon on your bank’s Web site that can connect the bank’s customer to a customer service attendant through a simple mouse click to provide real-time interpersonal service. Is this Web site a banking interface, a telephony application, a Web page… ? Actually, you could say it is all of them. The previously disparate applications have unified to make your life easier. This is the future of VoIP.

Now, let’s discuss SIP. In the VoIP example above, what the user did not see is the profound change in the protocols and networking services needed to make that improved user experience possible. SIP is one of the key elements in enabling the unification of the communications experience. SIP, in its essence, is a signaling protocol that is flexible enough to be used for a wide range of applications, but unified enough so that the infrastructure needed to support that wide range of applications is common enough to be cost effective and not overly complex.

Nortel focused on SIP early, understanding that unifying the signaling mechanisms to allow applications to operate in a common way would allow simplification of the design of these systems and a greater focus on the applications experience. Because of this choice, Nortel has been able to not only accelerate its applications delivery and capability, but also has been able to make the back office elements more scalable and cost effective than those offered by vendors that did not embrace unification.

As a validation of the investment to embrace SIP, it is interesting that SIP is one of the key elements of next generation architectures, such as IMS. Because of Nortel’s SIP expertise, the development and delivery of IMS for carriers is accelerated and differentiated.

Regarding WiFi, one question I am asked often by customers and others is, “When will WiFi be my primary access network?” I am faced with this question because most customers, while appreciative of the mobility and flexibility WiFi offers, are not certain it is equivalent to wired Ethernet yet. In many ways, they are correct. We have made WiFi secure via WPA2 and 802.1x; we have made it simpler with various dynamic configuration models; we have given it Class of Service (CoS) and priority with 802.11e; and we are making it much faster with 802.11a and now 802.11n. What we have not done is make it fully equivalent to wired Ethernet yet.

The major issue remaining is that, because it is wireless, it is considerably more exposed to outside interference and, as such, can become unavailable because of outside events that would usually not effect the wired Ethernet world. The good news is that, while this is a problem, the solution is found in areas that Nortel is expert in. We must develop better RF technologies and antenna technologies; we must look at the low level analog domain and signal processing; and we must create, for WiFi, technologies that have been utilized in the cellular space.

Our expertise in MIMO antenna systems and OFDM, while key to our cellular and broadband technology, will also be key to solving the last major deficiencies of the WiFi world. The reason these technologies are important is that by having more advanced multi-antenna technology (MIMO) and alternative signaling, such as OFDM, the signal in the RF domain can be better directed and, at the same time, better understood and reconstituted, allowing the RF system to overcome intentional and unintentional interference. Smart RF is the key, not simply more power using existing technology.

How long this evolution will take is not clear, but it is clear that, while WiFi issues related to security, CoS, management, and speed have been reasonably standardized, the future work in WiFi will be in areas that are in Nortel’s area of leadership, much more so than other companies’.

Where do you see IMS going?

IMS holds the great promise of making the mobile and carrier networks much more application friendly. Today, the carrier world is burdened by having to create a link between the network transport and the applications provided. That makes it difficulty to evolve the applications forward, independent of the network and vice versa. By creating this abstraction, it is reasonable to expect that we will see new services and applications emerge much more rapidly and, most importantly, that those applications will build on one another via leverage and linkage, rather than having to recreate the basics with each new tool.

The promise of IMS goes well beyond merely breaking down access barriers between today’s separate networks. For instance, the end user registers and signs onto the network just once. There is a single address book, calendar, and buddy list. If an instant message session gets too complicated, a single click can establish a voice call. From that voice call, a game can be initiated with the other person with another single click. This kind of experience is fairly intuitive, but, prior to IMS, was extremely difficult to deliver.

What will your IMS strategy be like going forward?

Nortel’s IMS strategy employs the entire IMS architecture across the network layer to application layer to control plane. Nortel also is focused on delivering a standard platform — getting to common components, getting to open systems, so you can add value on applications. Nortel is an enabler of applications and users and, as such, takes on the responsibility to deliver systems that fully manifest the IMS model, not simply a few applications or elements. Once that framework is in place, though, the ecosystem of Nortel, its carrier customers, their partners and customers, and others can be enabled to deliver new and innovative user experiences.

Nortel's IMS strategy is to focus on 3 key areas:

• Leverage Nortel's expertise as world leader in deploying next generation networks and delivering a broad set of SIP-based multimedia services to establish the IMS market, as well as leverage Nortel’s #1 position in VoIP.

• Create an open and extensive ecosystem that combines the strength of Nortel's communications experience with IT leaders, like IBM (News - Alert) , enabling new applications through open development systems.

• Deliver the methods carriers need to transition from the networks they have today to IMS by seamlessly evolving the network to maximize existing capital.

What benefits do you bring to the table as a company that sells to carriers and enterprise customers?

I have spent my entire career in the communications industry. At Cabletron, we delivered both carrier and enterprise infrastructures and created and delivered some of the most novel management and operations oriented software in the world. Because of my background of dealing with the reality of the end customer and their provider, I am in a pretty good position to have the intuition of what will or will not achieve the goals on which the market is focused.

Beyond having that end customer diversity experience, my focus has evolved over time to deal with the broad spectrum of technologies. Early in my career, I focused on the development of capacity oriented technology. Later, I worked to make those high capacity systems simple to use and, subsequently, in the late 1990s, I saw that security would be a huge issue in networking, so I focused on developing and implementing some of the most innovative secure network technology, much of which is now standardized.

Most recently, my focus has been on the evolution of the endpoints and the mechanisms to IP-enable everything. I believe that the most important contribution I bring to the dialogue is that, instead of believing that communications solutions are delivered by a single great technology, they are, instead, a manifestation of a broad set of technical solutions and enablers coming together in an orderly manner to enable the end user experience in way that is intuitive and useful. What I have found at Nortel is that, while each of the elements is strongly represented, there is a strong level of expertise focused on the end user experience and the system architecture. This is a good combination.

Are there any drawbacks to selling to both groups?

I believe Nortel has a strong advantage knowing both the enterprise and carrier spaces. Nortel is one of the few vendors that can make this claim.

We will need to focus our efforts — and we’re working on that now as part of our Business Transformation — in order to be a relevant player in the future The only disadvantage in selling to both is if the systems you sell and deliver are not related or linked in a way that leverages the synergy between the two domains. My goal is to make sure that Nortel’s systems consider the communications ecosystem as they are developed and delivered, and that the company leverages its unique presence in the market as a leading enterprise communications and carrier communications provider.

How will the mergers in your space change your role at Nortel?

Time will tell how the changes in the industry might impact my current role.

What I will tell you is we believe that customers want what Nortel already delivers today — communications systems that offer reliability, mobility, security, applications, and services and, very importantly, solutions that facilitate new models of communications over a multitude of networks spanning the carrier and enterprise spaces.

It's important for us to understand what our competitors are doing, but the driving force of our strategic decisions will center on building the capabilities that enable our customers to create solutions for a connected world.

Where will communications be in five years?

In five years, a few dimensions of communications are most likely to be far more evolved than they are today. First, the ability to be connected as you move will be much more seamless than it is today. There is a huge effort to make the existing network more pervasive and to link those networks, so the handoff between networks of different types (WiFi and cellular, for example) becomes simple and effective. Second, over these pervasive and linked networks the inherent capacity increases will allow for a richer experience. We will see an increase in the presence of video and multimedia user interfaces, simply because the networks will be able to handle the capacity needs of such services, whereas today’s are stretched in doing so. Third, we have a lot of work to do in making this high performance, multiple network experience secure and unified, so I expect that, in five years, we will be operating on a model where all services are tied to the individual. This will manifest itself in a more unified identity model and from that, a more individual user experience.

I like to use the example of the evolution of the Yahoo! experience to describe this. In its first incarnation, Yahoo! was just a Web site with no personalization. It evolved to what it is today, where, with, you define your preferences and the experience is customized your personal interests. As we move forward, if the network understands more about you and your identity (or pseudo-identity, for privacy reasons) the experience can evolve again to adjust based on additional context that are real time. The interface can adapt based on your activity, location, the presence of other parties, the presence of external events, and so on. The idea is that, with a greater coupling to the user, the communications network and experience can shape a dynamic experience rather than a statically configured one. To achieve this, we need to not only create new applications, but also link them to a more organized set of next generation networks in a coordinated manner spanning the enterprise and carrier experience.

Rich Tehrani is President and Editor in Chief at TMC.

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