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Wireless experts call for an IP overhaul

Experts at CTIA say that wireless carriers' voice and data networks are bound to merge, but Internet Protocol isn't robust enough to handle tomorrow's wireless backbone.

ATLANTA -- According to a group of wireless industry executives, Internet Protocol (IP) needs an overhaul to handle the robust needs of future wireless carrier technology.

During a panel discussion Monday at the CTIA Wireless 2004 conference, the executives acknowledged that single IP networks will one day replace the separate voice and data networks wireless carriers use today, but it was unclear whether those networks will arrive before IPv6.

Dick Lynch, chief technical officer with Verizon Wireless, said that some aspects of IPv4, including the way it handles packets and its data redundancy issues, make it more difficult to use with wireless networks. However, he said, a large portion of the companies in the networking industry still rely on fiber-based networks, and they're ambivalent about updating IP and potentially tipping the balance of power toward wireless networking interests.

Robert Metcalfe, a partner with venture capital firm Polaris Ventures Partners, said the issue is complicated even further by the fact that IPv4 is now 35 years old, and the IETF -- the group now charged with maintaining IP -- moves too slowly.

Cindy Christy, the chief operating officer for Lucent Technologies Inc., said that before wireless users can benefit from converged carrier networks, wired and wireline companies must come together to fix the shortcoming in IP as it stands today, and the industry must use the RF spectrum more efficiently.

Lynch said that, even though wireless carriers are evolving toward converged core networks, that process will be an evolution that could last as long as a decade. "I'm not convinced we know the date of when we'll get to this network of the future," he said.

Attendee Dick Young, a network manager for a large insurance company, said that the implementation of IPv6 in the U.S. would likely solve not only the wireless inefficiencies of IPv4 but also remedy the impending worldwide shortage of IP addresses. However, he said he fears that the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 might be too painful.

"How do we get there without wrecking everything we've come up with so far? It sounds like it's not going to be an easy process," Young said.

The panel also discussed the current state of RF spectrum use in the wireless industry, suggesting that more spectrum should be allocated for cutting-edge wireless services. "Those who have [spectrum] want more, and those who don't have any want it all," said panel moderator Andrew Seybold, president of consulting firm Outlook 4Mobility Inc.

Pascal Debon, president of the wireless networking division of Nortel Networks Inc., said that there are as many as 1.3 billion wireless device users today and, with that number expected to reach 2 billion in just three years, the need to allocate a greater amount of the wireless spectrum for handheld device usage will only increase.

"This new generation of wireless users won't come back to wireline services," Debon said. "People want to be reached at anytime, anywhere."

Debon added that, beginning this year, technologies such as 802.16 and WiMax will begin to propel wireless broadband to the forefront as a method of last-mile connectivity. That too will require a significant chunk of the wireless spectrum.

Metcalfe said that incumbent companies offering legacy services are "sprawling wastefully across the spectrum, clinging to their old technologies."

One example the panel cited was that of local television broadcasters, which will be using less of the spectrum as they continue the process of migrating to digital signals. However, Lynch said that those pieces of the spectrum are carved as small as 6 MHz, and would be of little help because, to be useful in today's landscape, a spectrum chunk would have to be at least 100 MHz wide.

For more information Learn more about WiMax and last-mile wireless broadband. Check out our take on the wireless landscape.

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