Evolution Of Telecommunications And Networks

The promising benefits and attractive proposals of applications and services for ubiquitous networking environments have sparked the interest of many countries around the world and have also attracted the attention of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the organisation that is well known for its standardisation efforts in the telecommunications field. Recently, the ITU have addressed the idea of the "Ubiquitous Network Society" as part of their "New Initiatives Programme" which aims to identify the emerging trends in the telecommunications environment (ITU, 2005a). In that ITU programme South Korea and Japan were selected to illustrate early implementations of ubiquitous networking.

Why these two countries? As discussed above the networking infrastructure is the critical factor for ubiquitous networking. According to the ITU, South Korea is the world's broadband leader by a significant margin; along with a high number of mobile subscribers that even outnumbers fixed line subscribers (ITU, 2005b). Similar statistics apply to Japan (ITU, 2005c). The high penetration rate of broadband and the widely use of wireless technologies around the country allows facilitates the implementation of "anywhere, anytime by anything, anyone" ubiquitous networking. The success factors for these two countries are explained in detail in the ITU's case studies (ITU, 2005a; ITU, 2005b). In South Korea, the Ministry of Information and Communication has the intention of realising their "digital home plan", in which digital home appliances with communications capabilities are installed in apartment houses as a total, integrated system (Murakami, 2004). In the private sector, plans for ubiquitous networking are also emerging: the Dongtan Ubiquitous Networking city plan, supported by the Samsung group, involves 40,000 households (Murakami, 2004). At the university level a number of institutions have successfully implemented ubiquitous networking environments, usually labelled "u-campuses". For example, at Sukmyung Woman's University, students can download "credit-card" functionality to their PDA or mobile phone and use the device as a medium for payment (Jung, 2004).

The strong focus and national level of support towards ubiquitous networking in South Korea and Japan are driving other countries to adopt similar strategies. In Europe, the project Amigo is addressing the idea of ubiquitous networking, stating that it is an "integratedproject that will realize the full potential of home networking to improve people's lives " (Amigo Project, 2004). Active participants in this project include companies from various countries, among them France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. However, these efforts are limited to the commercial sector without the stronger government and country-wide support found in South Korea and Japan. According to the ITU, Italy and Singapore are the two other countries that are actively participating in achieving a ubiquitous networking environment (ITU, 2005d; ITU 2005e), with relatively well- established infrastructure throughout their territories.

The ubiquitous networking technology is still in its very early stages and there are numerous issues that need to be addressed before achieving a perfect operating environment. One of the major issues is to maintain interoperability between different networking technologies. For example, an office employee may have a Bluetooth device that connects with her laptop, use a Wireless LAN based on 802.11g, a Wireless WAN based on 3G, and a wired connection using ADSL. To maximise the benefits from a ubiquitous networking environment, these various technologies should be able to communicate without any disruptions. Additionally, processing power of mobile devices and issue of security is one of other concerns for true ubiquitous networking environment. Currently, significant research emphasis is given to the security and middleware side of ubiquitous networking to address this, and it is highly related with improvements in the processing power of mobile devices.

The selection of networks in a ubiquitous networking environment is one of the main operating issues with this technology. For example, in a ubiquitous networking environment, a cordless phone may substitute your mobile phone when you are outside the house. Choosing the best network based solely on the user requirements complicates the selection of the "ideal" network for a particular connection time and location. The user-initiated selection of a provider also generates the issue of billing. Currently customers "subscribe" to the desired services, and get billed based on the usage. However, in a ubiquitous networking environment, there is no need to "subscribe" for a desired service, but rather users have the capability to employ ad-hoc type services when needed. This adds complexity to existing billing systems however these requirements need to be addressed to achieve a truly ubiquitous networking environment.

Another key issue for the success of ubiquitous network services is the issue of assigning prices to those services. Furthermore, ubiquitous services based on a network of complementary technologies, both fixed and wireless, have created the expectation of services that can be obtained dynamically and automatically with the minimum possible of interaction between the users and potentially complex network systems. Intelligent agents would negotiate the best conditions to make sure the user obtains always the best possible connection (Voinov and Valladares, 2003). This best possible connection would be selected by comparing the different services, quality of the services offered, prices and reaching a decision based on the policies the user has configured in her intelligent agent and in conjunction with the policies being presented by the different service providers.

It is clear that, from the technical point of view, the scenario depicted above is feasible. There has been continued progress on the integration of technologies such as WiFi, "Mesh" and "Ad-Hoc" networks with the traditional phone networks and fixed sub-networks based on the TCP/IP family of protocols. Telecommunication companies have exploited the popularity of WiFi "hot spots" as access ramps to their 3G services (Legard, 2003). However, there is work to be done in the area of agreeing how to price network services, especially when that "network" is supplied by different organizations and potential users may not have contractual agreements with all the players involved.

The current telecommunications environment, in which virtual operators re-sell network services, in which some firms are customers of a traditional "Telco" while at the same time offering services to many other smaller organizations, forces us to redefine many of the business models that had been used so far. Long term contracts are being challenged by many other arrangements that give more flexibility to the users. These changes, in most cases promoted by users' requirements and further "pushed" by competitive, and innovative, new entrants into the telecommunications arena have resulted on a profound transformation in the way services are acquired and billed. This fact will always clash with the tendency of traditional "Telcos" to keep billing as simple as possible (Meyer, 2003).

It is entirely possible that the much vaunted convergence of the Internet and Telco worlds will push companies competing in that field to adjust the way they do business (Panagiotakis et al., 2005). An optimistic view of these changes argues that network operators will be able to obtain additional revenues by pricing quality services (with guaranteed levels of performance or guaranteed security) at a premium and that selected customers will be more that willing to foot the bill for a better service.

The ubiquitous networking environment creates new challenges in security and requires development of new approaches to address both existing and new security problems (Van Dyke and Koc, 2003). Heterogeneous networking environments add several levels of complexity to existing security mechanisms, and different techniques needs to be developed to ensure optimum levels of security in the ubiquitous networking environment (Privat, 2005).

The advancements in handheld devices are one of the key drivers of ubiquitous networking, and these devices are improving its capabilities at exponential rates. However, due mainly to their size restrictions, these devices suffer from a number of limitations. These limitations include but are not limited to: inadequate processing capability, restricted battery life, limited memory space, slow expensive connections and confined host bandwidth (Sharmin, Ahmed & Ahmed, 2006). To address these limitations, middleware can be play an essential role. For example, rather than delegating processing responsibility to the light-weight handheld devices, core processing can be performed by the middleware applications. Currently developed middleware applications are capable of providing services such as security, data backup services, resource discovery services and ad-hoc communication services, to list a few (Sharmin, Ahmed and Ahmed, 2006). Given that middleware is the most viable solution to minimise limitations of handheld devices, a large number of middleware applications are under research by both academics and practitioners (Yau, Wang and Karim, 2002; Murphy, Picco and Roman, 2001; Sharmin, Ahmed and Ahmed, 2006).

Finally, security has always been a critical issue within the area of networking, and this is not an exception for the evolving telecommunications scenarios. In fact, security in this type of environments requires more emphasis than what has been perceived in traditional networks. The convenience of handheld devices, such as PDAs, means that people are storing personal data on these devices, which means that more stringent security mechanisms to protect these data are required. The typical characteristics of handheld devices also create security concerns (Raghunathan, Ravi, Hattangady and Quisquarter, 2003):

Mobile communications uses a public transmission medium, which creates opportunity for hackers to eavesdrop communications more easily than with secured private connections Mobile devices are vulnerable to theft, loss and corruptibility

Processing power limitations on mobile devices can imply restrictions on security features (e.g. Algorithm selection)

To address these issues various methods have been proposed and refined during the last few years but numerous challenges, associated with the proliferation of different networks and the secure and seamless integration of those technologies, are still being actively investigated in research and development facilities throughout the world.

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