Hybrid of ATM and IP predicted

With IP insufficient to provide functions such as quality of service over telecommunications networks, a merging of IP with Asynchronous Transfer Mode, also called ATM, is likely to occur, said a Sprint official at the NetWorld+Interop conference in Atlanta last week.

"The world isn't IP," said Fred Harris, director of network planning and design at Sprint, during a panel discussion on IP and optical networking. What is likely to happen is a convergence of IP and ATM, he said.

"We'll probably call it IP+, or something like that, but what you'll see is the emergence of a protocol that has the attributes of IP and ATM," Harris said.

IP is the basis for new applications, such as multicasting, while ATM offers the reliability found in legacy technologies, Harris contended.

Such a new protocol would need to be backward compatible with existing systems, he said.

"You have to interface with the world as it is," Harris said.

Asked if such a protocol was being worked on by standards organisations, Harris responded that scientists are working on new communications protocols. Groups such as the Softswitch Consortium will focus on this type of evolution, he said.

Additionally, optical technology will grow in importance to meet user bandwidth demands.

"Probably in the next 18 to 24 months we'll see emerging technologies that allow us to do at the optical level what SONet [Synchronous Optical Network] does at the electrical level," Harris said. Technologies such as photonic switching need to be developed before all-optical networks can emerge, he said.