Network convergence is the efficient coexistence of telephone, video and data communication within a single network. The use of multiple communication modes on a single network offers convenience and flexibility that are not possible with separate infrastructures. Network convergence is also called media convergence.
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Before network convergence, many services used different network infrastructures, hardware and protocols to connect to servers. Today, consumers, businesses, educational institutions and government agencies use an expanded collection of media types, including:
- Texting - the act of sending short, alphanumeric communications between cellphones, pagers or other hand-held devices, as implemented by a wireless carrier.
- Web surfing - exploring a sequence of web sites in a random, unplanned way, or simply using the web to look for something in a questing way.
- Voice over IP (VoIP) - the transmission of voice and multimedia content over Internet Protocol (IP) networks.
- Streaming media - video or audio content sent in compressed form over the Internet and played immediately, rather than being saved to the hard drive.
- Videoconference applications - a live, visual connection between two or more people residing in separate locations for the purpose of communication.
- Online gaming - the running of specialized applications known as electronic games or video games on game consoles like X-box and Playstation or on personal computers.
- E-commerce - the buying and selling of goods and services, or the transmitting of funds or data, over an electronic network, primarily the internet.
Users demand high quality of service, and quality of experience robustness, while businesses and IT administrators want moderate cost, standards compatibility, ease of modification and upgrading, security, privacy and freedom from malware.
Given the variety of services that workers interact with, it would make good technological sense if such services all used the same infrastructure. Standardization on TCP/IP, Ethernet and WiFi -- which network convergence favors -- offers a predictable user experience, allows for integration among disparate products and vendors, and makes network management easier for IT administrators.
Converged network challenges
As network convergence evolves, major challenges confront network developers. Sheer demand for bandwidth is perhaps the most significant because all the applications and services take advantage of the single network. As applications become more sophisticated, and users exchange increasingly rich content and data, converged network resources can become overwhelmed. Effective network convergence therefore lies in the design, installation and maintenance of adequate hardware. Companies should plan to have enough bandwidth to support all the devices and services that will access their converged network, and redundancy must be built into the network to ensure that mission-critical applications continue to operate during any kind of failure.
Hacking is another issue. When malicious attacks occurred on siloed networks, hackers could only access whatever data was on the particular network they broke into; telecommunications, closed-circuit TV and PCs ran on different networks, so attackers could access only one resource at a time. But when all those resources use the same infrastructure, an attacker can access all of them once they are on the converged network.
Another challenge is that the implementation of new technologies is limited by the extent to which investors and taxpayers are willing to support them.
Still another issue is the need for standards that ensure seamless operation with multiple end-user platforms and evolving communications modes. New technologies sometimes bring new types of traffic that place previously unknown demands on network hardware, operating systems, resources and software.
See also: fixed-mobile convergence