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. Today, net convergence is more commonly referred to as unified communications. It includes:
- 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.
History of network convergence
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.
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 makes good technological sense for such services to 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 evolved, major challenges confronted network developers. Sheer demand for bandwidth was perhaps the most significant because all the applications and services take advantage of the single network. As applications became more sophisticated, and users exchanged increasingly rich content and data, early attempts at converging network resources often become overwhelmed.
Over time, it has become clear that effective network convergence lies in the design, installation and maintenance of adequate hardware and software. Companies began to plan to have enough bandwidth to support all the devices and services that would access their converged network, and redundancy was built into the network to ensure that mission-critical applications continued to operate during any kind of failure.
When malicious attacks occurred on siloed networks, attackers 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. Once all those resources used the same infrastructure, an attacker could access all of them through a single access point.
Originally, the top concern was eavesdropping, or the unauthorized interception of VoIP, messaging other traffic. UC endpoints, whether desktops, laptops, or IP phones, all connect to the data network, and can be tapped by compromising the network anywhere along the data route.
IP telecommunications providers around the world lose hundreds of millions of dollars annually due to stolen services through toll fraud. Converged voice and video traffic typically uses the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) to control calls, but the actual media stream for a call is separate from that control stream. It is possible, therefore, to use SIP to spoof the call manager about what kind of call it is controlling. For example, the perpetrator might tell the call manager that a call will be voice-only, but then stream high-definition video instead, essentially defrauding the system owner of the higher revenues for the video traffic.
Vishing, the VoIP-enabled form of phishing, is another security concern around network convergence. By applying the basic techniques of phishing to a new toolset, vishers use spoofed Caller ID or other call information to suggest that they are calling in an official capacity and get recipients to reveal confidential information over the phone.
Denial of service (DoS) was an attack vector that had new applications in the converged network world. While it was virtually unknown with traditional telephony, today's attacker can aim to disrupt the communications infrastructure at the desktop level by swamping or crashing phones -- or at the gateway level by taking out the network nodes that interface an enterprise VoIP installation with the outside world. They can also attack call managers directly by using SIP or other protocols to crash the manager with an endless flood of valid, but dishonest session requests.
See also: fixed-mobile convergence