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As TDM Declines, ATCA Tech Symposium Explores Migration to IP as Step One in Digital Transformation

“Business transformation and digital transformation” is headline news these days and is often promoted as critical to survival in the modern economic reality. This certainly is the case with most telecom operators, i.e., carriers, service providers, resellers and consultants who promote their approach to modernizing some aspect of the network from where it is, to where it should be.

There are several use cases where traditional networks have been slow or reluctant to change. For example, TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) services have been around since the 80s. TDM is a time- based method to multiplex services over a media, typically copper. 

There are some reasons TDM is still in use today:

Certain characteristics of TDM services are relied upon in specific industries like utilities and transportation. TDM is still hailed as setting the standard for reliability, and it was engineered to be that way. Most TDM services are capable of being protected, and can react to a failure in milliseconds, protecting the end-user’s application. 

Many of today’s air traffic controllers still leverage TDM technology, with approximately 90% of the FTI network supported by this outdated technology. TDM has served air traffic controllers well for some time, but due to telecommunications carriers cutting service offerings, it may be time for the FAA to migrate to IP-based communications. 

During the ATCA Tech Symposium running from September 14-18, industry and government leaders will converge in a fully virtual forum organized by FAA, NASA and ATCA to discuss innovation, research, products and services in the air traffic control arena. 

ConnX (formerly Atlas Communications Technology) CEO, Indrajit Ghosh will unpack the digital transformation opportunity for an agency in need of modernization. In advance of the event, I had the opportunity to talk with Ghosh about what may lie ahead for the FAA. 

When referencing TDM and PTSN, Ghosh noted “it is, what the Walkman was the music industry; great for a time, but rising cost and lack of functionality have led to the demise of TDM in most markets.” 

When researching a digital transformation initiative like what the FAA has ahead, Ghosh explained,” To ensure security, quality and reliability are maintained, application performance, infrastructure and network and security assessment should be completed and any adjustments or remediations done before considering digital transformation.” 

Boasting a depth of experience in guiding the digital transformation journey for healthcare providers, large government markets as well as biotech and investment banking , ConnX, can offer perspective. 

When asked about the challenges with this type of project, Ghosh illustrated, “Enterprise customers and government agencies are all wrestling with similar challenges and, in the current pandemic, the challenges have intensified. As the technologies we use become increasingly complex, how can we continue to provide the enhanced services, security and end user experience while maintaining flexibility and control across network and systems?” 

Typical challenges in this type of initiative include:

A lack of expertise internally to lead digitization initiatives, lack of overall strategy, lack of or poor analytics, or a misalignment of objectives within the organization. A trusted managed services provider is a popular route to take, as it’s easy to get lost or mislead along the way. The right technology partner will make sure you miss the potholes along the way. 

In the case of FAA, there are a myriad of systems which have been in place for decades. A great majority of these systems communicate via TDM, which is increasingly expensive to maintain. The interdependency of systems, and over 100 interfaces make this even more complicated, as you cannot consider just one interface, but how many work together. TDM is sunsetting, but this isn’t be a seen as a negative; It is an opportunity to modernize the way business is conducted and make a systemwide change for the better. 

Air traffic controllers have challenging jobs, and communications should optimize and enhance their efficiency. Thankfully, with IP-based communications one can only imagine the possibilities.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

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