IPX Business Briefing 2013: Managing the transition to IP
As operators continue to connect using IPX providers, they rely on those same providers to resolve technical interworking problems. Will IPX relationships also require support from IPX providers for the business model too? Tim Phillips finds out.
Jeffrey Bak, marketing director at Tata Communications doesn’t have an IPX strategy, he claims: “we have a mobile broadband enablement strategy instead.” This is more than just marketing bluster. Tata’s background in managed services is being employed to create the services that operators and other IPX customers will need if they want to flourish in a diff erent environment.
In February 2013, Tata announced its managed services model for MNOs which were looking to migrate to 4G. Roaming services were bundled as the Virtual Private Roaming Hub, which consolidates roaming across a community of MNOs, creating economies of scale - and the LTE Roaming Service, which streamlines roaming for 4G networks.
Also there is a managed SMS fi rewall, to protect against mobile spam that is generated by international SMS, in which the MNO sets policies for fi ltering and trapping to protect revenue.
The approach is familiar from legacy GRX hubs or other exchange environments. But IPX, with its combination of roaming and converged services, presents special problems.
“IPX isn’t the answer - it’s the means to the solution. It just enables connectivity among service providers,” says his colleague Sarina Tu, head of strategy and marketing, Global Carrier Solutions, “We want to provide a converged platform for voice, video, messaging, roaming and signalling. Our managed services enablement capability - what we are doing here is not IP as a technology, but helping with what the MNO needs to do.”
Bak explains the diff erent dimensions of complexity. On converged platforms, each service may need to be specified and monitored with a diff erent quality and security to optimise cost. At the application layer, integration needs to be done to help operators and service providers set up billing as well as connectivity, and to help match-make between the two. “Multiply the two dimensions together and the complexity is growing exponentially,” Bak says.
Even simple technology, if it is to be eff ectively exploited, has to be managed at the IPX interconnect - for example, a simple problem such as service providers which want to send SMS.
“SMS is old school, it’s not part of the broadband revolution, it’s the current mainstay - but there is a growing ecosystem using it. You have A2P providers that use SMS as a great vehicle for applications, and companies like Google and Skype trying to incorporate SMS in their product,” Bak says.
“In a lot of developing countries they rely on SMS as the interface to services. MNOs have a lot of reservations about just opening up the network to all these emerging ecosystem partners. They need to deploy SMS fi rewall capabilities - it’s a perfect example where they want to rely on someone like us.”
Tu points out that Tata has led the market in policy management. “We were first to deliver this capability in a cloud delivery fashion. It allows them to create diff erentiated service packages based on the users’ traffi c patterns. It provides a capability to run their mobile operations more efficiently,” she says. “This evolved from fair usage to creating specific data packages. IPX previously was more about simply providing a converged platform. It provides them with capability with which they can drive more usage.”
Policy management and roaming management are elements of reporting services that Syniverse provides to help monitor IPX connections. Martin Guilfoyle, VP of innovation and R&D at Syniverse points out operators that do not take advantage of the ability to optimise their spending - and to spot problems early - “are missing out on a signifi cant benefi t”.
Among its monitoring capabilities are real-time alerting and rating via RoamMonitor, which allows operator customers to set spending and usage thresholds based on existing policies. This is based on the assumption that when customers understand their usage, they are comfortable using more of their data when roaming. VisProactive identifies network abnormalities and unusual traffic
patterns through a dashboard. Visibility Services give real-time roaming data.
Using tools like these has benefits, as Bak agrees with reference to LTE and roaming, especially in less sophisticated markets: “You don’t offer Diameter signalling on its own - you need to bundle it with the payload support capability that’s going to provide a holistic solution to them. They don’t want to put it together themselves, they want it form someone who says: this is how you solve you LTE roaming problem.”
“There is hidden complexity in IPX. While there is simplicity in terms of the concept of cascading payments, or having a single contract to manage multilateral connections, you need to look at what connections IPX leads operators to make,” says Arvind Mahesh, technical product manager at Subex.
Subex provides managed services in rating and billing to BT’s IPX exchange. While superficially it might seems that having a limited number of hops would simplify cascading payments, that’s rarely the case in this environment. That’s because many connections go from TDM to IPX (or vice versa), and so simply acquiring the information on quality is a challenge.
That’s not all. IP is charged by data volume, TDM by the minute. “If I have aTDM and an IP leg in the same call, it brings the challenge of identifying the right call margins. In TDM, the margins were quite straightforward. But IPX, with different legs where one is TDM, one IPX and maybe one IP, margins become much more difficult to identify. This is one of the key difficulties that operators want to manage.”
With a large volume of this type of call and a commitment to flexibility on charging, this is especially relevant for BT. “And how services are offered - and what kind of contacts are made between partners - is not governed by the GSMA,” Mahesh explains.
With many small carriers migrating into IPX as a way to interconnect, this also exposes operators to credit risk, especially with roaming and multiple chargeable services in one connection. “Eventually we will see a lot of IPX contracts more as hubbing than bilateral. Although there is not a lot of difference in rating and billing form this to standard voice, the challenge we see is managing risk exposure: how do you manage prepay, how do you manage this? You need to monitor at a level where you pay every 15 minutes or every half an hour, so that given that you know to cut off the service to a prepay partner,” Mahesh says.
The converged services billing and settlement framework that Subex offers has had to be upgraded specifically for the IPX environment. “We see operators evolving their billing systems for IPX, but for those doing it internally, it is at a very nascent stage,” Mahesh warns.
Even the administration of the IPX environment becomes massively more complex as it grows. IPX providers as well as operators will more closely mirror the structure of the IT business in future, where few businesses to not rely on number of service providers working in the background.
An example is the service provided by Infloblox in the networking world. IPX roaming providers feed frequent network updates to their mobile operator clients, based on geographic changes in remote roaming partner networks. They need to incorporate the updates into their networks in order to update their remote data roaming capabilities, but updating DNS records is still a highly manual process. Peter Luff, InfoBlox director of marketing for the service provider business, is part of a new business unit that updates these records automatically from a common DNS database that Infoblox maintains.
“With LTE, if the DNS goes down, the smartphone doesn’t work. That traffic is exploding, and the maintenance burden becomes significant. Roaming is a huge deal with IPX - the updates we get from the clients need to be transmitted and updated. That means hundreds of roaming updates, around 200 adds per day, which take several minutes each,” he explains, “We are starting to participate in the LTE community, because they are starting to see DNS as becoming a more strategic asset.” It’s not just administration: this also improves the capability to resist denial of service attacks, for example.
The quality of service that operators offer, and the efficiency with which they provide it, depends on the quality of the managed services that surround IPX. “Providers are looking at all these applications, and they are seeing all the demands and realising what they need to do to support them. They know that operators can’t do it all in house,” Bak says.
Conversing in high definition
One of the early applications of IPX has been HD Voice, notably led by Orange.
In October 2012 it claimed a ‘World Premiere’ - Orange has made the first international HD call between two Romanian and Moldovan mobile end-users. Orange is currently the world leader for mobile High-Definition Voice with 15 HD domestic networks worldwide. Isabelle Lorin de Reure, vice president marketing strategy and development, International Carriers at Orange, explains
why HD Voice is a business, not just a technical gimmick.
Capacity: Isabelle, what is the difference between HD voice and voice?
Isabelle: Today non HD calls drastically limit the transmitted speech frequency spectrum. Only the range 300Hz to 3400Hz is kept over
a total speech spectrum of about 20Hz to 10kHz. With HD Voice calls, the range of frequency transmitted is doubled, to reach 50Hz to 7kHz. In an international business environment, HD technology minimises the effects of local accents and improves comprehension
Capacity: What type of infrastructure does HD voice require?
Isabelle: HD quality is supported by 2 standardised codecs: G722 for fixed networks and WB-AMR (Wideband Adaptive Multi Rate, can also be called G722.2) for mobile networks. WB-AMR is the HD Voice codec for GSM. It has also been selected for coming Voice over LTE. It requires, at international level, an HD enabled international carrier between the two service
providers and a full IP path between the international wholesaler and
each HD operator.
Capacity: Ah. A full IP path. This is where IPX comes in..
Isabelle: IPX is the ideal transport network to fulfill this promise: no transcoding by the carrier network, except for fixed HD to mobile HD, and direct IP destinations. Orange offers HD voice over IPX via its Multiservice IP eXchange. Orange makes international HD
voice available for operators and service providers on fixed and mobile networks and thus extends end-user HD experience to
Capacity: It’s a service you provide as a wholesale carrier, but is it a business for operators?
Isabelle: According to a GSMA survey, approximately 40% of users questioned say they would change their calling behaviour to
make longer calls, more calls or both, if they benefitted from HD voice quality. HD voice offers the most significant improvement in