Around the World

Posted: August 26th, 2011 | Author: OSS Team | Filed under: Around the World | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Where Does IMS Stand?
Tim Young asserts that IMS is making a comeback in large part due to the growth of LTE. While LTE is all IP, there is virtually no support for voice, and as such, IMS has become a real contender to fill this gap, specifically as it applies to Voice over LTE (VoLTE).

This trend toward increased usage is supported by a recent Infonetics Research survey, which found that 78% of respondents will have mobile-specific services deployed over IMS by 2013, a significant increase from 35% today. The analyst firm also identified the desire to offer converged services and deploy LTE as key IMS growth drivers.

When IMS first entered the industry, some critics noted slow carrier interest and grew skeptical of its longevity. Now years later, do you think this renewed carrier interest foreshadows a promising future for IMS?

Billing & OSS World…
Gov’t Plan, Smartphone Adoption to Drive Data Growth in Colombia
A Pyramid Research report predicts that the Colombian government’s plan to increase broadband access and the adoption of smartphones will fuel data growth throughout the next several years. The government wants to quadruple the number of Internet connections in the country to 8.8 million, and is putting special emphasis on the availability of infrastructure for broadband coverage. This plan, along with handset vendor competition, more spectrum availability and decreasing smartphone prices, is expected to maintain Colombian telecom market growth.

This view reinforces predictions that Latin America will see broadband penetration skyrocket over the next five years and the amount of subscribers increase to 150 million-plus. Managing these new customers and services will be critical, and OSS/BSS will certainly play a significant role, allowing the region’s communications service providers (CSPs) to focus on their core business.…
Nigeria: GSM at Ten in Nation
August marks the tenth year since GSM was introduced in Nigeria. GSM made telephone access available to everyone, eliminating the age-long dominance of the wealthy on telephone use. But, the most prominent result of GSM can be seen in the tremendous growth of subscribers, rising from 450,000 fixed lines in 1999 to 90 million active lines, fixed and mobile, today. This figure is expected to rise even higher to 118 million mobile subscribers by 2014.

As IDC analyst Andy Hicks notes, developed market telcos can learn from the achievements of CSPs in emerging markets such as Nigeria. These include aspects like offering compelling services and real-time solutions, as well as identity management. What are some telecom trends you’ve seen in emerging markets that others can draw inspiration from?

Around the World

Posted: April 27th, 2011 | Author: OSS Team | Filed under: Around the World | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

TelecomAsia …
Take Responsibility End-to-End

In this article, reporter Joseph Waring focuses on customer experience as an especially important element contributing to both the success and growth of the telecom industry. He illustrates this by detailing the results of aTelecom Asia-Stratecast survey of operators across Asia Pacific, which found that customer experience management and customer care/self-care were the customer-oriented functions receiving the most attention, with 55-56 percent of those polled pointing to these as top priorities. Following on the heels of customer experience management and customer care/self-care were business analytics and business intelligence, with 44 percent of respondents indicating these areas as receiving the most attention. According to Stratecast’s Karl Whitelock, this prioritisation makes sense. He states that: “They are related, and a focus on one creates a need to update the other. Customer self-care and knowing the customer’s overall service experience is vital in today’s always-on environment.”

This reminded us of a recent post from Olivier Suard in which he discusses customer satisfaction as something that’s not as black and white as mobile broadband speed and capacity. He explains that customer satisfaction is often thought of in terms of smartphone users, but there are still large amounts of mobile phone users who do not own a smartphone. For these people, it’s more likely that what keeps them satisfied are things like accurate billing and how well they can make phone calls or send/receive text messages. For this reason, it’s not surprising that customer care, business analytics and business intelligence ranked high in the Telecom Asia-Stratecast survey – it’s important to think about all different types of customers and the ways they use their devices in order to ensure the best possible experience.

Pyramid Research…
Kenyans Sprint Toward a Strong Telecom Future

The future of telecom seems promising for Kenya, with analyst Majd Hosn detailing the country’s communications market achievements in 2010 and describing its likelihood for success in 2011 and beyond. 3G, number portability and service quality made major strides with the help of the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK). The CCK dramatically reduced interconnection rates as well as the levy for acquiring a 3G license. Additionally, mobile number portability was put into effect and a set of operational rules were enacted that hold operators responsible for a minimum service quality to customers. In terms of growth, Hosn states that 2010 revenue is expected at $1.42 billion—a 5.4 percent increase from 2009. And with an expected 2010 mobile penetration rate of 56 percent, Kenya is certainly looking like it will be prosperous in the telecom space!

Alan Quayle Weblog…
IMS World Forum: Quick Summary

Recently returned from the IMS World Forum earlier this month, Alan Quayle provides an overview of the event and highlights some key presentations. The Forum was a huge success with more than 250 attendees, a 20 percent increase from last year. Alan states that although IMS seems to be fairly old-hat, it’s actually more important than ever to have this sort of IMS-centric event in order to pool ideas on how best to deploy the technology as it becomes more mainstream.  In fact, a 2009 survey revealed that eight percent of operators had deployed IMS for commercial services. Alan is currently in the middle of updating the survey, but results seem to be on track with his expectations—IMS deployments in 2011 will be at roughly 17 percent.

Alan describes the Forum as a roughly equal mix of operators and vendors and a great platform for discussion.  Promising to review these presentations in more detail, Alan lists the following highlights:

  • Thomas May from Verizon presented VoLTE experimentation results.
  • Wooyong Choi from SKT presented the operator’s experiences with RCS.
  • Both Kevin Klett (Acme Packet) and Micaela Giuhat (Genband) provided strong views on the implementation options for IMS and some hints on simplification.
  • Katarina Sekaljic from Serbia Telekom presented on the challenges for implementing IMS.

We’re particularly looking forward to hearing more about Verizon’s presentation on VoLTE, as Simo Isomäki wrote a piece discussing how LTE is breathing new life into IMS and followed it up with a post on the voice problem. Simo believes that one of the key options for alleviating this pain point is VoLTE, as it is backed by all of the major network and device vendors. However, it requires an IMS back-end core and also forces all services using 2G/3G for voice to be re-implemented in IMS. VoLTE would support the handover of radio to ensure voice call continuity in a single-radio mode, but some work would still need to be done to stadardise the handover process from 3G to LTE.

LTE – The Voice Problem

Posted: March 23rd, 2011 | Author: Simo Isomaki | Filed under: Industry Insights | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about whether LTE was breathing a new life into IMS. I received a lot of comments, and that post has been one of the most popular on the “The Dynamics of OSS”. Clearly, I touched a nerve there!

This time, I would like to look at how operators plan to solve “the voice problem” in LTE. Yes, voice! Given the revenue operators still make from voice services, one would have thought they would have made voice a priority. In fact, the focus so far has been almost entirely on faster data. However, the “voice problem” won’t go away.

The problem arises because 2G/3G voice is basically circuit switched, not packet transport. LTE, on the other hand, is all-IP, packet transport with no ‘circuit’ at all. This creates quite a problem for operators when they decide to transition voice from 2G/3G to LTE.

Currently, operators with LTE are considering three options to support voice:

  1. VoLTE (GSMA- and 3GPP-backed Voice over LTE, basically voice services in IMS core)
  2. VoLGA (Kineto Wireless-supported alternative Voice over LTE using Generic Access or UMA also known as unlicensed Mobile Access)
  3. CSFB (Circuit Switched FallBack, prior to Voice over LTE, the 3GPP-backed standard)

As it relates to voice calls, CSFB is principally not LTE at all.  The radio connection is moved to a circuit-switched 2G/3G radio connection (and LTE radio is not on). As a result, data sessions (web surfing, data streaming, etc.) would be cut unless the device has a dual radio mode (LTE and 2G/3G radio on at the same time), which apart from consuming more battery life, this would generally be a bad compromise.

VoLGA is a somewhat of a competing offering by Kineto among others. It proposes to bridge the gap between LTE and CSFB, but would require each handset and device to also support VoLGA. So far, the adoption of VoLGA appears to be limited.

This leaves VoLTE.  VoLTE seems to be the winner, as it is backed by all of the major network and device vendors. However, it mandates IMS back-end core and also forces all services in existence in 2G/3G voice (IN services, prepaid, roaming) to be re-implemented in IMS, which is clearly a big and potentially expensive challenge for operators. VoLTE would support the handover of radio to ensure voice call continuity in a single-radio mode (very good for sparing battery consumption), but some work is still needed in the standardisation for the handover process from 3G to LTE.

LTE could also naturally drive OTT (over the top) voice services (e.g. Google Voice, Skype, etc.) , but the challenge is that the handover to 2G/3G radio would cut the data sessions and disconnect voice. As LTE coverage will most likely not be 100% (at least for most European operators), this will most likely impact some users. That being said, it would only affect truly mobile customers. Nomadic customers, who are essentially stationary, would not have to face that problem and could use OTT services to the detriment of operator revenue.

However, it seems many operators have decided to tackle the challenge by first driving the rollout of LTE by using data only. Then, when coverage and hunger for more data is handled—and handled well—the assumption is that voice can more easily be put onto the network. I’ve heard rumours that larger international groups are building a central IMS core to be shared between their national operating companies (the LTE radio part would remain separate). This would help to drive the business case for IMS, as IMS costs are split between the operating entities. However, sharing IMS rollout costs perhaps will not be available to smaller, independent operators then.

With CDMA, the world is ’simpler’ as the 3GPP2 standard for handover procedure from LTE to CDMA is not available, and at least Verizon is not even looking into that.

Needless to say, all of this will have an impact on back-end systems, like charging and policy control, as well as service creation and activation, which will require special attention—especially in the complex world of hybrid LTE+2G/3G networks, where services still need to be created and charged for so that they seamlessly work during handovers.

LTE: Breathing New Life into IMS?

Posted: June 24th, 2010 | Author: Simo Isomaki | Filed under: Industry Insights | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) is back in the news! Remember IMS? There was a lot of hype around it a few years back, then came a big reality check (e.g. how can the cost of deployment be justified?), and in the end just a few operators decided to roll out IMS in earnest (and indeed Comptel was part of some of those successful deployments).

So, why is it in the news again?

The main reason why IMS is currently making headlines is LTE (Long Term Evolution): the new mobile technology that effectively brings in IMS. This has led some observers to declare that IMS is nowhere at the moment but will be everywhere once LTE comes in. Now I don’t see it that way—far from a big bang, the introduction of IMS is and will remain to be a slow and incremental process. I would like to explain why.

Firstly and most importantly, I believe that the foundations for IMS are already being laid now at many mobile operators, because of factors that are not directly related to LTE. The massive increase in mobile broadband and the development of packet core networks is moving the industry slowly but inevitably towards an IMS type of all-IP environment. To an OSS/BSS vendor like Comptel, this can be witnessed relatively easily by the amount of work done around DIAMETER and various DIAMETER protocol implementations. We see that, for example, in various policy control approaches taken by most mobile operators, such as AT&T (which I blogged about recently) or the Comptel Roaming Cost Control implementation at DNA Finland. DIAMETER is not necessarily the de-facto standard yet, but it seems that more and more equipment supports DIAMETER as the ‘standard’ protocol for usage charging or policy management. And this is key to IMS succeeding; DIAMETER is part of the IMS architecture.

Another factor driving the progressive evolution to IMS is the growing interest in using user data for active decision-making in OSS/BSS. I have already mentioned policy control, but we are also seeing an increased need for customer-centric fulfilment and charging. And, this is mirrored by the evolving role of customer information repositories, such as GUP (Generic User Profile), SPR (Subscriber Profile Repository), HSS (Home Subscriber Server) and HLR (Home Location Register) and others, as well as the significantly increased awareness and adoption of 3GPP-aligned strategies. So while data management is still a major challenge and synching all repositories is still a major headache, there is no doubt that customer data and intelligence are moving towards the network—as IMS requires it.

That said, while there is clear evidence that the foundations are already being laid pre-LTE, I also believe that when operators do eventually deploy LTE, they will not go to an all-IMS architecture straight away. The main reason for this is that operators are unlikely to do a wholesale replacement of their established 2.5 and 3G networks. The fact is that, despite the growth in data, revenue is still mostly made with voice, and voice does not really need an all-IP environment. The Circuit Switched (CS) core is still there, and why not use it? Just like PSTN, the CS core will be more or less a place where no new investments are made, and if they are made, it’s because the new stuff is substantially lower-cost, if nothing else. Furthermore, while IP core is struggling to cope with the smartphone load of IP traffic, I would think that operators would be adopting the wrong strategy if they put their money making voice onto an overloaded (or soon-to-be overloaded) IP network. There may be a time when it will make economic sense to move to an all-IP network, but operators will also be keeping a CS network. And that also means that IMS will have to sit alongside more traditional and indeed legacy systems.

There is one final factor that I would like to highlight: China. While the rest of the world is contemplating a move to IMS, China Mobile and more recently China Telecom are boldly going where virtually no other has before—a large scale, nationwide IMS infrastructure. In my opinion, aside from the example it sets, this will mean that some vendors who supply the network-side kits to this investment will be in a fairly strong position in the future, having gained invaluable experience, and that will serve to reassure other telcos about IMS. This move will impact the telco sector much more than we can even imagine today.

In short, I believe we are unlikely to see a mad rush to IMS, just a slow and steady adoption as we have seen up to now.

In reality, neither IMS nor LTE (or any other technology) matters really. What matters is that we, the users, get the services we want at a price we’re willing to pay for with devices and technology supporting it. If IMS or LTE are the technologies that can deliver the necessary capacity, experience, latency or whatever functionalities (or not) needed, while balancing operators’ costs so that they can continue to build more, then they will be adopted. If not, they will fail and be hyped about for awhile and forgotten.