Q: Acme Packet has played a role in the TDM to IP communication transition for over 10 years. What’s your view on the status of this for mobile operators?
A: It’s an exciting time in which the communications landscape is being radically redefined. Globally, communications services are moving from traditional telephony-oriented services to new IP-based voice, video and unified communications. Service providers understand the benefit of converging data, voice and video onto a single common IP infrastructure to reduce costs. But, more importantly, it enables them to support new applications and services—ones that are only available in end-to-end IP networks—to drive new revenue in the future.
Mobile networks are the next frontier for this transition. With the rise of mobile broadband, service providers are now facing some of the same opportunities and challenges that the fixed line and cable operators faced as they starting moving to VoIP ten years ago. With 1.7 billion mobile broadband subscribers expected in 2014, the addressable market for these new IP communications is substantial. We see service providers investing aggressively to convert their mobile infrastructure to IP or offer IP services. Mobile service providers have a tremendous opportunity to participate in this next major state change but they need to move quickly.
Q: What’s going to change with widespread deployment of LTE?
A: LTE will be a game changer. We see widespread interest in LTE architectures globally, and there are over 140 service providers committed to making the move to LTE. LTE is not just fast Internet access; it is next-generation mobile technology that leaves behind TDM networks and delivers true all-IP communications. Mobile IP interactive communications – not just voice but rich multimedia services—will really take off when LTE becomes commonplace.
Voice and messaging communications accounts for about two-thirds of all mobile revenue today, so this transition has significant impact on service providers. The real question is—how fast can mobile service providers move to an all-IP LTE network? When it happens, we’ll see a radical transformation in the way people communicate and a new generation of mobile devices and IP applications for voice and video.
Q: What about Wi-Fi? What are your thoughts on that as an opportunity?
A: Wi-Fi is an attractive way to off-load data and voice from increasingly overburdened macro networks. Mobile service providers can use Wi-Fi to complement their macro network in order to alleviate bandwidth demand spikes. The combination of macro off-loads and Internet backhaul helps service providers save cost and improves the customer experience. Acme Packet recognizes this growing need and delivers solutions that can help ensure security and service quality end-to-end when IP communications moves from the secure, managed macro radio networks to the unmanaged, untrusted Internet.
Q: SIP and IMS are two standards that are key to the transition from circuit-switched telephony services to IP-based services. What are some of the benefits of moving to SIP and why now?
A: Standardizing on SIP is like “uncorking the genie” for service providers. Taking over the role of SS7, SIP is the signaling protocol that will enable the delivery of not just voice but also these new end-to-end IP communications services. LTE deployments will rapidly accelerate the adoption of SIP and IMS. The importance of a single global standard also creates a broad ecosystem of vendors and developers to deliver innovation and lower costs. As subscribers, we can also be assured that our services will work anywhere in the world.
Even prior to LTE, the cost benefits of moving to SIP are hard to ignore. In the core or interconnect parts of the network, SIP can lower capital and operational expenditures. In fact, some service providers are already realizing savings of millions of dollars a month by standardizing on SIP.
The ability to have one single IP infrastructure that supports both mobile and fixed line is very attractive. SIP and IMS are built for that world and can eliminate the service silos of the past. With SIP and QoS-enabled, ultra-fast broadband, service providers will be able to innovate and enhance their service portfolio to offset average revenue-per-user pressure and gain market share.
Q: Given the allure of over-the-top and cloud services, how can mobile service providers remain relevant?
A: We absolutely believe in the value proposition of mobile service providers because there are fundamental aspects of their networks that are differentiators. Mobile service providers have tremendously valuable network assets such as universal reachability, emergency service support and quality-of-service control that are critical to service delivery transport networks. Over-the-top (OTT) providers such as Apple or Google have the applications, brand and user communities. However, they do not own the access network nor do they have critical network capabilities to deliver services in a reliable and secure way that complies with key public safety regulations. So, mobile service providers are indeed going to be relevant but they will need to be smart about making an investment to “service-enable” their network so they can effectively compete with OTT providers and deliver these new services and applications.
Further, it does not have to be a competition. Partnership is possible with a session-aware network. Service federation enables a cooperative business model that moves communications forward in the broadband era to benefit both parties and ultimately, creates richer end-user experiences. The quicker mobile service providers can adapt and participate, the further ahead they will be in shaping usage. Acme Packet’s technology can help facilitate service federation between service providers and OTT players.
We’ve already seen some hints of this happening with Sprint and Google announcing a partnership to turn a Sprint number into a Google voice number. Skype has relationships with KDDI and Verizon Wireless that show a cooperative model at work.
Q: You mention the need for service-enabling the network. Why is that so important for end-to-end IP communications?
A: In order to effectively deploy LTE/4G next-generation communications, additional IP network infrastructure is needed to address the complex new requirements and make it “session-aware.” The Internet is well suited to one-way data delivery applications such as email, Web browsing and streaming video but not real-time, two-way, interactive voice and video applications. Unlike data applications, real-time interactive sessions have stringent performance requirements making them intolerant of variances in bandwidth and delay. Trust, security, and regulatory compliance are also critical to the success and usage of interactive communications across IP networks.
Acme Packet is working with its customers to build what we are calling “session delivery networks” that provide critical capabilities for service-enabling the IP infrastructure. These session delivery networks support next-generation, real-time, interactive IP communications including voice, video and unified communications. They allow the network to authenticate the subscriber identity so that the session is trusted and private. A session delivery network ensures the IP network is available and able to provide a high-quality user experience. They also provide methods to comply with government regulations for emergency calling and lawful intercept. With a session delivery network, service providers can more readily add value by enabling powerful new interactive applications and service options for end-users across a broad range of IP-enabled devices.
Q: If there’s one thing we can be certain of in the future, it is change. What do you believe the future all-IP mobile network will look like? How will
this affect mobile service providers and Acme Packet?
A: The future of IP communications is a whole new equation. There will be new services and new applications—some that we can hardly conceive of today—impacting all aspects of our lives including how we work, play, learn and interact with friends and family. Consumers are driving the demand for IP communications with anyone, anywhere on any device and expanding what “communication” means to include voice, video, chat, and multimedia collaboration.
However, the biggest change that we’ll see is a change in the way value is realized in communications. At this point in time, it’s unclear who is in the best position to realize that value but we know there is a huge opportunity for value creation. Over time, we believe people won’t pay much for transport but they will pay for applications and managed services. Session delivery networks position mobile service providers as key participants in the value chain for these new services and applications, bridging the gap between these and the underlying IP transport network.