IP transformation opens up innovative services opportunities for operators

November 1st, 2011
Global Telecoms Business

Operators have devoted massive investment and attention to transforming their networks to converged IP architectures but, before the entire dream of an all-IP environment can be achieved, they must address the risks associated with their legacy TDM networks. It is all too easy to imagine an IP transformation that will happen overnight with the flip of a switch. The reality today is that vast segments of operators’ customers are served by aging equipment that is either inefficient in terms of its cost of operation and environmental footprint, inappropriate for the delivery of new revenue-generating services, or simply wearing out. The problem is well understood and the telecoms industry has been driving new IP technologies into the network as an alternative to legacy TDM for some time. For example, alternate operators such as cable companies have been delivering voice services using VoIP for many years and internet providers also use VoIP over carrier broadband connections to deliver services. Internet over the top (OTT) providers have also targeted voice and video offerings using IP technologies. Even wireless networks are targeting a migration from 2G/ 3G TDM technologies for the delivery of voice to 4G VoIP-based Voice over LTE solutions that will also be augmented by a Rich Communications Suite (RCS) of services providing video, messaging and more.

TDM maintenance burden
It is the incumbents or traditional operators that face the greatest challenge in maintaining their aging legacy TDM networks. As time goes by, that burden increases and the risk of failure causing system outages increases, potentially putting the user experience for millions of customers at risk.

“The transformation is underway but the complexity and sheer scale of the task should not be underestimated,” says Mehmet Balos, chief marketing officer of Genband. “However, there are substantial upsides for operators that achieve a well-managed evolution from TDM to IP. Such a shift opens the door to service innovation and will enable operators to deliver new services and derive new revenues.”

Service innovation
The evolution of TDM networks to IP holds the same promise of innovation as service providers of all types embrace the technology to deliver a new set of SMB, enterprise and residential services that go far beyond the existing narrowband voice-based portfolio.

There are seven key areas that TDM to IP transformation enables operators to address in ways that are attractive to their users. Some are focused on enabling operators to continue to compete in the market; others enable operators to generate new revenues.

Adoption of multimedia Users are demanding services that address their needs for video, messaging and file sharing. To stay in the game, operators need to support these requirements simply, transparently and in the manner that users want.

Unified communications By bridging various media, operators can provide applications with value that no single media can provide. Bringing such propositions together on an IP platform delivers value to the user and revenue to the operator that can be far in excess of the sum of the individual services and applications.

Collaboration tools New functions are enabled by transformation to IP such as web collaboration, conferencing and chat.

Desktop integration The desktop becomes even more tightly integrated with the network through transformation to IP. Integration with business systems such as Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes and consumer applications such as social networking can be enabled. As the traditional boundaries between desktop and palmtop activity and work and leisure blur, operators need to provide the enabling technologies that empower users with the flexibility to use the services they choose.

Mobility Demand for such functionality no longer stops and begins at the desktop. Users want all their apps and services with them, all the time, wherever they go and all available from the cloud. Any place that has IP connectivity supports that demand.

Device options The array of devices available has proliferated and services must be provided across the device ecosystem. Operators must enable consumption on existing business or home telephone sets or put VoIP clients on IP devices such as computers, smartphones, tablets or even IP enabled televisions. Users increasingly demand this level of choice and will find a supplier that delivers.

Quality of experience Users have learned to demand more from their communications experiences and consequently have higher quality expectations than ever before. Operators, by transforming to IP, can address this appetite by providing services such as high definition voice. In an all IP environment they are no longer constrained by TDM standards that limit audio to fewer than 4 KHz. The same will also be true of video communications where HD will be table stakes.

Operators are already moving to address these key areas. They have started by embracing new, VoIPbased service sets for SMB and enterprise customers and are starting to see growth based on the popularity of cloud-based service architectures. Consumer and residential services are lagging, some way behind depending on location, but they are also picking up momentum and will continue to do so as IP transformation continues.

Some carriers have introduced overlay networks to deliver the new service set, but in so doing have given up the opportunity to offer those new services alongside the existing service set. To get a new service, you end up having to give one up that you already have. That does not sit well with many users, especially enterprises that have built their business systems around the existing service set and who prefer to avoid workforce disruption and retraining. The Genband alternative to transform the network in fact delivers the best of both worlds by enhancing the existing service set and providing the opportunity to update your enterprise — one desktop or one service at a time. The same holds true for consumer end-users who can simply augment their existing voice service with video, messaging and more.

“With mature markets saturated, many operators can’t turn to adding new users to grow their business,” adds Balos. “Instead, they must focus on retaining their existing customers and attracting customers from rivals. Their strategies must start with holding on to their customers. After all, customers are easier to retain than they are to acquire in the first place. TDM to IP transformation must address both the risk involved in running aging equipment and the attendant outage concerns and the demands of end users for new services.”

This migration is a complex path to take but does have demonstrable benefits that make it not only desirable but essential for the future success of an operator business. “TDM networks by their nature are extremely large, which means so are transformation projects involving them,” continues Balos. “That scale means approaching network modernization as an overlay puts substantial pressure on the back end of the project. However, the risk involved in maintaining the current TDM network and skillsets, perhaps indefinitely, is extraordinarily high. Operators must act but they must do so with a network plan in place that allows for this dual IP and TDM network to exist for a fixed period of time as switches are swapped out and TDM gear is replaced with IP equipment.”

Genband’s approach is to offer flexible offerings that fit any operator’s plans, giving them the flexibility to transform at a pace to suit their needs and in a way that most closely addresses the nature of their customers’ demands. The portfolio encompasses IP core options based on softswitch and IMS architectures, interconnect options that are capable of peering into existing TDM network and all-IP architectures and access options to deliver service using existing line access devices.

Genband also provides a full range of application capabilities to address the next wave of innovation demanded by both business and consumer end-users. Deployed in the cloud, this provides operators with the tools and capability to take back a leadership position in the delivery of new services and not only protect, but grow their customer base.

Those solutions are backed by Genband’s professional services capability. The Genband workforce has huge experience in modernizing networks and uses procedures that are proven to work from network design, through migration planning and engineering to installation, testing, migration itself and cutover. Genband’s own tools give it the unique ability to complete these high-volume migrations at extremely high quality in contrast to manual alternatives.

The transformational experience that Genband has assembled means it can also help operators model the business case for their transformation. With more than 40 million lines already transformed to IP, Genband leads the market in any-to- any migrations and has used this knowledge, in collaboration with analyst firm Heavy Reading to create a model and tool to enable operators to characterize their network transformation scenarios and calculate the costs and investment returns involved. Seeing that in hard dollars helps operators focus on the benefits and the drivers for going through migration to IP rather than getting bogged down in the risks associated with it.

Such an approach also underscores that, while operators face stiff competition, they have unique advantages as the market transforms. Only they can guarantee quality of experience in contrast to best effort over-the-top providers, they also have the billing relationship with their huge, existing customer bases, and, especially in an all IP environment, they can bundle a variety of services to create compelling commercial offerings.

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