SBC Market Redux: Who Says There are No Second Acts?

July 17th, 2012
B.G. Kumar, President of Multimedia Business Unit for GENBAND

One of the most overused and inaccurate phrases in the entertainment business is overnight sensation. As any successful musician or actor can attest, stardom is rarely achieved in an instant. Instead, the journey from neophyte to limelight can take years and includes multiple detours and blind corners.

The technology that drives progress and innovation in the telecommunications industry often follows a similar pattern, with it sometimes requiring years for a product class to be fully embraced by the operator community or for the market requirements the product was originally designed for to fully develop. The session border controller (SBC) market, currently one of the most talked about segments in the telecommunications industry, is a prime example of a technology that has taken more than a decade to reach the precipice of stardom.

That’s not to suggest that the SBC market has existed in obscurity since the first commercial products were introduced at the beginning of the previous decade.  The overall SBC market, following the trajectory of the slow but steady adoption of VoIP, amounted to more than $310 million in 2011, according to Infonetics Research. That figure, however, pales in comparison to what lies ahead. SBCs will hit the big time in the next couple of years, projects Infonetics (as well as several additional sources), which estimates the market will soar to nearly $775 million in 2016.

Two factors are principally responsible for the predicted surge in the SBC market. The first is the continued TDM-to-IP migration in the core and, increasingly, at the edge of the fixed network. What will really power the uptake of SBCs, though, is the coming infiltration of IP in the mobile environment. With the number of SIP-bound mobile devices measuring in the billions, and the steady exponential increases in mobile data traffic expected to continue for years, the mobile network, which takes on an end-to-end IP countenance with the roll out of LTE, will be a goldmine for SBC-wielding prospectors in the next couple of years.

This second-act opportunity, however, will not be met by the same session border control resources that have been deployed, primarily in fixed networks, over the past 10 years.  While the first phase of the SBC market was characterized by modest-sized deployments that were largely restricted to overseeing VoIP traffic, the second phase will require SBCs with an expanded set of capabilities and scaling attributes.

The session control demands of IP-enabled mobile networks contrast significantly with what we’ve seen in the past.  An SBC in the mobile market must be able to deal with new scale requirements, as well as handle an influx of new bearer traffic, such as presence, IM and video, which does not have the same characteristics as voice.

While that security and resiliency in the face of malicious attacks are still bed-rock requirements of any SBC, the next-generation of SBCs must take on new capabilities to satisfy new network demands. Reaching new plateaus in the scaling of performance and capacity will be a base-line requirement for SBCs targeted at mobile broadband deployments, where millions of always-on IP-end points will create unprecedented levels of signaling traffic.

In anticipation of exponential increases in SIP-based signaling, GENBAND has dedicated significant research and development resources over the past year to bulk up the performance capabilities of our S3™ SBC.  The results of this investment were recently validated by an independent testing facility.  In spring 2012, Miercom Test Labs certified the S3’s market-leading scalability after subjecting the SBC to a battery of strenuous performance and resiliency tests. Miercom technicians verified that the GENBAND S3 SBC, deployed on the GENBAND GENiUS™ ATCA-based platform, was capable of supporting 228,000 concurrent signaling and media sessions for roughly 600,000 subscribers. For IP-to-IP interconnects, the platform demonstrated 300,000 concurrent signaling and media sessions at the processing rate of nearly 2000 sessions per second.  Even more impressive the S3 was able to maintain this high-level of performance while at the same time fending off multiple simulated attacks and other signaling anomalies that have been known to bring down or severely degrade the performance of existing SBCs.

“GENBAND has earned the Performance Verified status for S3 on GENiUS and S3 Rack Mount Server,” said Rob Smithers, CEO of Miercom. “We were extremely impressed with the capacity and resiliency of the S3 SBC, and verified that it provides unmatched scalability in the market. With regard to the total number of subscriber registrations supported, the maximum number of simultaneous SIP calls and call processing rates that the S3 demonstrated, this was highest scalability testing we have performed on any SBC product. The S3 also demonstrated outstanding CPU and memory utilization throughout all tests. We observed that these resources were rarely stressed and never maximized.”

In addition to scaling performance and capacity, as well as accommodating a mix of bearer traffic, next-generation SBCs should support software independence, enabling operators to locate SBC resources on off-the-shelf hardware and reconfigure those resources as changing demands require.

To demonstrate our SBC’s independence from underlying hardware platforms, in June 2012 GENBAND introduced the S3 on two new form factors. The S3 1000 is a 1 Rack Unit (RU) SBC designed for small carriers, large carriers with remote points of presence and the growing Enterprise SBC market. The 2RU S3 2000 SBC, which utilizes the latest in Intel computing and Cavium network processing chipsets, is able to accommodate the requirements of large enterprises and carriers of all sizes. 

GENBAND is deeply committed to the burgeoning SBC market and these additions to the S3 portfolio ideally position us to provide SBCs optimized to virtually any market need.  Every GENBAND S3 has the same product features, web-based management platform, CLI and provisioning APIs, enabling us to deliver uniform management and integration capabilities across our entire SBC line. The recently announced wins at such premier accounts as BT and Orange Business Services demonstrate the market demand for our intelligent, scalable platform.

By offering multiple hardware flavors of the same SBC, GENBAND is able to deliver code and feature consistency across our entire SBC portfolio as well as across enterprise and SBC boundaries. The uniformity of the GENBAND SBC product portfolio contrasts with most of our competitors in the SBC market, which have acquired enterprise SBC assets through M&A activities that introduce feature and management system inconsistencies across their product families.

Hand-in-hand with hardware independence is the ability of SBCs to independently scale session and media-handling resources. As mentioned earlier, the unpredictable relationship between signaling and media traffic in the future will require operators to scale signaling and media resources independently to cost-efficiently meet subscriber demands.

Independent scaling of signaling and media resources also enables operators to adopt a distributed deployment model, where signaling resources could be centralized or concentrated, as well as associated with multiple SBCs dedicated to media processing. Though most carriers have preferred an integrated deployment model in the past, in which signaling and media assets are collocated in the same hardware, the second act of SBC deployments will require equipment that is able to efficiently accommodate a variety of configuration options.

Brian Partridge, vice president network research at Yankee Group, validates our assertions.

“SBCs are playing an increasingly important role in the evolution of IP communications, both in the carrier and enterprise segments of the market,” says Partridge. “Equipment suppliers that are able to offer a variety of right-sized solutions that support multiple deployment configurations will have the greatest opportunity for long-term success.”

A final, but by no means trivial qualification of a next-generation SBC is its ability to quickly comply with evolving industry standards.

Fixed and mobile IP service environments are taking on new capabilities rapidly, as operators look to defend traditional revenue sources from over the top (OTT) competitors. Industry organizations and standards bodies have been hard at work creating frameworks for these new services. Another major requirement of Act II SBCs is that they be able to accommodate these next-generation services by supporting standards such as Rich Communications Suite (RCS/RCS-e), Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and the IP eXchange (IPX).

Given that some mobile operators have already introduced these new services to a select field of subscribers, the extended intermission following the first act of the SBC market is clearly coming to a close.

The SBC market will soon raise the curtain on its second act -- and operators have already started a new round of auditions.