Mobile operators are responding to rising data volumes by planning the deployment of LTE networks. But this brings with it the need for service interworking between 2G/3G and LTE networks. Vince Lesch, VP of product Marketing at Tekelec, tells Keith Dyer how operators can meet these challenges effectively.
Vince, as we talk now at the start of 2010, we now have a small number of live LTE deployments. And we can be sure that we are in a year that will see a number of further LTE network rollouts. Operators are being driven to consider solutions to the increase in data volumes they are undergoing, and to the number of services that are now being used across their networks. But that brings with it an associated increase in service and network complexity. Can you describe that?
From the perspective of complexity what we are seeing is the introduction of more new technology into the networks. From increases in bandwidth on the access network, with the move to LTE, to the introduction of technology platforms to provide new data services, our customers have a number of exciting plans.
The challenge that brings is that it grows the need for interoperability between different networks modes, and between the signaling layers controlling the network. Operators now have complex hybrid networks composed of elements from many vendors across their 2G, 3G, and now LTE networks. They are also introducing a range of new services, and service capabilities, to enable them to take advantage of the new business models that are emerging - for example around application stores. But they have to make all these services work seamlessly to the end user, no matter what domain the user is in, the device he has, or what service he is accessing.
That's where Tekelec adds a lot of value. Our systems and solutions offer a way to do this more cost effectively, allowing our customers to solve their interoperability problems. And we have experience of this. For instance, in the past we have had customers that have integrated their GSM and CDMA networks and had deep interoperability requirements at a subscriber management level, to ensure they were offering continuity of service. And we see similar types of things happening as customers evolve to LTE. They will have the same type of demands for accessing real-time service and network databases, to determine customer call set-up requirements across multiple domains.
How swiftly are you seeing your customers move to LTE? And what do you think the scale of those deployments will be?
It really depends on the country and the carrier. I think we are seeing some carriers in the USA move very quickly to LTE, and in fact some European operators as well. They are moving quickly and looking at that right now. Others are in the stage of having forward looking discussions - planning their migration and evolution. It is impacted by a number of factors, such as the depth and coverage of the current 3G and HSPA networks, as well as financial priorities of course.
With that in mind, how do you characterise the current state of operators' investment priorities. Are we in a brighter economic climate last year?
I think that we're pleased with where we are from a company perspective. We are certainly excited by the opportunities out there with reference to LTE. We are also optimistic that, at least from a global economic perspective, we have reached a levelling off period in the wider economy.
In terms of operators' investment priorities. At Mobile World Congress a year ago we met customers who have since gone public about the priorities they have around capacity planning. The network planners told us that when they have discussions on capacity planning they are used to going to the marketing department. Marketing gives them a forecast and then the planners routinely divide that by four. And that's all been OK until last year - when marketing was right! So really that is a significant growth in mobile data, and that is driving us forward in terms of servicing these needs.
You say that you can help operators deal with this transition more cost-effectively, what are some of the things that you can do, and in which areas?
Yes, there are a lot of clever things that we can do with signaling and service control that can help. Our EAGLE XG next-generation SIP signaling platform allows us to provide a view of that interoperability for the carriers, across their SIP and SS7 signaling domains. It can host multiple application platforms and technologies to help control the signaling across the hybrid networks that operators have to operate.
This is important because one of the key areas for operators to address will be how they manage services that cross the border between 2G/3G and LTE networks.
You have got to remember that as well as interworking demands within one operator's network, this is a global mobile world and operators need to be able to provide seamless services to users from different networks - so that someone sending a message from a 3G device, controlled within the SS7 environment, can send a message and have it read by a user within an LTE/IMS environment.
You mentioned messaging there, and indeed I think how SMS and voice services will interoperate between LTE and 2G/3G networks is a current hot topic.
Yes, I think the early thinking that LTE would be all about IP data-only services, and so the demand for interworking with legacy services would be reduced, has for some time now given way to the realisation that operators will have to deal with service interworking issues. As I said, they will have users who have not migrated to the latest devices, but they will also have the requirement to deal with incoming call flows from users of other networks that have not been upgraded to LTE.
So operators will have customers sending a message from one mode to another, and we need to provide the protocol translation and signaling support in scenarios that are fairly complex.
Messaging services are very interesting because if you look at revenues by various services then clearly SMS is very important, even though we are seeing some erosion in the margins there.
So there is a dual demand to protect SMS revenues as operators move to LTE, but also to make their SMS network support more efficient.
An efficient messaging system requires a mechanism to deliver SMS in the LTE/IMS domain, and in the pre-IMS SIP domain, as well as in the SS7 domain. Our IP Short Message Gateway (IPSMG) supports SMS and MMS in all-IP networks, and that allows operators to interwork their LTE networks with 2G/3G networks, by using a single system. And because the IPSMG uses the existing SMSCs and the MMSCs for forwarding and storing, no new application servers are required in the IP network.
And as well as driving that cost-effectiveness across the domains, you are also able to protect revenues?
Yes, we are also looking at utilising our expertise to enable operators to layer some additional types of service on top of their SMS service layer. The GSMA initiative around the Rich Communications Suite combines aspects of text, MMS, and video with the address book and presence. There are several trials across the world, with carriers really looking at how they can add value for their customers, and not just to have their users access these services in an "over the top" fashion.
Layering services in that manner requires the advanced signaling and protocol translation systems that we have.
We are also able to provide advertising insertion in mobile messaging, allowing carriers to insert adverts into texts, using LBS or user-profile information if they want to. It's really all a part of our focus on the evolution of mobile messaging.
As well as focussing on a service-specific area, you mentioned that you can help operators deal with the increased data volumes they face more effectively...
This increase in data volumes means that we have identified a requirement to get involved in the performance management piece. Really it's about managing data analysis in an intelligent manner - so that as data volumes increase, mobile operators do not have to scale their monitoring and management tools in a linear fashion.
LTE is designed to deliver a lower cost per bit on the access network, but if demands on all the other supporting items increase in-line with traffic growth then the benefits will be cancelled. We have the capability to look at the control plane data, and go down to the protocol level to probe into what's going on. We can look at the payload and see what type of service is being used.
This means that operators can focus their intensive analysis on the customers and services that are most profitable for them - collecting the data they need based on their specific requirements. For example, they may use the capability to assure SLAs for important enterprise customers, or for a high value service such as TV.
By monitoring only the data they need to, operators can scale their monitoring systems gracefully. Operators could control 80% of the revenue flow by concentrating at a deep level only on a small percentage of the data. They still collect all the user data, of course, but it's about how they manage that intelligently.
This is a great example of the new requirements that LTE will generate, and also of how we can help operators address them.
Source: Mobile Europe