The telecom industry has been undergoing a revolution, sparked by mobile broadband. The proliferation of devices and services have created a massive upsurge in 3G data - sometimes at the expense of voice capacity and quality.
With operators also rolling out 4G networks with IMS infrastructure, they will need to rethink the deployment of cross-operator capabilities, and how to integrate and evolve existing and popular services such as SMS and MMS.
The problem with today’s internet is that it is too much of a best-effort network. The industry needs a dedicated, semi-public, network infrastructure for high-value data transport that is not subject to the various trials and tribulations of an open internet. With the open internet subject to more and more services, applications, and with the growing use of mobile devices, there is also a distinct need to create a hub-based capability that serves the network operator community as well as enterprises.
The GSMA believes that its IPX model is the answer, as it “will respond to the needs of... key stakeholders to manage IP traffic flow and support a sustainable business interworking solution.”
An IPX is an IP network interconnect service that is offered by a variety of providers. While these providers compete with each other, they share common agreed technical specifications.
As a transparent IP network that is not addressable from the internet, the IPX provides a secure environment. Commercial agreements give protection to all parties, and a strict security code of conduct must be followed by all. Individual operator traffic is also segregated and end-user devices have absolutely no visibility to the IPX.
The IPX also provides flexibility of interconnection, with a choice of bilateral and multilateral connectivity. This enables a multiplicity of services from simple, secure bit-pipes, to complex, hub-based connections.
Traffic is managed with QoS levels and performance to SLAs that are mutually agreed upon, and can be adjusted depending on service.
Initially, the IPX will provide a limited set of services. One of the most likely near-term solutions is the support of international wholesale voice transport. This is an area that is currently dominated by existing TDM or circuit-switched providers. But there is a move to transport this international voice traffic over IP.
Conversion to IP and transport of multiple voice calls requires premium quality of service and security – factors that make an IPX a very good candidate. For both fixed and mobile operators, the ability to deliver international voice traffic to an IPX-provider enables them to reach multiple destinations, including the global PSTN.
Sybase 365 estimates that this year 8% of mobile originated voice minutes will be transported via IPX, a figure that will reach 45% by 2013. An increasing percentage of FNO calls will also use IPX. This means that of the 350 billion minutes of international calls in 2010, we should see around 12 billion carried over IPX. By 2013, this may be over 160 billion.
Today, international MMS messages use the global GRX network as a transport layer for traffic between MMS hubs and mobile operators. This messaging traffic will also be suitable for transport over IPX. Global data roaming traffic will of course be part of the new IPX infrastructure.
But voice, MMS and data roaming are just the beginning. An IPX will provide the backbone for a virtually limitless cache of services and applications, ranging from video sharing to instant messaging. Many of these are today in existence only within operators' networks.
The GSMA Rich Communications Suite is another compelling application or service of the IPX. RCS leverages a number of existing standards such as SMS, MMS, video/image share and voice calling, and pairs them with what the GSMA calls an “enhanced phonebook.” This activates a device’s phonebook with presence indicating the availability of the entries in the book. RCS standards and recommendations are under development by almost 100 operators in the GSMA, and several have already deployed. But because RCS adoption and standardization is in its early stages, it is difficult to predict what the uptake will be.
The ability to support bilateral, service-specific traffic also opens the IPX to enterprises in key verticals such as health care, banking, insurance and financial services. These enterprises would either use the IPX network to reach other enterprises (bilateral) or a multiplicity of firms (multilateral).
The IPX future is not just approaching – it is here now, and the myriad of benefits it will offer to the industry will benefit the entire telco ecosystem – from operators through to consumers.
Ross Elmsly is country manager for Singapore at Sybase 365