Into the Telecom vortex


“Ten little Indian boys went out to dine,
One choked his little self and then there were nine
Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight…”

From the poem “Ten Little Indians”

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You don’t need to be particularly observant to notice that the telecom landscape over the last decade and a half is full of dead organizations, bloodshed and gore. Organizations have been slain by ruthless times and bigger ones have devoured the weaker, fallen ones. Telecom titans have vanished, giants have been reduced to dwarfs.

Some telecom companies have merged in a deadly embrace trying to beat the market forces only to capitulate to its inexorable death march.

The period from the early 1980s to the late 1990’s were the glorious periods for telecommunication. Digital switches (1972-1982), ISDN (1988), international calling, trunk protocols, mobile (~1991), 2G, 2.5G, and 3G moved in succession, one after another.

Advancement came after advancement. The future had never looked so bright for telecom companies.

The late 1990’s were heady years, not just for telecom companies, but to all technology companies. Stock prices soared. Many stocks were over-valued.  This was mainly due to what was described as the ‘irrational exuberance’ of the stock market.

Lucent, Alcatel, Ericsson, Nortel Networks, Nokia, Siemens, Telecordia all ruled supreme.

1997-2000. then the inevitable happened. There was the infamous dot-com bust of the 2000 which sent reduced many technology stocks to penny stocks. Telecom company stocks went into a major tail spin.  Stock prices of telecom organizations plummeted. This situation, many felt, was further exacerbated by the fact that nothing important or earth shattering was forth-coming from the telecom. In other words, there was no ‘killer app’ from the telecommunication domain.

From 2000 onwards 3G, HSDPA, LTE etc. have all come and gone by. But the markets were largely unimpressed. This was also the period of the downward slide for telecom. The last decade and a half has been extra-ordinarily violent. Technology units of dying organizations have been cannibalized by the more successful ones.

Stellar organizations collapsed, others transformed into ‘white dwarfs’, still others shattered with the ferocity of a super nova.

Here is a short recap of the major events.

  • 2006 – After a couple of unsuccessful attempts Alcatel and Lucent finally decide to merge
  • 2006 – Nokia marries Siemens in a 20 billion Euro deal. N
  • 2009-10 – Ericsson purchases Nortel’s CDMA and LTE business for $1.13 billion
  • 2009-10 – Nortel implodes
  • 2010 – Motorola sells networking unit to Nokia for $1.2 Billion
  • 2011 – Internet giant Google mops up Motorola’s handset division for $12.5 billion, largely for the patents
  • 2012 – Ericsson closes a deal with Telcordia for $1.15 billion
  • 2013 – Nokia sells its handset division to Microsoft after facing a serious beating from smartphones
  • 2015 – Nokia agrees to a $16.6 billion takeover of Alcatel Lucent

And so the story continues like the rhyme in Agatha Christie’s mystery novel

And then there were none

Ten little Indian boys went out to dine,                                                                                                                
One choked his little self and then there were nine…”

The Telecom companies continue their search for the elusive ‘killer app’ as progress comes in small increments – 3G, 3.5G, 3.75G, 4G, and 5G etc.

Personally I think the future of Telecom companies, lies in its ability to embrace the latest technologies of Cloud Computing, Big Data, Software Defined Networks, and Software Defined Datacenters and re-invent themselves. Rather than looking for some elusive ‘killer app’ they have to re-enter the technology scene with a Big Bang

As I referred to in one of my earlier posts “Architecting a cloud Based IP Multimedia System” the proverbial pot at the end of the rainbow may be in

  1. Virtualizing IP Multimedia Switches (IMS) namely the CSCFs (P-CSCF, S-CSCF, I-CSCF etc.),
  2. Using the features of the cloud like Software Defined Storage (SDS) , Load balancers and auto-scaling to elastically scale-up or scale down the CSCF instances to handle varying ‘call traffic’
  3. Having equipment manufacturers (Nokia, Ericsson, and Huawei) will have to use innovating pricing models with the carriers like AT&T, MCI, Airtel or Vodafone. Instead of a one-time cost for hardware and software, the equipment manufacturers will need to charge based on usage or call traffic (utility charging). This will be a win-win for both the equipment manufacturer and carrier
  4. Using SDN to provide the necessary virtualized pipes between users with the necessary policies for advanced services like video-chat, white-boarding, real-time gaming etc.
  5. Using Big Data and Hadoop to analyze Call Detail Records (CDRs) and provide advanced services to customers like differential rates for calls etc

Clearly there will be challenges in this virtualized view of things. Telecom equipment is renowned for its 5 9’s availability. The challenge will be achieving this resiliency, high availability and fault-tolerance with cloud servers. How can WAN latencies be mitigated? How to can SDN provide the QoS required for voice, video and data traffic in IMS?

IMS has many interesting services where video calls from laptops can be transferred as data calls to mobile phones and vice versa, from mobile networks to WiFi  and so on.

Many hurdles will have to be crossed. But this is, in my opinion, will be the path forward.

While the last decade and a half have been bad for the telecom industry, I personally feel we are on the verge on the next big breakthrough in telecom in the next year or two. Telecom will rise like the phoenix from its ashes in the next couple of years

Also see
1. A crime map of India in R: Crimes against women
2.  What’s up Watson? Using IBM Watson’s QAAPI with Bluemix, NodeExpress – Part 1
3.  Bend it like Bluemix, MongoDB with autoscaling – Part 2
4. Informed choices through Machine Learning : Analyzing Kohli, Tendulkar and Dravid
5. Thinking Web Scale (TWS-3): Map-Reduce – Bring compute to data
6. Deblurring with OpenCV:Weiner filter reloaded

Future calls. Visualizing an IMS based future.


Future calls. In case you didn’t notice there is a word play in the previous sentence. I have used the word “calls” both as a verb and as a noun. Clever, right? 😉

This post takes a closer look at how the future would look like with regard to calls.

Our world is getting more interconnected and more digitized. We view this digitized world through either smartphones, tablets, laptops, smart TV etc. So these days we can browse the web through any of the above devices. Social applications like Facebook. Twitter, LinkedIn or utilities like Evernote and Pocket are equally accessible through any of the devices at any time and at any place.

While we are able to use these devices interchangeably why is that we always receive calls only through phones (mobile or landlines).  Would it be possible to switch calls between these devices?

In fact this is very possible and is included in the vision that IP Multimedia Systems had set for itself. While IMS is yet to take off, it is bound to get traction in the not too distant future.

Assuming that this is going to happen, here is my visualization of how a typical day in the future (possibly 2015/2016) would look like.

Future calls

Here is an imagined scenario

Akash is joined to a conference call at 8.00 am, while at home. When he answers his smartphone he gets a notification “Nearby devices 1) Laptop2) Tablet 3) TV. Choose device to handover to”.  If he chooses the tablet, laptop or TV the call would be seamlessly transferred to this device.  When the call appears on his tablet, laptop or TV there could be another notification “Do you want to add video to the call? Choose Yes or No” the call would automatically be upgraded to a video call if the far end also has this capability. Lets assume that Akash completes this call.

On his way to the office he receives another call on his mobile. When Akash answers his smartphone he is again notified regarding the devices nearby 1) Laptop 2) Car dashboard. Now Akash can just command his smartphone to receive the call on his car dashboard if he is driving his car. If he is being driven he can handover the call to his laptop. When he receives the call in his laptop he could receive a popup, “Do you want to add video and/or data to this call?” If he chooses to add both video and data he can videoconference while also whiteboarding with his colleagues.

He can then continue the call on his smartphone while walking to his cubicle.

The transition between devices will be seamless.

This handover of calls between devices and also the switching back and forth from voice only to voice, video and data (whiteboarding) is bound to happen in the not too distant future.

So keep you ears and eyes wide open.


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Envisioning a Software Defined IP Multimedia System (SD-IMS)


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In my earlier post “Architecting a cloud based IP Multimedia System (IMS)” I had suggested the idea of “cloudifying” the network elements of the IP Multimedia Systems. This would bring multiple benefits to the Service Providers as it would enable quicker deployment of the network elements of the IMS framework, faster ROI and reduction in CAPEX. Besides, the CSPs can take advantage of the elasticity and utility style pricing of the cloud.

This post takes this idea a logical step forward and proposes a Software Defined IP Multimedia System (SD-IMS).

In today’s world of scorching technological pace, static configurations for IT infrastructure, network bandwidth and QOS, and fixed storage volumes will no longer be sufficient.

We are in the age of being able to define requirements dynamically through software. This is the new paradigm in today’s world. Hence we have Software Defined Compute, Software Defined Network, Software Defined Storage and also Software Defined Radio.

This post will demonstrate the need for architecting an IP Multimedia System that uses all the above methodologies to further enable CSPs & Operators to get better returns faster without the headaches of earlier static networks.

IP Multimedia Systems (IMS) is the architectural framework proposed by 3GPP body to establish and maintain multimedia sessions using an all IP network. IMS is a grand vision that is access network agnostic, uses an all IP backbone to begin, manage and release multimedia sessions.

The problem:

Any core network has the problem of dimensioning the various network elements. There is always a fear of either under dimensioning the network and causing failed calls or in over dimensioning resulting in wasted excess capacity.

The IMS was created to handle voice, data and video calls. In addition in the IMS, the SIP User Endpoints can negotiate the media parameters and either move up from voice to video or down from video to voice by adding different encoders.  This requires that the key parameters of the pipe be changed dynamically to handle different QOS, bandwidth requirements dynamically.

The solution

The approach suggested in this post to have a Software Defined IP Multimedia System (SD-IMS) as follows.

In other words the compute instances, network, storage and the frequency need to be managed through software based on the demand.

Software Defined Compute (SDC): The traffic in a Core network can be seasonal, bursty and bandwidth intensive. To be able to handle this changing demands it is necessary that the CSCF instances (P-CSCF, S-CSCF,I-CSCF etc) all scale up or down. This can be done through Software Defined Compute or the process of auto scaling the CSCF instances. The CSCF compute instances will be created or destroyed depending on the traffic traversing the switch.

Software Defined Network (SDN): The IMS envisages the ability to transport voice, data and video besides allowing for media sessions to be negotiated by the SIP user endpoints. Software Defined Networks (SDNs) allow the network resources (routers, switches, hubs) to be virtualized.

SDNs can be made to dynamically route traffic flows based on decisions in real time. The flow of data packets through the network can be controlled in a programmatic manner through the Flow controller using the Openflow protocol. This is very well suited to the IMS architecture. Hence the SDN can allocate flows based on bandwidth, QoS and type of traffic (voice, data or video).

Software Defined Storage (SDS): A key component in the Core Network is the need to be able charge customers. Call Detail Records (CDRs) are generated at various points of the call which are then aggregated and sent to the bill center to generate the customer bill.

Software Defined (SDS) abstracts storage resources and enables pooling, replication, and on-demand provisioning of storage resources. The ability to be able to pool storage resources and allocate based on need is extremely important for the large amounts of data that is generated in Core Networks

Software Defined Radio (SDR): This is another aspect that all Core Networks must adhere to. The advent of mobile broadband has resulted in a mobile data explosion portending a possible spectrum crunch. In order to use the available spectrum efficiently and avoid the spectrum exhaustion Software Define Radio (SDR) has been proposed. SDRs allows the radio stations to hop frequencies enabling the radio stations to use a frequency where this less contention (see We need to think differently about spectrum allocation … now).In the future LTE-Advanced or LTE with CS fallback will have to be designed with SDRs in place.

Conclusion:

A Software Defined IMS makes eminent sense in the light of characteristics of a core network architecture.  Besides ‘cloudifying’ the network elements, the ability to programmatically control the CSCFs, network resources, storage and frequency, will be critical for the IMS. This is a novel idea but well worth a thought!

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Architecting a cloud based IP Multimedia System (IMS)


Here is an idea of mine that has been slow cooking in my head for more than 1 and a 1/2 year. Finally managed to work its way to IP.com. See link below

Architecting a cloud based IP Multimedia System (IMS) 

The full article is included below

Abstract

This article describes an innovative technique of “cloudifying” the network elements of the IP Multimedia (IMS) framework in order to take advantage of keys benefits of the cloud like elasticity and the utility style pricing. This approach will provide numerous advantages to the Service Provider like better Return-on-Investment(ROI), reduction in capital expenditure and quicker deployment times,  besides offering the end customer benefits like the availability of high speed and imaginative IP multimedia services

Introduction

IP Multimedia Systems (IMS) is the architectural framework proposed by 3GPP body to establish and maintain multimedia sessions using an all IP network. IMS is a grand vision that is access network agnostic, uses an all IP backbone to begin, manage and release multimedia sessions. This is done through network elements called Call Session Control Function (CSCFs), Home Subscriber Systems (HSS) and Application Servers (AS). The CSCFs use SDP over SIP protocol to communicate with other CSCFs and the Application Servers (AS’es). The CSCFs also use DIAMETER to talk to the Home Subscriber System (HSS’es).

Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is used for signaling between the CSCFs to begin, control and release multi-media sessions and Session Description Protocol (SDP) is used to describe the type of media (voice, video or data). DIAMETER is used by the CSCFs to access the HSS. All these protocols work over IP. The use of an all IP core network for both signaling and transmitting bearer media makes the IMS a very prospective candidate for the cloud system.

This article  proposes a novel technique of “cloudifying” the network elements of the IMS framework (CSCFs) in order to take advantage of the cloud technology for an all IP network. Essentially this idea proposes deploying the CSCFs (P-CSCF, I-CSCF, S-CSCF, BGCF) over a public cloud. The HSS and AS’es can be deployed over a private cloud for security reasons. The above network elements either use SIP/SDP over IP or DIAMETER over IP. Hence these network elements can be deployed as instances on the servers in the cloud with NIC cards. Note: This does not include the Media Gateway Control Function (MGCF) and the Media Gate Way (MGW) as they require SS7 interfaces. Since IP is used between the servers in the cloud the network elements can setup, maintain and release SIP calls over the servers of the cloud. Hence the IMS framework can be effectively “cloudified” by adopting a hybrid solution of public cloud for the CSCF entities and the private cloud for the HSS’es and AS’es.

This idea enables the deployment of IMS and the ability for the Operator, Equipment Manufacturer and the customer to quickly reap the benefits of the IMS vision while minimizing the risk of such a deployment.

Summary

IP Multimedia Systems (IMS) has been in the wings for some time. There have been several deployments by the major equipment manufacturers, but IMS is simply not happening. The vision of IMS is truly grandiose. IMS envisages an all-IP core with several servers known as Call Session Control Function (CSCF) participating to setup, maintain and release of multi-media call sessions. The multi-media sessions can be any combination of voice, data and video.

In the 3GPP Release 5 Architecture IMS draws an architecture of Proxy CSCF (P-CSCF), Serving CSCF(S-CSCF), Interrogating CSCF(I-CSCF), and Breakout CSCF(BGCF), Media Gateway Control Function (MGCF), Home Subscriber Server(HSS) and Application Servers (AS) acting in concert in setting up, maintaining and release media sessions. The main protocols used in IMS are SIP/SDP for managing media sessions which could be voice, data or video and DIAMETER to the HSS.

IMS is also access agnostic and is capable of handling landline or wireless calls over multiple devices from the mobile, laptop, PDA, smartphones or tablet PCs. The application possibilities of IMS are endless from video calling, live multi-player games to video chatting and mobile handoffs of calls from mobile phones to laptop. Despite the numerous possibilities IMS has not made prime time.

The technology has not turned into a money spinner for Operators. One of the reasons may be that Operators are averse to investing enormous amounts into new technology and turning their network upside down.

The IMS framework uses CSCFs which work in concert to setup, manage and release multi media sessions. This is done by using SDP over SIP for signaling and media description. Another very prevalent protocol used in IMS is DIAMETER.  DIAMETER is the protocol that is used for authorizing, authenticating and accounting of subscribers which are maintained in the Home Subscriber System (HSS). All the above protocols namely SDP/SIP and DIAMETER protocols work over IP which makes the entire IMS framework an excellent candidate for deploying on the cloud.

Benefits

There are 6 key benefits that will accrue directly from the above cloud deployment for the IMS. Such a cloud deployment will

i.    Obviate the need for upfront costs for the Operator

ii.    The elasticity and utility style pricing of the cloud will have multiple benefits for the Service Provider and customer

iii.   Provider quicker ROI for the Service Provider by utilizing a innovative business model of revenue-sharing for the Operator and the equipment manufacturer

iv.   Make headway in IP Multimedia Systems

v.   Enable users of the IMS to avail of high speed and imaginative new services combining voice, data, video and mobility.

vi.   The Service Provider can start with a small deployment and grow as the subscriber base and traffic grows in his network

Also, a cloud deployment of the IMS solution has multiple advantages to all the parties involved namely

a)   The Equipment manufacturer

b)   The Service Provider

c)   The customer

A cloud deployment of IMS will serve to break the inertia that Operators have for deploying new architectures in the network.

a)   The Equipment manufactures for e.g. the telecommunication organizations that create the software for the CSCFs can license the applications to the Operators based on innovative business model of revenue sharing with the Operator based on usage

b)   The Service Provider or the Operator does away with the Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) involved in buying CSCFs along with the hardware.  The cost savings can be passed on to the consumers whose video, data or voice calls will be cheaper. Besides, the absence of CAPEX will provide better margins to the operator. A cloud based IMS will also greatly reduce the complexity of dimensioning a core network. Inaccurate dimensioning can result in either over-provisioning or under-provisioning of the network.  Utilizing a cloud for deploying the CSCFs, HSS and AS can obviate the need upfront infrastructure expenses for the Operator. As mentioned above the Service Provider can pay the equipment manufactured based on the number of calls or traffic through the system

c)   Lastly the customer stands to gain as the IMS vision truly allows for high speed multimedia sessions with complex interactions like multi-party video conferencing, handoffs from mobile to laptop or vice versa. Besides IMS also allows for whiteboarding and multi-player gaming sessions.

Also the elasticity of the cloud can be taken advantage of by the Operator who can start small and automatically scale as the user base grows.

Description

This article describes a method in which the Call Session Control Function (CSCFs) namely the P-CSCF, S-CSCF,I-CSCF and BGCF can be deployed on a public cloud.  This is possible because there are no security risks associated with deploying the CSCFs on the public cloud. Moreover the elasticity and the pay per use of the public cloud are excellent attributes for such a cloudifying process. Similarly the HSS’es and AS’es can be deployed on a private cloud.  This is required because the HSS and the AS do have security considerations as they hold important subscriber data like the IMS Public User Identity (IMPU) and the IMS Private User Identity (IMPI).  However, the Media Gateway Control Function (MGCF) and Media Gateway (MGW) are not included this architecture as these 2 elements require SS7 interfaces

Using the cloud for deployment can bring in the benefits of zero upfront costs, utility style charging based on usage and the ability to grow or shrink elastically as the call traffic expands or shrinks.

This is shown diagrammatically below where all the IMS network elements are deployed on a cloud.

In Fig 1., all the network elements are shown as being part of a cloud.

1

Fig 1. Cloudifying the IMS architecture.

Detailed description

This idea requires that the IMS solution be “cloudified “i.e. the P-CSCF, I-CSCF, S-CSCF and the BGCF should be deployed on a public cloud. These CSCFs are used to setup, manage and release calls and the information that is used for the call does not pose any security risk. These network elements use SIP for signaling and SDP over SIP for describing the media sessions. The media sessions can be voice, video or data.

However the HSS and AS which contain the Public User Identity (IMPU) and Private User Identity (IMPI)  and other important data  can be deployed in a private cloud. Hence the IMS solution needs a hybrid solution that uses both the public and private cloud. Besides the proxy SIP servers, Registrars and redirect SIP servers also can be deployed on the public cloud.

The figure Fig 2. below shows how a hybrid cloud solution can be employed for deploying the IMS framework

2

Fig 2: Utilizing a hybrid cloud solution for deploying the IMS architecture

The call from a user typically originated from a SIP phone and will initially reach the P-CSCF. After passing through several SIP servers it will reach a I-CSCF. The I-CSCF will use DIAMETER to query the HSS for the correct S-CSCF to handle the call. Once the S-CSCF is identified the I-CSCF then signals the S-CSCF to reach a terminating a P-CSCF and finally the end user on his SIP phone.  Since the call uses SDP over SIP we can imagine that the call is handled by P-CSCF, I-CSCF, S-CSCF and BGCF instances on the cloud. Each of the CSCFs will have the necessary stacks for communicating to the next CSCF. The CSCF typically use SIP/SDP over TCP or UDP and finally over IP. Moreover query from the I-CSCF or S-CSCF to the HSS will use DIAMTER over UDP/IP.  Since IP is the prevalent technology between servers in the cloud communication between CSCFs is possible.

Methodology

The Call Session Control Functions (CSCFs P-CSCF, I-CSCF, S-CSCF, BGCF) typically handle the setup, maintenance and release of SIP sessions. These CSCFs use either SIP/SDP to communicate to other CSCFs, AS’es or SIP proxies or they use DIAMETER to talk to the HSS. SIP/SDP is used over either the TCP or the UDP protocol.

We can view each of the CSCF, HSS or AS as an application capable of managing SIP or DIAMETER sessions. For this these CSCFs need to maintain different protocol stacks towards other network elements. Since these CSCFs are primarily applications which communicate over IP using protocols over it, it makes eminent sense for deploying these CSCFs over the cloud.

The public cloud contains servers in which instances of applications can run in virtual machines (VMs). These instances can communicate to other instances on other servers using IP. In essence the entire IMS framework can be viewed as CSCF instances which communicate to other CSCF instances, HSS or AS over IP. Hence to setup, maintain and release SIP sessions we can view that instances of P-CSCF, I-CSCF, S-CSCF and B-CSCF executed as separate instances on the servers of a public cloud and communicated using the protocol stacks required for the next network element. The protocol stacks for the different network elements is shown below

The CSCF’s namely the P-CSCF, I-CSCF, S-CSCF & the BGCF all have protocol interfaces that use IP. The detailed protocol stacks for each of these network elements are shown below. Since they communicate over IP the servers need to support 100 Base T Network Interface Cards (NIC) and can typically use RJ-45 connector cables, Hence it is obvious that high performance servers which have 100 Base T NIC cards can be used for hosting the instances of the CSCFs (P-CSCF, I-CSCF, S-CSCF and BGCF). Similarly the private cloud can host the HSS which uses DIAMETER/TCP-SCTP/IP and AS uses SDP/SIP/UDP/IP. Hence these can be deployed on the private cloud.

Network Elements on the Public Cloud

The following network elements will be on the public cloud

a) P-CSCF b) I-CSCF c) S-CSCF d) BGCF

The interfaces of each of the above CSCFs are shown below

a)   Proxy CSCF (P-CSCF) interface

 p

 

As can be seen from above all the interfaces (Gm, Gq, Go and Mw) of the P-CSCF are either UDP/IP or SCTP/TCP/IP.

b)   Interrogating CSCF(I- CSCF) interface

 i

 

As can be seen from above all the interfaces (Cx, Mm and Mw) of the I-CSCF are either UDP/IP or SCTP/TCP/IP.

c)   Serving CSCF (S-CSCF) interfaces

The interfaces of the S-CSCF (Mw, Mg, Mi, Mm, ISC and Cx) are all either UDP/IP or SCTP/TCP/IP

s

d)   Breakout CSCF (BGCF) interface

The interfaces of the BGCF (Mi, Mj, Mk) are all UDP/IP.

bg

Network elements on the private cloud

The following network elements will be on the private cloud

a)   HSS b) AS

a)   Home Subscriber Service (HSS) interface

The HSS interface (Cx) is DIAMETER/SCTP/TCP over IP.

h

b)   Application Server (AS) Interface

a 

The AS interface ISC is SDP/SIP/UDP over IP.

As can be seen the interfaces the different network elements have towards other elements are over either UDP/IP or TCP/IP.

Hence we can readily see that a cloud deployment of the IMS framework is feasible.

Conclusion

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Thus it can be seen that a cloud based IMS deployment is feasible given the IP interface of the CSCFs, HSS and AS. Key features of the cloud like elasticity and utility style charging will be make the service attractive to the Service providers. A cloud based IMS deployment is truly a great combination for all parties involved namely the subscriber, the Operator and the equipment manufactures. A cloud based deployment will allow the Operator to start with a small customer base and grow as the service becomes popular. Besides the irresistibility of IMS’ high speed data and video applications are bound to capture the subscribers imagination while proving a lot cheaper.

Also see my post on “Envisioning a Software Defined Ip Multimedia System (SD-IMS)

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Adding the OpenFlow variable in the IMS equation


This post has been cited in the Springer  book “The Future Internet” in the chapter Integrating OpenFlow in IMS Networks and Enabling for Future Internet Research and Experimentation. See the 9th reference under References,

IMS a non-starter: IP Multimedia Systems (IMS) has been the grand vision of this decade. Unfortunately it has remained just that, a vision, with sporadic deployments. IMS has been a non-starter in many respects. Operators and Network Providers somehow don’t find any compelling reason to re-architect the network with IMS network elements. There have been no killer applications too.  But IP Multimedia Systems definitely hold enormous potential and a couple of breakthroughs in key technologies can result in the ‘tipping point’ of this great technology which promises access agnostic services including applications like video-conferencing, multi-player gaming, white boarding all using an all-IP backbone. In this context please do read my post “The Case for a Cloud based IMS solution

SDNs, revolutionary: In this scenario a radically new, emerging concept is the Software Define Networks (SDNs). SDN is the result of pioneering effort by Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley and is based on the Open Flow Protocol and represents a paradigm shift to the way networking elements operate. SDNs consist of the OpenFlow Controller which is able to control network resources in a programmatic manner. These network resources can span routers, hubs and switches, known as a slice, and can be controlled through the OpenFlow Controller. The key aspect of the OpenFlow protocol is the ability to manage slices of virtualized resources from end-to-end. It is this particular aspect of Software Defined Networks (SDNs) and the OpenFlow protocol which can be leveraged in IMS networks. Do read my post Software Defined Networks: A glimpse of tomorrow for more details

This article looks at a way in which OpenFlow protocol can be included in the IMS fabric and provide for QoS in the IMS network. However, please note that this post is exploratory in nature and does not purport to be a well researched article. Nevertheless the idea is well worth mulling over.

QoS in IMS: The current method of ensuring differentiated QoS in IMS networks is through two key network elements, namely the Policy Decision Point (PDP) and the Policy Enforcement Point (PEP). The PDP retrieves the necessary policy rules (flow parameters), in response to a RSVP message, which it then sends to the PEP. The PEP then executes these instructions. In the IMS the Policy Control Function (PCF), in the P-CSCF, plays the role of the PDP. The PEP resides in the GGSN. In an IMS call flow, the SDP message is encapsulated within SIP and carries the QoS parameters. The PCF examines the parameters, retrieves appropriate policies and informs the PEP in the GGSN for that traffic flow.

OpenFlow in P-CSCF: This post looks at a technique in which the OpenFlow Controller can be a part of the P-CSCF. The QoS parameters which come in the SDP message can be similarly examined. Instead of retrieving fixed policy rules, the OpenFlow Controller in the P-CSCF can be made to programmatically identify bandwidth speeds, the routers and the network slice through which the flow should flow. It would then inform the equivalent of the OpenFlow Switch in the GGSN which would control the necessary network resources end-to-end. The advantage of using OpenFlow Controller/OpenFlow switch to the PDP/PEP combination would be the ability to adapt the network flow according to bandwidth changes and traffic. The OpenFlow Controller will be able to dynamically re-route the traffic to alternate network resources, or a different ‘network slice’ in cases of congestion.

Conclusion: In my opinion, adding the OpenFlow Protocol to the IP Multimedia Switching fabric can provide for a much more control and better QoS in the network. It may also be able to provide for a lot more interesting applications to the already existing set of powerful applications

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Tomorrow’s wireless ecosystem


The wireless networks of today had its humble beginnings in 1924 when the first mobile radio was demonstrated. It was many years since this beginning, that a completely functional cellular network was established. The earliest systems were the analog 1G system that was demonstrated in 1978 in US with great success. The initial mobile systems were primarily used for making mobile voice calls. This continued for the next 2 decades as the network evolved to digital based 2G systems.

 

It was around 1999-2000 that ETSI standardized GPRS or 2.5G technology to use the cellular network for data. Though the early data rates, of 144 kbps, were modest, the entry of GPRS proved to be a turning point in technological history. GPRS provided the triple benefits of wireless connectivity, mobility and internet access.  Technological advancement enabled faster and higher speeds of wireless, mobile access to the internet. The deployments of 3G enabled speeds of up to 2 Mbps for fixed access while LTE promised speeds of almost 56 Mbps per second coupled with excellent spectral efficiency.

 

The large increase of bandwidth along with mobility has allowed different technologies to take advantage of the wireless infrastructure for their purposes.  While Wi-Fi networks based on 802.11 and WiMAX based on 802.16 will play a part in the wireless ecosystem this post looks at the role that will be played by cellular networks from 2G to 4G.

 

The cellular network with its feature of wireless access, mobility and the ability to handle voice, video and data calls will be the host of multiple disparate technologies as we move forward into the future.  Below are listed some of the major users of the wireless network in the future

 

Mobile Phones:  The cellular network was created to handle voice calls originating from mobile phones. A large part of mobile traffic will still be for mobile to mobile calls. As the penetration of the cellular networks occurs in emerging economies we can expect that there will be considerable traffic from voice calls. It is likely that as the concept of IP Multimedia System (IMS) finds widespread acceptance the mobile phone will also be used for making video calls. With the advent of the Smartphone this is a distinct possibility in the future.

Smartphones, tablets and Laptops: These devices will be the next major users of the cellular network. Smartphones, besides being able to make calls, also allow for many new compelling data applications. Exciting apps on tablets like the iPad and laptops consume a lot of bandwidth and use the GPRS, 3G or LTE network for data transfer. In fact in a recent report it has been found that a majority of data traffic in the wireless network are video. Consumers use the iPad and the laptop for watching videos on Youtube and for browsing using the wireless network.

Internet of Things (IoT):  The internet of things, also known as M2M, envisages a network in which passive or intelligent devices are spread throughout the network and collect and transmit data to back end database. RFIDs were the early enablers of this technology. These sensors and intelligent devices will collect data and transmit the data using the wireless network. Applications for the Internet of Things range from devices that monitor and transmit data about the health of cardiac patients to being able to monitor the structural integrity of bridges.

Smart Grid: The energy industry is delicately poised for a complete transformation with the evolution of the smart grid concept. There is now an imminent need for an increased efficiency in power generation, transmission and distribution coupled with a reduction of energy losses. In this context many leading players in the energy industry are coming up with a connected end-to-end digital grid to smartly manage energy transmission and distribution.  The digital grid will have smart meters, sensors and other devices distributed throughout the grid capable of sensing, collecting, analyzing and distributing the data to devices that can take action on them. The huge volume of collected data will be sent to intelligent device which will use the wireless 3G networks to transmit the data.  Appropriate action like alternate routing and optimal energy distribution would then happen. The Smart Grid will be a major user of the cellular wireless network in the future.

Hence it can be seen the users of the wireless network will increase dramatically as we move forward into the future. Multiple technologies will compete for the available bandwidth. For handling this exponential growth in traffic we not only need faster speeds for the traffic but also sufficient spectrum available for use and it is necessary that ITU addresses the spectrum needs on a war footing.

It is thus clear that the telecom network will have to become more sophisticated and more technologically advanced as we move forward into the future.


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The Case for a Cloud Based IMS Solution


IP Multimedia Systems (IMS) has been in the wings for some time. There have been several deployments by the major equipment manufacturers, but IMS is simply not happening. The vision of IMS is truly grandiose. IMS envisages an all-IP core with several servers known as Call Session Control Function (CSCF) participating to setup, maintain and release call sessions.

In the 3GPP Release 5 Architecture IMS draws an architecture of Proxy CSCF (P-CSCF), Serving CSCF(S-CSCF), Interrogating CSCF(I-CSCF), Breakout CSCF(B-CSCF), Home Subscriber Server(HSS) and Application Servers (AS) acting in concert in setting up, maintaining and release media sessions. The main protocols used in IMS are SIP/SDP for managing media sessions which could be voice, data or video and DIAMETER for connecting to the HSS and the Application Servers.

IMS is also access agnostic and is capable of handling landline or wireless calls over multiple devices from the mobile, laptop, PDA, smartphones or tablet PCs. The application possibilities of IMS are endless from video calling, live multi-player games to video chatting and mobile handoffs of calls from mobile phones to laptop. Despite the numerous possibilities IMS has not made prime time. While IMS technology paints a grand picture it has somehow not caught on. IMS as a technology, holds a lot of promise but has remained just that – promising technology.

The technology has not made the inroads into people’s imaginations or turned into a money spinner for Operators. One of the reasons may be that Operators are averse to investing enormous amounts into new technology and turning their network upside down.

This article provides an innovative approach to introducing IMS in the network by taking advantage of the public cloud!

Since IMS is an all-IP network and the protocol between the CSCF servers is SIP/SDP over TCP IP it can be readily seen that IMS is a prime candidate for the public cloud. An IMS architecture that has to be deployed on the cloud would have several instances of P-CSCFs, S-CSCFs, B-CSCFs, HSS and ASes all sitting on the cloud. An architectural diagram is shown below.

Deploying the CSCFs on the public cloud has multiple benefits. For one it a cloud deployment will eliminate the upfront CAPEX costs for the Operator. The cost savings can be passed on to the consumers whose video, data or voice calls will be cheaper. Besides, the absence of CAPEX will provide better margins to the operator. Lower costs to the consumer and better margins for the Operator is truly an unbeatable combination.

Also the elasticity of the cloud can be taken advantage of by the operator who can start small and automatically scale as the user base grows.

Thus a cloud based IMS deployment is truly a great combination both for the subscriber, the operator and the equipment manufactures. The cloud’s elasticity will automatically provide for growth as the irresistibility of  IMSes high speed video applications catches public imagination.

If IMS as a technology needs to become common place then Operators should plan on deploying their IMS on the public cloud and reap the manifold benefits.

Please see my post for a more detailed view of the above post in “Architecting a cloud based IP Multimedia System (IMS)

A related post of relevance is “Adding the OpenFlow variable to the IMS equation“.

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Technology Trends – 2011 and beyond


There are lots of exciting things happening in the technological landscape. Innovation and development in every age is dependent on a set of key driving factors namely – the need for better, faster and cheaper, the need to handle disruptive technologies, the need to keep costs down and the need to absorb path breaking innovations. Given all these factors and the current trends in the industry the following technologies will enter mainstream in the years to come.

Long Term Evolution (LTE): LTE, also known as 4G technologies, has been born out of the disruptive entry of data hungry smart phones and tablet PCs. Besides, the need for better and faster applications has been the key driver of this technology. LTE is a data only technology that allows mobile users to access the internet on the move.  LTE uses OFDM technology for sending and receiving data from user devices and also uses MIMO (multiple-in, multiple out). LTE is more economical, and spectrally efficient when compared to earlier 3.5G technologies like HSDPA, HSUPA and HSPA. LTE promises a better Quality of Experience (QoE) for end users.

IP Multimedia Systems IMS): IMS has been around for a while. However with the many advances in IP technology and the transport of media the time is now ripe for this technology to take wings and soar high. IMS uses the ubiquitous internet protocol for its core network both for media transport and for SIP signaling. Many innovative applications are possible with IMS including high definition video conferencing, multi-player interactive games, white boarding etc.

All senior management personnel of organizations are constantly faced with the need to keep costs down. The next two technologies hold a lot of promise in reducing costs for organizations and will surely play a key role in the years to come.

Cloud Computing: Cloud Computing obviates the need for upfront capital and infrastructure costs of organizations. Enterprises can deploy their applications on a public cloud which provides virtually infinite computing capacity in the hands of organizations. Organizations only pay as much as they use akin to utilities like electricity or water

Analytics: These days’ organizations are faced with a virtual deluge of data from their day to day operations. Whether the organizations belong to retail, health, finance, telecom, or transportation there is a lot of data that is generated. Data by itself is useless. This is where data analytics plays an important role. Predictive analytics help in classifying data, determining key trends and identifying correlations between data. This helps organizations in making strategic business decisions.

The following two technologies listed below are really path breaking and their applications are limitless.

Internet of Things: This technology envisages either passive or intelligent devices connected to the internet with a database at the back end for processing the data collected from these intelligent devices. This is also known as M2M (machine to machine) technology. The applications range from monitoring the structural integrity of bridges to implantable devices monitoring fatal heart diseases of patients.

Semantic Web (Web 3.0): This is the next stage in the evolution of the World Wide Web. The Web is now a vast repository of ideas, thoughts, blogs, observations etc. This technology envisages intelligent agents that can analyze the information in the web. These agents will determine the relations between information and make intelligent inferences. This technology will have to use artificial intelligence techniques, data mining and cloud computing to plumb the depths of the web

Conclusion: Creativity and innovation has been the hallmark of mankind from time immemorial. With the demand for smarter, cheaper and better the above technologies are bound to endure in the years to come.

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The Future of Telecom


Published in Voice & Data – Bright Future

Introduction: The close of the 20th century will long be remembered for one thing. The dotcom bust followed by the downward spiral of many major telecom and technology companies. For those who believe in the theory of the 12 year economic cycle this downturn is right about to end and we should see good times soon. Even otherwise there is good news for those in the telecom domain. We could shortly be witness to golden years ahead. There are many signs that seem to indicate that the telecom industry is on the verge of many major breakthroughs. Technologies like LTE, IMS, smartphones, cloud computing point to interesting times ahead. In fact telecom is at a inflexion point when the fortunes seem to be pointed northward. This article looks at some of the promising technologies which are going to bring back the sunshine to telecom.

3G Technologies –Better Quality of Experience (QoE): The auction of the 3G spectrum ended after 131 days of hectic bidding for this cutting edge telecom technology. 3G promises a whole new customer experience backed by extremely high data speeds. 3G promises download speed of up to 2 Mbps for stationary subscribers and 384 Kbps for moving subscribers. It is very clear that such high data speeds will inspire a host of new and exciting applications. Applications that span location based services (LBS), m-Commerce and NFC communications will be simply be irresistible to the users. Moreover the ability to watch video clips or live action on mobile TV or on laptops enabled with 3G dongles will have a lot of takers for 3G technology. App stores for 3G are bound to do a roaring business as 3G takes off in India.

Smartphones – The game changers: In the last decade or so in the telecom industry no other invention has had such a disruptive effect in the telecom domain as smartphones. Smartphones like the IPhone, Droid or Nexus One have changed the rules of the game. The impact of smartphone has been so huge that it actually spawned an entire industry of developers who developed applications for smartphones, content developers and app stores. The irresistible appeal of smartphones is the ease of use and the ability to browse the net as though they were using a normal data connection.  Users can watch youtube clips, play games or chat on the Smartphone.

IP Multimedia Systems (IMS) – Digital Convergence:  IP Multimedia System (IMS) , based on 3GPP’s Release 5 Specification in 2005, has been in the wings for quite some time. The IMS envisions an access agnostic telecommunication architecture that will use an all-IP Core for the transport of medium be it voice, data or video. IMS uses SIP protocol for signaling between network elements and SDP for exchanging media between applications.  The IMS architecture promises a whole slew of exciting application ranging from high quality video conference, high speed data access, white boarding or real time interactive gaining.  IMS represents a true convergence of the telecom wireless concepts with the data communication protocols. The types of services that are possible with IMS will be only limited by imagination. With the entry of smartphones and tablet PCs, IMS is a technology that is waiting to happen and will soon become prime time

Long Term Evolution (LTE)Blazing Speeds: Already there are upward of 5 billion mobile devices and a report from Cisco states that the total data navigating the net will exceed ½ a zettabyte (1021) by the year 2013. The exponential growth of data and the need to provide even higher Quality of Experience (QoE) led to the development of the LTE. LTE is considered 4G technology. LTE promises speeds anywhere between to 56 Mbps to 100 Mbps to users enabling unheard of speeds and applications.  What makes  LTE so attractive is that it promises better spectral efficiency and lower cost per bit than 3G networks. The competing technology for LTE is WIMAX which is also considered as 4G. But LTE has a better evolution path from 3G networks as opposed to WiMAX, While LTE is a packet only network there are sound strategies for handling voice traffic with LTE.  The standards body 3GPP offers two options for handling voice. The first is the Circuit switched (CS) fallback to 2G/3G network. In this scenario data access will be through the packet network of LTE while voice calls will use legacy 2G/3G voice networks. The other alternative is the switch voice traffic to the IMS network with its all-IP Core. This method is supported by the One Voice initiative of many major telecom companies and accepted by GSMA.  This strategy for handling voice through an IMS network is known as VoLTE (Voice over LTE)

Internet of Things- Towards a connected World:  “The Internet of Things” visualizes a highly interconnected world made of tiny passive or intelligent devices that connect to large databases and to the internet. This technology promises to transform the network from a dumb-bit pipe to a truly “computing” network. The Internet of Things or M2M (machine-to-machine) envisages an anytime, anywhere, anyone, anything network. The devices in this M2M network will be made up of passive elements, sensors and intelligent devices that communicate with the network. The devices will be capable of sensing, identifying and responding to changes in the immediate environment. Radio Frequency Identification (RFIDs) is one of the early and key enabler of this technology. The uses for this technology range from warning when the structural integrity of bridges is compromised to implantable devices in heart patients warning doctors of possible heart attacks.  The impact of the Internet of Things will be far-reaching. There are numerous applications for this technology. In fact, ubiquitous computing or the Internet of Things allows us to distribute processing power and intelligence throughout the network into a kind of ambient intelligence spread across the network. This technology promises to blur the lines between science fiction and reality.

App StoresThe final verdict:  The success of App Stores in the last couple of years has been nothing short of phenomenal. It is a complete ecosystem with App Store Developers, App Stores, and the Content Developers and Service Providers.  Apps and App stores have changed the rules of the game so completely. No longer is a mobile phone’s snazzy looks enough for it to be a best seller.  The mobile should be supported by cool downloadable apps for the user to use.  App Stores and apps will play an increasingly important role with apps being developed for smartphones and tablet PCs.  There are bound to be several interesting apps spanning technologies like   Location Based Service (LBS), mobile Commerce, eTicketing, Near Field Communication

Cloud Computing – Utility computing: Cloud Computing has been around some but is slowly gaining more and more prominence. Cloud computing follows a utility model for computing where the cloud user only pays for the computing power and storage capacity used. Cloud computing not involve any upfront Capacity expenditure (Capex).  Users of public clouds like EC2, App Engine or Azure can pay according to the usage of the resources provided by the cloud. Cloud technologies allow the CSPs to purchase processing power, platforms, and databases almost like a utility like electricity or water.  The cloud exhibits an elastic behavior and expands to accommodate increasing demands and contracts when the demand drops. Cloud computing will be slowly be adopted by more and more organizations and enterprises in the years to come.

AnalyticsMining intelligence from data:  Nowadays organizations all over are faced with a deluge of data.  For raw data to be useful it has been analyzed, classified and important patterns determined from the data. This is where data mining and analytics come into play. Analytics uses statistical methods to classify data, determine correlations, identify patterns, and highlight and detect key trends among large data sets. Analytics enables industries to plumb the data sets through the process of selecting, exploring and modeling large amount of data to uncover previously unknown data patterns. The insights which analytics provides can be channelized to business advantage. Data mining and predictive analytics unlock the hidden secrets of data and help businesses make strategic decisions. Analytics is bound to become more common and will play a predominant role in all organizations in the years to come.

Internet TVHot off the net:  If IMS represents the convergence of Telecom and the internet, Internet TV represents the marriage of TV and the internet. Internet TV is a technology whose time has come. Internet TV will bring a whole new user experience by allowing the viewer to be view rich content on his TV in an interactive manner. The technology titans like Apple, Microsoft and Google  have their own version of this technology. Internet TV combines TV, the internet and apps for this new technology.  Internet TV is bound to become popular with complementary technologies like IMS, LTE allowing for high speed data exchange and the popularity of websites like Youtube etc. Internet TV will receive a further boost from apps of smartphones and tablet PCs

IPv4 exhaustion – Damocles’ sword: While the future holds the promise of many new technologies it is also going throw a lot of attendant challenges. One serious problem that will need serious attention in the not too distant future is the IPv4 address space exhaustion.  This problem may be even more serious than the Y2K problem. The issue is that IPv4 can address only 2 32 or 4.3 billion devices. Already the pool has been exhausted because of new technologies like IMS which uses an all IP Core and the Internet of things with more devices, sensors connected to the internet – each identified by an IP address. The solution to this problem has been addressed long back and requires that the Internet adopt IPv6 addressing scheme. IPv6 uses 128-bit long address and allows 3.4 x 1038 or 340 trillion, trillion, trillion unique addresses. However the conversion to IPv6 is not happening at the required pace and pretty soon will have to be adopted on war footing. It is clear that while the transition takes place, both IPv4 and IPv6 will co-exist so there will be an additional requirement of devices on the internet to be able to convert from one to another

Conclusion:

Technologies like IMS, LTE, and Internet TV have a lot of potential and hold a lot of promise.  We as human beings have a constant need for better, faster and cheaper technologies. We can expect a lot of changes to happen in the next couple of years. We may once see rosy times ahead for telecom as a whole

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