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

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


pot

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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Stacks of protocol stacks


Communication protocols like any other technology arrive on the scene to solve a particular problem. Some protocols endure while many perish. The last 60 years or so have seen a true proliferation of protocols in various domains.

So what is a protocol?
In my opinion a protocol is any pre-defined set of communication rules.

For e.g. consider the exchange between me and you
Me: “Thank You”
You: “You’re welcome”.

A more complex exchange could be
You: “How are you doing today?”
Me:”Fine. And yourself?”
You: “Great”

These are “protocols of courtesy or decorum”. There are many such protocols in daily use so there is little wonder that the technological world is full of protocols.

A couple of decades back there were 3 main standard bodies that came up with protocols namely IEEE (for LANs), IETF for the internet and ITU-T for telecom. Now there are many more bodies for e.g. CableLabs for cable television, WiMAX forum for WiMAX, NFC Forum etc.

Also protocols exist both for wired and the wireless domain. The protocols differ based on the distance for which the protocol will apply. This post will try to take a look at the some of most important in this. Certainly many will slip through the cracks, so beware!

Near Field Communication (NFC): This is a wireless protocol of the order of a few centimeters primarily for contactless data transfers. Its primary use is for mobile payment. As opposed to Bluetooth there will be no necessity for device pairing. The NFC standards are maintained by the NFC Forum.

Bluetooth: This is another wireless protocol and uses the 2.4- 2.48 GHz band for data exchange and is commonly used in mobile phones, TVs, and other devices. This protocol requires pairing of devices prior to data transfer. The Bluetooth details are maintained in Bluetooth Special Interest Group.

Zigbee:  Zigbee is a low powered, low cost wireless protocol that will connect devices within residential homes. Zigbee has a data rate of 250 kbps and is based on the IEEE 802 standard for Personal Area Network (PAN) or Home Area Network (HAN). Zigbee will be protocol of choice in the Smart Home which will be part of Smart Grid concept. More details can be found at the Zigbee Alliance.

LAN protocols:  LAN protocols are wired protocols. The main 3 LAN protocols are IEEE 802.3 (Ethernet), IEEE 802.4 (Token Bus) & IEEE (Token Ring) are used in enterprises, schools or small buildings of the order of a few 100 meters. LAN protocols ensure transmission speeds of the order of 10 Mbps – 40 Mbps.

WiFi: WiFi provides wireless access in residential homes, airports, cafes at a distance of 20 meters with speeds of 2 Mbps – 8 Mbps (802.11a/b/e/g). Wireless hotspots use WiFi protocols

Super WiFi/Whitespaces: Whitespaces refers to using abandoned TV frequency bands for wireless data transmission around the 700 MHz range. Whitespaces can travel larger distances typically around 100 km and through trees and walls. This is nascent technology and is based on IEEE 802.22 protocol. A new forum for taking this technology forward is the Whitespace Alliance.

Telecom protocols

ISDN:  This protocol is governed by the Q.931 standards and was supposed to carry high speed data (64 kbps???) from residential homes, This protocol went into relative obscurity soon.

Wired Trunk protocols: There are several trunk protocols that connect digital exchanges (digital switches) for e.g. ISUP (Q.763), BTUP, TUP. These protocols exchange messages between central offices and are used for setting up, maintaining and release of STD voice calls.

Internet Protocols

The predominant protocol of the internet is TCP/IP (RFC 793). There are several other protocols that work in the internet. A few of them

Exterior Gateway Protocol (EGP)

OSPF Open Shortest Path First protocol

Interior Gateway Protocol (IGP)

RSVP & DiffServ

WAN protocols: There is a variety of protocols to handle communication between regions or across a large metropolitan area. The most common among these are

MPLS: Multi-protocol Label System.

ATM : Asynchronous Transfer Mode

Frame relay:

X.25:

Protocols that are exist in both the Internet & Telecom domain

A number of protocols work in concert to setup, maintain and release multi-media sessions

SIP/SDP: Session Initiation Protocol (RFC 3261 et al) /Session Description Protocol (RFC 2327)

SCTP/RTP/RTSP: Session Control Transport Protocol/Real Time Protocol/Real Time Secure Protocol – These protocols are used to send and control media packets.

MGCP/Megaco: This is a protocol used to control the Softswitch.or the Media Gateway Controller (MGC)

WiMAX: (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is a technology for wirelessly delivering high-speed Internet service to large geographical areas. WiMAX offers data speeds in the range of 40 Mbps – 70 Mbps. This is an IEEE 802.16 family of protocols. Details about WiMAX can be obtained at WiMAX Forum.

DOCSIS: DOCSIS is the protocol that is used in cable TV and uses hybrid fiber co-axial cables for transmission. This protocol is also used these days for internet access. More details regarding the DOCSIS protocol can be found at CableLabs.

Note: I will be adding more substance and body to this post soon …

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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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The Future is C-cubed: Computing, Communication and the Cloud


We are the on the verge of the next great stage of technological evolution. The trickle of different trends clearly point to what I would like to term as C-cubed (C3) representing the merger of computing technologies, communication advances and the cloud.

There are no surprises in this assessment. Clearly it does not fall into the category of Chaos theories’ “butterfly effect” where a seemingly unrelated cause has a far-reaching effect, typically the fluttering of a butterfly in Puerto Rico is enough to cause an earthquake in China.

The C-cubed future that seems very probable is based on the advances in mobile broadband, advances in communication and the emergence of cloud computing.  A couple of years back Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems believed that the “network is the computer”. Now with the introduction of Google’s Chrome book this trend will soon catch on. In fact I can easily visualize a ubiquitous device which I would like to call as the “cloudbook”.

The cloudbook would be a device that would resemble a tablet like the iPad, Playbook etc but would carry little or no hard disk.  Local storage will be through USB devices or SD-Cards which these days come with large storage in the range of 80GB and above. The Cloud book would have no operating system. It would simply have a bootstrap program which will allow the user to choose from several different Operating Systems (OS) namely Window’s, Linux, Solaris and Mac etc which will execute on the cloud. All applications will be executed directly on the cloud. The user will also store all his programs and data on the cloud.  Some amount of offline storage will be possible in portable storage devices like the memory stick, SD card etc.

The cloudbook will be a ubiquitous device.  It will access the internet through mobile broadband.  The access could be through a GPRS, WCDMA or a LTE connection. With the blazing speeds of 56 Mbps promised by LTE the ability to access the public cloud for executing programs and for storing of data is extremely feasible. Access should be almost instantaneous. Using the mobile broadband for access and the cloud for computing and storage will be the trend in the future.

Besides its use for computing, the cloudbook will also be used for making voice or video calls. This is the promise of IP Multimedia Systems (IMS) technology. IMS is a technology that has been in the wings for quite some time. IMS technology envisages an all-IP Core Network that will be used for transporting voice, data and video. As the speeds of the IP pipes become faster and the algorithms to iron out QOS issues are worked out the complete magnificence of the vision of IMS will become a reality and high speed video applications will become common place.

The cloudbook will use the WCDMA, 3G, network to make voice and video calls to others. The 3G RNC or the 4G eNodeB’s will enable the transmission and reception of voice, data or video to and from the Core Network. LTE networks will either user Circuit Switched Fall Back (CSFB) or VOLTE (Voice over LTE) to transfer voice and video over either the 3G network or over the Evolved Packet Core (EPC).  In the future high speed video based calls and applications will be extremely prevalent and a device like the cloudbook will increase the user experience manifold.

Besides IMS also envisions Applications Server (AS) spread across the network providing other services like Video-on-Demand, Real-time multi player gaming. It is clear that these AS may actually be instances sitting off the public cloud.

Hence the future clearly points to a marriage of computing, communication and the cloud where each will have a symbiotic relationship with the other resulting in each other. The network can be visualized as one large ambient network of IMS Call Session Control Function Servers (CSCFs) , Virtualized Servers on the Cloud and Application servers (AS).

Mobile broadband will become commonplace and all computing and communication will be through 3G or 4G networks.

The future is almost here and the future is C-cubed (C3)!!!

Published in Telecom Asia, Jul 8 2011 – The Future is C-cubed

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Spectrum: The Big Crunch is Coming


Published in The Hindu “Scarce spectrum impacts mobile broadband

Published in Voice & Data: Spectrum: The Big Crunch is Coming

The ubiquity of the mobile phone and its ability to access the internet has been nothing short of miraculous. Mobile broadband has had such a powerful impact in recent times that it was described as the “Mobile Miracle” by the ITU-T.

A report by the Broadband Commission (set up by ITU-T and UNESCO) says that mobile users grew from 740 mn in 2000 to 5 bn in 2010, of which 1.8 bn were mobile broadband users. And this report says that for a 10% increase in mobile penetration, there is an increase of 1.38% in the GDP of the region.

Powerful smartphones, extremely fast networks, content-rich applications, and increasing user awareness, have together resulted in a virtual explosion of mobile broadband data usage. This explosion has begun to ring warning bells the world over. For it is predicted that with the existing spectrum availability, the world will run out of spectrum capacity by the middle of this decade.

The reasons behind this are fairly obvious. The growth in mobile data traffic has been exponential. According to a report by Ericsson, mobile data is expected to double annually till 2015. Mobile broadband will see a billion subscribers this year (2011), and possibly touch 5 bn by 2015.

According to IDATE, a consulting firm, the total mobile data will exceed 127 exabytes (an exabyte is 1018 bytes, or 1 mn terabytes) by 2020, an increase of over 33% from 2010.

There are 2 key drivers behind this phenomenal growth in mobile data. One is the explosion of devices-smartphones, tablet PCs, e-readers, laptops with wireless access. All these devices deliver high-speed content and web browsing on the move. The second is video. Over 30% of overall mobile data traffic is video streaming, which is extremely bandwidth hungry. The rest of the traffic is web browsing, file downloads, and email.

The growth has been fuelled by advances in wireless technology, as it evolved from EDGE, HSPA to LTE. There’s high growth of HSPA networks in the US, Canada and Latin America. And there will be over 25 operators with commercial deployments of LTE by 2015. EDGE, HSPA, and LTE have been enabling the delivery of extremely high-speed data to and from the internet and between devices.
However the ability to squeeze more and more bits per hertz of spectrum comes with additional costs and increased complexity. And despite all the advances, there is a technological limit to the bandwidth possible in the existing spectrum. This upper bound is determined by Shannon’s theorem, which provides the theoretical limits to the capacity of a channel for sending or receiving data.

Given the current usage trends, coupled with the theoretical limits of available spectrum, the world will run out of available spectrum for the growing army of mobile users. The current spectrum availability cannot support the surge in mobile data traffic indefinitely, and demand for wireless capacity will outstrip spectrum availability by the middle of this decade.

According a report published by the International Telecommunication Union–Radio (ITU-R), the spectrum requirement for regions in the world will be between 500 MHz and 1 GHz by 2020. The demand for spectrum bandwidth, based on average mobile broadband spectrum usage, clearly indicates that this demand will exceed the supply of spectral capacity by the middle of 2014.
Mobile Spectrum is a scarce resource and the governments of all the nations must work to optimize the usage of this resource. The ITU-R allocates spectrum frequencies for the use of various countries. In this context, the NGMN alliance (a global alliance of operators) states that “a timely and globally aligned spectrum allocation policy will play a key role in the development of a viable ecosystem on a national, regional and global scale, whose benefits will last well beyond the next decade”. Hence, there is a need for global harmonization in spectrum allocation, to prevent fragmentation, and to promote innovation for the next generation of networks.

The issue of spectrum scarcity is the real problem which must be addressed immediately by all nations going forward, given the fact that it typically takes some 6 years for spectrum to be operational, from the time it is allocated.

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Accelerating growth through M-Banking & M-Health


While only roughly about 5% of the population has access to computers, more than 50% of the world population has mobile phones. Mobile phones have become cheaper and are more ubiquitous these days. Hence given the penetration of mobile phones it makes sense to use them for improving the lives of those in emerging economies. Two such technologies which hold enormous potential are m-banking and m-health described below.

M-banking: Financial services, a key driver for economic growth, is either negligible or completely absent in remote rural areas. Regular banking services are unviable in these areas. The small deposits and loans held by the rural poor make it unprofitable for traditional banks to operate in these areas through traditional delivery methods.  In these areas m-banking is truly a god send.

M-Banking refers to financial services offered by Service Providers to the unbanked poor in rural areas. The people in these villages can purchase either pre-paid or post-paid units from the Operator. They can then use these units to pay for goods and services. M-Banking offers a safe and secure method to the unbanked poor for sending and receiving payments through SMS’es. To make m-banking a reality, requires the coming together of the 3 major players namely the Service Provider, the Application developer and the financial institution which can regulate and disburse units of money.

A recent report by McKinsey with GSMA in 147 countries shows that more than 1.7 billion people in emerging economies will have a mobile phone without access to banking services. The McKinsey reports also states that by 2012 the opportunity in m-banking would generate $5 billion annually in direct revenue from financial transactions and $3 billion in indirect revenue through reduced customer churn and higher ARPU for traditional voice and SMS services.

Some examples of success are M-Pesa of Kenya, Wizzit in South Africa and Globe in Philippines.  M-banking provides a 24×7 service in the village and does not require any complicated infrastructure. One could imagine services where the unbanked poor could receive instant payment for the farm produce, could save money on a regular basis and pay for electricity bills instantaneously through SMS. This will increase both the sense of security and personal well being.

M-banking provides for tremendous socio-economic growth in the villages. With the increasing penetration and the ubiquity of mobile phones m-banking represents a sure-shot way of ensuring all round economic transformation in the villages.  M-banking helps in reducing risk and brings true convenience to financial transactions. However, appropriate authentication and authorization procedures should be used.

Mobile banking does not need expensive infrastructure that is required of banks, the network of ATMs for depositing and withdrawal of money. M-banking is convenient, secure, easy to use and can be quickly deployed. While the Service Providers are the facilitators of m-banking, it is the financial institutions that will regulate and provide banking facility to the unbanked poor.

Hence m-banking is a complete win-win situation for the all the players involved namely the CSPs, the financial institutions and the unbanked poor. Besides providing convenience, m-banking will be a key driver for all round economic growth in the villages.

M-Health: Another companion technology which has enormous potential in emerging markets is m-health. M-health relates to the provision of health services in rural areas where there is an acute shortage of qualified health workers. In these areas the use of mobile communication can help in addressing key health needs of the poor, thanks to the explosive growth of mobile phones in these areas.

Some of the key benefits of m-health is the ability to spread timely health related information and diagnoses to the health workers in the villages enabling the ability to quickly track and contain the spread of diseases and epidemics. Other applications include remote data collection and monitoring of health related issues.

Recent estimates indicate that half of the population in remote areas will have a mobile phone by 2012. This provides inmates in even the remote villages’ instant access to the important health related information’s-health along with m-banking can allow Health organizations to transfer funds which the needy can use for performing health checkups.

Like m-banking SMS is a key enabler of m-health. SMS’es can be sent to educate and spread awareness of diseases, transfer funds and for informing the availability of health services. Health workers can mobile phones or PDAs to collect and send disease related data.

M-health also provides a unique opportunity for Service Providers, Health institutions, insurance companies and the patients themselves.

Conclusion: With the increasing penetration of mobiles both m-banking and m-health are particularly relevant today. Both these technologies are capable of not only transforming the economic landscape but also providing the CSPs, financial and health institutions with a sound business and strategic advantage.

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Mobile Smartphones – The New Swiss Knife


The humble mobile phone from its early avatar of enabling voice calls has now metamorphosed into a device which can perform multiple functions. The mobile smart phone is the new Swiss knife. From making voice calls, to watching video clips, from mobile TV to Location Based Services (LBS) the uses of the mobile phone are many.The mobile phone is both ubiquitous and almost indispensable to daily life. A look at some of key technologies which will still further the utility of the mobile phones are discussed below.

Mobile Banking : Bringing the bank to the mobile: Mobile banking is a trend that is just picking up. Mobile banking provides for the banking needs for the poor who have no access to banks and has a lot of potential for growth. Mobile banking refers to a method where the rural poor can make payments and do cash transactions through simple SMS text messages. Mobile banking is crucial in emerging markets where traditional banks are not viable. A recent McKinsey Report 2010 states that the though the number of mobile phones in emerging markets is in excess of 1 billion, only about 45 million use mobile money in the place of traditional banking. The report further states that opportunity in mobile banking is about 3 billion annually.

Mobile banking requires the interworking of telecom operators, application providers and cash agents for making this service a reality. Mobile banking can promote customer growth and reduce churn for service providers. Some success stories are M-Pesa in Keya and SmartMoney in Philippines. There is a tremendous opportunity for this application in countries like India and China and other emerging markets. In this application, the mobile phone helps the user to bank while on the move.

Near Field Communication (NFC) : Mobile phones enabled with NFC technology can be used for a variety of purposes. One such purpose is integrating credit card functionality into mobile phones using NFC. Already the major players in mobile are integrating NFC into their newer versions of mobile phones including Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android, and Nokia. We will never again have to carry in our wallets with a stack of credit cards. Our mobile phone will double up as a Visa, MasterCard, etc. NFC also allows retail stores to send promotional coupons to subscribers who are  in the vicinity of the shopping mall.

E-Ticketing: With an application, our flight iternary, tickets or movie tickets will be sent to the mobile phone. E-Ticketing can also be used for train and bus rides and does away with the need to carry small change.

Some of the key applications envisaged for the mobile phone in the future has been discussed and many are already in use. The smartphone will not only be indispensable in future but will be omnipotent and omniscient.

Published in Technorati – Mobile Smartphones – The New Swiss Knife

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