Survey Results - Top VoIP Features

Survey Review: What VoIP Buyers are Looking For

Back in March, I wrote about enterprises moving their VoIP communication systems to the cloud and why it is more complex than simply putting a credit card number on a website. In that post, I referred to what Don Sadler from Software Advice wrote about 3 Ways to Keep Your VoIP Service From Going Down With the Internet.

The guys from Software Advice were kind enough to send me the results of their latest survey – Small Business Buyer View 2014 and I thought it would be worthwhile sharing the results with our readers.

Survey Key Takeaways

There are several findings in the survey I find interesting. Let’s go over them one by one.

More than half of prospective buyers were investing in business VoIP service for the first time.

Most of us, techy, VoIP savvy people, tend to believe VoIP is common in most businesses. I mean technology is around for over a decade now. How much time do those SMBs need to get going? For many of us, VoIP as we know it is old school; we are looking today at more advanced variations of VoIP like WebRTC that bring VoIP to the browser.

The reality is that most SMBs are not connected to VoIP services. Itzik Feiglevitch from AudioCodes presents more information about this in a diagram based on an analysis he has done.

Worldwide-SMBs-connected-to-VoIP-Services

The answers received in the survey fall nicely within the general point of this diagram – there is still a large market of SMBs out there that haven’t yet made the shift to VoIP.

Buyers were primarily concerned with reliability and scalability when evaluating new phone systems

Scalability is one of the advantages of going cloud but moving VoIP communication to the cloud doesn’t really increase reliability. There is the reliability of the servers themselves that typically improves because a VoIP communications cloud provider would normally have a stronger team of IT expertise that make sure the service is always on. However, having all the traffic go up to the cloud and back and the dependency on the link to be always on remains a challenge.

As explained before in my post All You Need is Cloud, the on-premise SBC would help mitigating this challenge by providing resiliency, optimized call routing, call cost optimization and QoE.

No buyers were interested in an on-premise IP-PBX, while a vast majority wanted a hosted solution

This is a clear trend we see across all businesses of different sizes and for different services – shift to SW solutions and cloud services. Having said that, concerns raised in the previous point must be addressed.

77% of SMBs are looking for services in the browser

Another interesting point that was not part of the “key Findings” presented at the top of the survey but did draw my attention, is the requirement for Web based solutions.

Many SMBs are probably not even aware yet of WebRTC but they are experiencing more and more services that are provided in their browser. Seeing that 77% actually preferred VoIP in their browser is an interesting indication for the potential of WebRTC in the UC for SMB space.

Survey Results - VoIP Deployment Preferences

Auto Attendant Tops the List of Desired Applications

The survey was seeking to learn the most important features buyers have on their decision checklist. The diagram below shows that Auto Attendant is well positioned on this list.

Survey Results - Top VoIP Features

Auto attendant is the way to navigate through a company’s directory instead of speaking with a real person who would transfer the call.

What if you could just say the name of that person, or what if employees could dial to anyone on their contact list, company list of suppliers and customers by just saying their name?

Based on AudioCodes advanced voice recognition technology, we provide this service today in the cloud, connecting to any PBX or hosted VoIP system.

Why is this survey important?

Understanding the criteria based on which SMBs make their buying choices is important. It reassures us about the “move to the cloud” trend but also clarifies the need to continue and provide reliability in the process.

Steve Austin

Why RCS Failed

[Post is better viewed on the blog Website]

How Standards Define Themselves to Death

Steve AustinSteve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man, was – Better…Stronger…Faster… That was the hope of RCS (Rich Communication Services).

RCS started its journey at the GSMA in 2008 with the promise to allow service providers to deliver “OTT like” services with interoperability across service providers and managed quality of service as it is provided by those that own the network. By being better than what OTT can offer, users would vote for those services of the service provider.

Where was the market back then?

Looking at OTT on mobile at that time, things were still kind of preliminary.

Skype – Mainly used on desktops, Skype for mobile was in its infancy

WeChat – didn’t exist, launched in 2011

WhatsApp – Didn’t exist, launched in 2009

Facebook Messaging – Project Titan for user to user messaging was launch in 2010 and mobile messenger app was launched in 2011

Viber – Didn’t exist, launched in 2010

You get the point…

The important things to conclude from this data are:

  • Back then, when RCS started, there was still plenty of market share for it to capture
  • The OTTs listed above took the market by storm working vertically (a specific service) and not horizontally (many services for a specific segment/region)
  • They are all islands…didn’t wait for any standards
  • Oh…and they are all free

Why RCS lost to OTTs?

RCS has standardized itself to death in 2 ways.

It has insisted on trying to define and standardize everything possible rather than sticking to the bare minimum. Due to this, it lost a lot of time and left little room for flexibility to those who wanted to deploy it. RCS and the brand “joyn” defined everything all the way up to the user experience, what the address book should look like and what the user would see on each and every screen.

On top of that, RCS standardization tries to capture requirements from 2 camps, what was known previously as RCS and RCSe, later to be unified under the Blackbird standard version. This moves sounds great but Blackbird still includes different options for doing pretty much the same thing. When you define multiple ways to send a message and to implement presence based features, the life of the developer becomes more complex.

The promise of RCS was valid

The promise of RCS was, and even today still is a valid one. It has been proven to be valid through the success of OTT players such as WhatsApp that provide some of the RCS services but in a proprietary way.
Different from VoLTE, that has good technical and business reasons to replace Circuit Switched voice, RCS doesn’t enjoy the network ownership advantage, OPEX savings and enhanced user experience compared to using an OTT service for the same purpose.

The major benefit of RCS could have been cross service provider interoperability.

Other assumed benefits, such as a unified user experience, are not more than a pipe dream as not all device vendors will vote for what joyn has defined (i.e. Apple). Given that, we are left with an application, at least on some of the devices, and not a pre-integrated experience that comes pre-loaded on the device.

The enhanced address book and integration with the phone’s address book has come to the OTT applications user experience a long time ago. Given the ubiquitous nature of some of them (who of my friends doesn’t have WhatsApp? None!), the benefit of RCS interoperability is losing its advantage.

There was another option

The other option was to put time-to-service at a higher priority than top to bottom standardization work.

Time-to-service as priority #1 doesn’t translate to zero standards, it translates to standardizing only what really needs to be standardized as was done in WebRTC, while leaving the rest for the implementers.

In context of RCS that would mean APIs (e.g. send message, get contact…) for applications to use the RCS service for launching innovative services and things related to payload (e.g. how a file is transferred between clients).

Service providers and RCS server vendors would provide client SDKs based on which the service provider could launch its own services. Additionally, they would provide them to developers to build services with and integrate them into other applications.

Conclusion

Reality has proven that even in places where standards exist, once communication crosses between services and networks, it goes through mediation servers. We see more coupling between clients and servers today, something that contradicts the goal of standards, to enable zero vendor lock. This reality is apparent today in every type of real-time communication – UC, IP-PBX, VoLTE and WebRTC. There is no reason why it will be different in RCS and therefore waiting runs the risk of missing the opportunity.

forcing vendors to enter a cat-and-mouse game

Voice is Coming to LTE

[Post is better viewed on the blog Website]

 Back in 1999, when 3G was still a questionable dream IMS started to take root as an architecture for mobile services. It was adopted by the 3GPP and later on also by 3GPP2 and other organizations and forums. Standardization work went on for many years resulting in continuous releases of standard versions forcing vendors to enter a cat-and-mouse game.

forcing vendors to enter a cat-and-mouse game

The adoption of IMS was slow and disappointing

There are many IMS deployments today but IMS didn’t deliver on its promise. While vendors and service providers were busy fighting in the standard bodies, small start-ups came quickly to the market with advanced services and took the market by storm.

VoLTE is based on IMS and is defined in IR.92 and IR.94. In a nutshell, it defines Voice, SMS over IMS (IR.92) and Video (IR.94) over LTE networks.

So what is all the fuss about VoLTE?

The answer to that lies in the eyes of the beholder.

LTE networks are being deployed by hundreds of service providers worldwide. Once LTE coverage is ubiquitous, there is a lot of sense for the service provider to move away from circuit switched (CS) voice to VoLTE, as in a few years it will eliminate the need to continue supporting the CS network, thereby reducing OPEX.

Additionally, higher quality end-to-end voice will be possible as VoLTE supports HD voice and includes features for resource reservation as well as other important features such as security.

From the end user perspective, in addition to the higher quality voice and security that comes with VoLTE, longer battery life will be possible as the need for dual LTE & CS connectivity of the phone will be removed.

Reality check

Learning from the past, there are 3 fundamental challenges service providers and vendors will need to solve.

Time to market

Service providers have waited for technologies to become stable and for standards to become fully ratified. This stopped them from launching advanced services, leaving the door open for OTTs.

Interoperability

The reality is that service providers currently providing VoLTE services are not all doing so the same way. Different capabilities and scenarios are supported by each service provider. This results in the need to verify each device and server before it is deployed on their network and vendors are required to make modifications in order to pass this certification process. Given this reality, there is a need to have a mediation element (SBC) between service providers, thus interoperability is theoretical… (did I say there is no point in waiting for everything to be perfectly compatible and ready?) Launch…don’t wait.

There are other networks out there

The service provider world is more complex than that of an OTT. The service provider doesn’t have the benefit of building an island. It needs to connect to older networks, enterprise networks and other service providers. This again brings up the need for that demarcation point that will mediate signalling and make sure voice quality between those networks remain good.

Speaking with service providers that are already invested in VoLTE and interconnecting with other networks, voice quality and QoE are their main concerns. Solutions for these concerns are provided through advanced audio processing done in mediation entities that interconnect between the networks.

Stay tuned for more on QoE in future posts on this blog.

Why is this important?

There are different opinions about the future of VoLTE and its chances to succeed. There is no doubt that secured voice calls using HD codecs are possible today using OTT. It is also clear that an OTT will not go this route, but in the service provider space VoLTE looks like a technology that will happen because:

  • It makes sense from an operational cost perspective
  • VoLTE integrates nicely into the service provider’s existing OSS/BSS systems
  • There are ways to downgrade the call to 3G/TDM when LTE is not available…SRVCC

Having said that, interoperability is a challenge. Service providers should assume there will be no 100% interoperability and standard support both on phones and servers. Certification of clients will always be required as well as demarcation points between networks as exist today in their VoIP networks.

Therefore time to market is more important than completing every item on the standards checklist.

The Prophet Jeremiah

Identifying Toll Fraud is Harder Than finding a Needle in a Haystack

What Does That Have To Do With Big Data?

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The Prophet JeremiahAt the time of creation, God spoke with man directly, without any proxy. God spoke to Adam, Eve, the snake and even handled the first murder interrogation by himself when asking Cain “Where is your brother Abel?” After this, when there were too many people, God abandoned the one-on-one approach and started sending his messages and commands through prophets. Then came the kings who listened to the oracles and ignored the prophets.

And then came the scientific revolutionaries, visionaries, dreamers and most recently, the predictors. Unlike prophets, scientific revolutionaries, visionaries and the dreamers, the predictors look to the past to predict the future. And the deeper the predictor studies the past, the clearer he can envision the future.

The predictor is a by-product of an emerging technology – big data. I am sure that big data was invented by a male, since it’s totally built on a male character trait –don’t throw anything away that you may one day need.  This is probably the reason why another male invented large garages. Unlike the traditional rational data bases, big data deals with voluminous amounts of unstructured data (not organized by any method), which is gathered from many sources in large quantities, various formats and varying qualities. There are four main characteristics related to big data (aka the four Vs); Volume, Velocity, Variety, Volatility. Allow me to add a simple analogy from my life to describe the difference between rational and irrational data bases. When I return from the grocery I pile ALL the vegetables and fruit in the refrigerator inside their plastic bags. My lovely and more rational wife washes them all, skins the melons and watermelon and cuts them into pieces, peels the vegetables and sometimes cuts them as well, to be ready for making salad or cooking.

Mr. Gurdeep Singh Pall is the Corporate Vice President for Skype and Lync at Microsoft Corp. Mr. Pall just returned to the Lync unit, after spending the past two years working on Artificial Intelligence projects within Microsoft.  Pall used his opening keynote at this year’s Lync Conference to describe how the work of analytics and Bayesian predictions, will eventually make its way into communications systems. In practice, Singh Pall said, “We can actually predict who you will be calling in the next five minutes.”

Big data and Unified Communications & VoIP services

Unified Communications and VoIP services collect a lot of raw data; this data is worthy of analysis due to its wealth of intelligence. Many companies are increasingly aware that there is information that can be collected and refined to an essence which can be used for performance optimization and network design improvements. UC and VoIP big data analytics will be the key element in converting the big data to a tool which ensures cloud-based VoIP service, including privacy, security, toll fraud, performance, cost and more.

So what can you do with voice analytics?

  • VoIP analytics will build its own multi-layered picture of the network’s topology derived from the big data over time.
  • VoIP analytics will provide Network & Users Profiling
  • VoIP analytics will provide Advanced Call fraud detection and attack prediction
  • VoIP analytics will provide Advanced Multi-Dimensional Cost Analysis

Toll Fraud detection and prevention using big data analytics

Call fraud is associated with significant revenue loss and is hard to discover. I read that discovering call fraud in the masses of call records is more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack. Actually, that’s an easy problem to solve; you know how a needle looks like and by adding enough manpower to do the looking you can eventually find it.  But fraud calls are similar to legitimate calls, so if you can’t identify a fraud call, no matter how much manpower (or CPU power in this case) you put on the job it will be impossible to detect. It’s more like trying to find a specific strand of hay in a haystack.

A common approach to detect call fraud is based on examining accounts made up of several statistics that are computed over a specific period. For example, average call duration, longest call duration, and numbers of calls to particular countries might be computed over the past hour, several hours, day or several days. Account summaries can be compared to thresholds for each period, and an account whose summary exceeds a threshold can be queued and analyzed for fraud.

VoIP analytic fraud detection is designed on a statistical principle of dynamic VoIP fraud detection. The algorithm is based on Tracking Account Behavior which is able to alert or terminate the fraudulent call as it occurs. The algorithm will relay runtime & historical attributes gathered per user, group of users, sites, SIP interface and etc. The VoIP analytics create a signature of predicted usage behavior for each user/group/interface, update the statistical model with each call and score calls for fraud using predicted behavior as the baseline. When a call exceeds a predictive user signature boundary, the VoIP analytic may take actions as per the configuration.

The VoIP fraud detection analytic is built on three stages:

  1. Training – The analysis of large numbers of enterprises of various types such as: Unified Communications, Contact Center, etc. Based on this information, the VoIP analytic Fraud Detection System creates preliminary statistical information which is later segmented per the organization’s characteristics.
  2. Adaptation – Adjustment of the statistics collected in the previous stage to the specific organization. This is done by comparing in real-time the statistics to actual call activity of the organization.
  3. Test – Each call is compared against the statistical call pattern in real-time. Calls that don’t match the pattern will result in fraud alarms with the probability (confidence) grade.

 Conclusion

We are often tempted to impose the way we see things through the prism of our own life experiences on our friends and family while in actuality, what we are really doing is judging them for the way they see things.  A friend once told me that life experience is like a flashlight hanging on your back when you are going forward, in other words, useless.  That may be true. But in the case of Big Data analytics, the system’s life experience is the basis for predicting a better future.

Call Toll Fraud

46.3 Billion Reasons to Invest in Call Toll Fraud Prevention

[Post is better viewed on the blog Website]

I remember the summer of 1972 as one hell of a hot summer. We were a bunch of kids on summer vacation without much to do. Our daily routine was mainly playing football in the deserted schoolyard and searching for other “exciting” activities the rest of the day.  One day we decided that it would be much “cooler” to stay indoors in the classrooms. So we broke the lock of one of the classroom and entered. I don’t remember exactly what we did in the classroom but what I do remember is that for some reason we decided to remove the blackboard (in those days it was really black and heavy) and take it with us through the window. But we had no clue of what to do with the loot! That took place more than 40 years ago and I still can feel the bitter taste of helplessness kids standing on the schoolyard with stolen blackboard

Call Toll FraudI have cool job in AudioCodes. Together with my colleagues, we are working on next generation products. A few months ago, I came up with a “revolutionary” idea as to how to prevent toll fraud using big data technologies.  I met with our security expert and presented my idea. He gave me an “offering my condolences” look saying – who cares about toll fraud? Who needs to fraud when calls are so cheap? And I felt again like I did 40 years ago, defeated, sweating, carrying a huge blackboard, and this time alone. But I didn’t give up, I decided to check the numbers.

The CFCA 2013 Global Fraud Loss Survey

The Communications Fraud Control Association (CFCA) published a fascinating report, “the 2013 Global Fraud Loss Survey”,  taken from fraud and security experts working within the industry who are directly involved in identifying and stopping communications fraud.  Responses were received from 93 Communications Service Providers (CSPs) located throughout the industry and around the globe. The CSPs included companies both small (<1K employees) and large (100K+), and covered wireless, wireline, broadband, and narrowband service providers. The CSPs reported providing service in multiple areas including: voice, data, financial services, and content distribution.

According to the survey, the estimated 2013 Global Fraud Loss was $46.3 Billion (USD) annually which is approximately 2.09% of total telecom revenues. Here are some interesting findings from the survey.

Top 5 Fraud Methods Reported

  • Subscription Fraud
  • PBX Hacking
  • Account Take Over / Identity Theft
  • VoIP Hacking
  • Dealer Fraud

 

Top 5 Fraud Types Reported

  • Roaming Fraud
  • Wholesale Fraud
  • Premium Rate Service
  • Cable or Satellite Signal Theft
  • Hardware Reselling

Top 10 Countries from which Fraudulent Calls Originate:

Ten countries account for 35% of the originating global fraudulent calls

Top 10 Countries from which Fraudulent Calls Originate

Top 10 Countries from which Fraudulent Calls Originate (CFCA)

 Top 10 Countries where fraud terminates:

I find this  graph to be amazing as many of these top ten are relatively esoteric countries (sorry for the non-politically correct language) and are the destination of more than 40% of the fraudulent calls!

Top 10 Countries where fraud terminates

Top 10 Countries where fraud terminates (CFCA)

 Estimated Fraud Losses by Service Type (in $USD Billions)

 

This pie chart shows that calls (PSTN & VoIP) comprise of more than 50% of the fraud service types

Estimated Fraud Losses by Service Type

Estimated Fraud Losses by Service Type (in $USD Billions) (CFCA)

 

According the survey, the companies that are subject to fraud don’t report this to law enforcement for the following reasons:

  • Debt recovery pursued through civil means
  • No faith in the judicial system to administer the right punishment to deter others
  • No perceived value to the business
  • Not referred due to lack of evidence
  • Perceived lack of interest by law enforcement to take the case
  • Perceived lack of understanding by law enforcement to pursue the case
  • Lack of resources

 

Conclusion

According to this survey, losses are huge and the fraud trend is definitely on the rise. From estimated total global revenues of $2.214 trillion (USD) in 2013, the estimated loss due to fraud is $46.3 Billion (USD), or 2.09%. The estimated total global revenue has been growing by 3.7% since 2011 where the Estimated Global Fraud Loss is growing by 15.4%!

So what do I hope are the main takeaways from this blog post?

Firstly, don’t write posts which can incriminate you or that you don’t want your kids to read. And, don’t break into school classrooms! And now seriously… Don’t give up on your ideas, even if the “experts” say they aren’t worth anything. Fraud detection applications are absolutely viable, According to the survey, toll fraud doesn’t occur often, but when it does hit, it can be financially painful.  And what’s amazing is that CSPs and other organizations prefer not to report to law enforcement since they don’t want to be tagged as low security firms. Additionally, they also lack the confidence that there is a real chance to expose the “faceless” net criminals.

Stay tuned for my next post on how to prevent toll fraud using big data tools.