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Mobile Roaming

To VoLTE or to OTT. That’s the question? Hmmmm…

This question has taken me back a few years when operators considered introducing Rich Communication Services (RCS) and the “to RCS or to OTT” question was raised as well. The answer is already known; RCS was proven to be a failure as users adopted OTT services instead. Operators have lost billions of dollars since the introduction of OTT services.
Although more than 300 mobile operators have already introduced LTE networks, only a few of them have introduced VoLTE. The reasons include significant technical challenges such as guaranteeing quality of service and very high costs.
VoLTE aims to guarantee HD voice when both ends are on the service, optimize networks and best utilize the frequencies, save battery consumption of the devices and more. Analysts have found that VoLTE can be a nice to have service but it neither increases the ARPU in the short term nor resolves the operator’s major concerns (such as declining roaming revenues or limited service coverage in rural areas, high towers and indoors) in the long term.Mobile Roaming

While operators are looking for a long term solution, there is a serious need to overcome these challenges now before it is too late. VoWifi has been recently introduced and might serve as a long term solution but it is not relevant for the immediate future as only a few mobile devices currently offer this capability. In addition, the technical challenges involved ensure that it’s a long way off until it is fully adopted.
So, is there a less costly, less complicated and much faster solution that overcome these challenges for mobile operators?
The answer is….. Yes. A mobile OTT communications solution consisting of mobile apps and backend servers, costs only a fraction of the invested capital in the new technologies, is fully deployed and operational in few months compared to years and so simple that it requires only the installation of an app by the customer would be a solution.

I have listed some of the challenges and the ways to overcome them by mobile OTT solutions.

The major concerns of mobile operators

Mobile operators have enjoyed high revenues in the past. Today they are facing serious threats from opportunistic OTTs who offer alternative services for little or no cost, causing a sharp decline in their roaming revenues. Limited service coverage in rural areas and high towers is still a concern, as this causes dissatisfaction and disruption of service.

Defending Roaming Revenues Strategies

In recent years, mobile operators have retaliated by adopting VoIP technology. Some have offered roaming VoIP plans utilizing available free Wi-Fi networks while other operators have offered bundled packages of GSM & VoIP over Wi-Fi. This solution was good but not good enough, neither for the operators who couldn’t guarantee high quality service due to the unpredictability of non-controlled Wi-Fi connections, nor for the roaming subscribers who had to search for available open Wi-Fi networks in certain areas and pay high prices due to the bundled high price of GSM roaming costs.

Nowadays, data roaming prices are low, data connectivity is available almost everywhere and operators have upgraded their data networks to support higher capacities. Operators are able to guarantee a higher quality of voice service at low prices, while their customers maintain their same cellular number when using the OTT communications apps.

AudioCodes’ MobilityPlus, ALL IP OTT communications solutions, which consist of white label mobile applications and backend servers, enable operators to offer low cost, yet profitable HD voice, video and messaging over IP services utilizing roaming data networks (3G, 4G, LTE).  This keeps their subscribers using their cellular numbers over IP networks. By doing this, operators promote a new bundle of roaming data and VoIP services. Subscribers who purchase cellular roaming data will have access to VoIP service as well, a service which increases subscriber loyalty.

Improving Service Coverage

Mobile operators are technically challenged, however, to increase service coverage in areas with limited coverage such as rural areas, high towers and indoors. Subscribers in these areas report a high rate of unsuccessful calls and disrupted service causing them to consider alternative solutions which in turn leads to a decrease in communication services revenues.

With the increase of Wi-Fi network availability readily found in these areas, customers receive calls and send texts over existing home and office Wi-Fi networks rather than the operator’s mobile network that is limited or does not exist.

AudioCodes’ MobilityPLUS OTT app supports Wi-Fi calling as a preloaded app within the subscribers’ smartphone (on Android smartphones) or as an OTT app that keeps the subscriber using his mobile number. MobilityPLUS enhances service coverage and guarantees HD voice quality when participants are on Wi-Fi networks.

Continuous Service Connectivity Mobile operators who have adopted VoIP technologies to overcome today’s challenges need to address the lack of continuous service connectivity when subscribers move between Wi-Fi and data networks and vice versa.  Until now, subscribers who were on a VoIP call over Wi-Fi could not move to a data network (3G/4G) without having the call dropped. In many cases, the user disconnected and redialled when moving to another network. Not Anymore. AudioCodes’ MobilityPLUS assures mobility with continuous connectivity, guaranteeing a seamless handover between Wi-Fi to 3G/4G and vice versa. The solution combines AudioCodes’ MobilityPLUS Mobile OTT and Mediant SBC solutions, leveraging unique SBC capabilities and leading mobile VoIP technology.

One-Fish-Two-Fish-Red-Fish-Blue-Fish-by-Dr-Seuss

A Mouse has cut the Wire: I can’t hear you…..

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When I was a kid, I loved reading the Dr. Seuss books with the fun and educational rhymes. As an adult, I loved reading them to my own children when they were young. Some things never grow old.

It seems that it is the same with the quality of a phone call. From the early days of the switchboard to calls over the cellular network, the phrase “can you repeat that? I couldn’t hear you” has been commonly heard over the years. And so has the emphasis on improving voice quality accompanied the advances made in telephony communications.

One-Fish-Two-Fish-Red-Fish-Blue-Fish-by-Dr-Seuss

Source: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, by Dr. Seuss

This is no less true today with Voice over IP (VoIP) networks. Perhaps the greatest enemies of a quality call over VoIP networks are delay, jitter and packet loss. Network experts invest great efforts in fine tuning their networks so as to minimize the negative effects of these factors. In a recent post on this blog entitled “Voice is Coming to LTE”, Amir Zmora pointed out that in his experience in speaking with service providers that are already invested in VoLTE and interconnecting with other networks, it was clear that voice quality and QoE are their main concerns.

VoIP traffic may traverse wireline, WAN, cellular or wireless networks. Wireless traffic in particular is inherently inconsistent and the effects of delay, jitter and packet loss, if not handled, can seriously impair the quality of a call. Wireless networks were designed first and foremost for data applications. But in data focused applications, the most important thing is for the payload to arrive complete, how fast it gets there is less important. Thus, compensating measures can be implemented to guarantee that requirement. However, while these capabilities ensure the arrival of the packets, they also increase delay and jitter. And while delay for data applications is acceptable, in the case of VoIP the delay may be intolerable resulting in someone saying “I didn’t catch that, come again?” or just dropping the call altogether.

As most VoIP entities in the network (session border controllers, gateways, ATAs, IP Phones, mobile clients, etc.) were designed to handle wireline, and not wireless impairments, they have a hard time handling (without help) traffic emanating from wireless networks. To get around the problem, AudioCodes has implemented special built-in tools inside its Session Border Controllers. By placing the SBC with these tools between the wireless network and any other network (wireless, wireline, cellular, etc.), the impairments from the wireless network traffic can be managed and reduced dramatically to allow for an end-to-end quality call and prevent someone from saying, “I cannot hear your call. I cannot hear your call at all!”

Want more information?

Click here to download a White Paper in which you will learn how built-in SBC tools such as an adaptive jitter buffer, transcoding, redundancy, trans rating and quality-based routing can each play a major role in significantly enhancing QoE. Furthermore, when taken together and given the ability to fine tune and balance between the variables, they can be truly powerful.

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.