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LTE is telecom’s latest technology darling, but unless you’re conversant with network jargon, LTE is a bit of mystery. Two things we can all say with certainty:
Fine, but if that’s all you know about LTE you’re in for an embarrassing moment at a dinner party when someone says, “Hey Dan, you work in the telecom industry. So what’s the basic difference between 3G and LTE?” Silence. . . Umm, well you see, it’s like this. . .
And here are more pertinent questions: Is LTE going to make it easier for telecoms to manage the customer experience? and. . . What are some of the real-time analytics and benefits that LTE networks will deliver?
Well, thankfully Black Swan has brought in an expert, Martin Guilfoyle, VP of Advanced Solutions at Syniverse, who does a great job of filling in our knowledge gaps, and frankly makes LTE downright interesting. In our interview, Martin explains the momentous changes LTE brings to mobile as he delves into topics like the marriage of IMS and LTE, high QoS service delivery via IPX, real-time intelligence services, and the new customer assurance hooks that LTE enables.
|Dan Baker: Martin, we understand that LTE represents a very significant technology shift, but what’s its significance for mobile telecoms?|
Martin Guilfoyle: Sure, Dan. LTE basically brings a whole new architecture to mobile communications. Strange as it may seem, LTE actually simplifies networks. It’s like plugging in an RJ45 cable between a base station and a network. A lot of older technologies go away with LTE. For instance, new systems like eNode-Bs and Mobile Management Entities eliminate the need for radio access network controllers (RAN), MSCs, SMSCs, GGSNs, and many other systems.
Unfortunately, even though it does away with older technologies, LTE introduces a myriad of other complexities due to its all-IP nature. Much of the coordination in LTE is done using the DIAMETER and GTP-C V2 protocols. In fact, Syniverse supplies a DIAMETER signaling service that allows you to route calls to any LTE operator in the world. That knowledge is also useful in preventing so-called “signaling storms” that can happen on the roaming side.
|When you talk about routing mobile calls across an all-IP infrastructure, for me that immediately raises a red flag over Quality of Service (QoS) concerns. How does LTE handle the quality issue?|
Well, that’s where IPX comes in.
IPX is a GSM Association (GSMA) standard that sets up a network to network interface. There’s an interface for Voice, one of Signaling, and one for Video Conferencing — all in the same pipe. Another one that’s really important is LTE.
So as long as you can interface to IPX properly, IPX guarantees you end-to-end quality since it runs over a managed MPLS network. And Syniverse offers our own implementation of IPX through our ASPX service, an entry and exit point to IPX and its guaranteed QoS.
This is very significant. IPX means that any type of mobile service provider — including alternative mobile players such as applications, enterprises and social networks — could have access to high quality service simply by plugging into our network. Now services like email don’t require a high QoS. But with voice you do because if you lose packets or packets arrive in the wrong sequence, the quality of the call degrades.
Another exciting aspect of IPX is that it paves the way for new services such as HD-Voice (High Definition Voice), a very high quality voice service that mobile service providers can charge a premium for.
|I’ve been a critic of IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) because it never lived up to its hype, but I hear that the standard is now a critical component of LTE.|
Dan, IMS was never really about “multimedia” only. It’s actually anything you want it to be. You can have video. You can have voice. Today IMS is the key path to interworking with the alternative mobile providers I previously mentioned.
For instance, IMS now underpins a new GSMA standard called RCS — Rich Communications Suite — which is the global operator’s response to alternative players entering the market. RCS is supported by many of the major Tier 1 operators across the globe.
Just as the alternative players brought in innovative services like video calling, file sharing, HD voice, etc., the RCS standard encourages outside developers to create applications that sit on top of IMS and therefore allow the service provider to add some significant value to the service, such as better quality of service, something that can be sold as at a premium.
Forgive me for throwing a lot of technology terms at your readers, Dan, but another key standard is VoLTE — Voice over LTE — which supports voice roaming across LTE, but also other voice over data services such as voice over HSPA and evDO 3G.
|How much of an effect will VoLTE have on roaming?|
The roaming implications of VoLTE are huge. Today, the traditional routing approach for packet is called home-based routing. When your mobile subscriber, say Jane, visits Paris over the weekend, her IP traffic needs to come back via GRX or IPX to your home network where it gets resolved.
VoLTE, however, uses what’s called a “local breakout”, which means you can assess the IMS core of the visited French network to resolve routing and billing issues. Now this is for voice service: your IP traffic will very often still come back to the home network for a service like email.
So this access to the IMS core of a visited network is the future of all-IP voice services like LTE. You no longer have the concept of an MSC or Mobile Switching Center with LTE -- it’s all IMS driven.
So even though Jane’s handset is registered in France on the IMS core there and she’s making calls on the French network, the home IMS will have 100% visibility. If Jane calls to reserve dinner at a Paris restaurant, the media (the voice call) will actually be resolved in France and the call duration and number Jane called will appear on the home IMS. This is similar to what CAMEL does today.
Having access to the visited network records will be useful to fraud management and having near real-time access to billing records. In addition, the PCRF policy controller in the home and visiting network will converse with each other, so even a subscriber’s policies can be transferred to the visiting network.
One caveat, of course, is the visited network has full control over how much of its IMS core is available for view by the home network. For instance, we know many visited networks will allow partial access, say, to permit pre-paid application service back in the home network. So there are lots of possibilities here.
|How does Syniverse plan to capitalize on these dramatic changes?|
One key area in which we see opportunity is the rich real-time intelligence in this new environment. And that intelligence comes from correlating the many back-and-forth messages between the home and visited operators. By the way, we don’t need to wait for LTE to be more widely deployed: we are already serving more than 100 3G operators with these intelligence services today.
The first real-time use of this new roaming intelligence is to gain greater visibility for testing and troubleshooting.
For instance, a mobile operator was sending packets during our LTE roaming trial that weren’t appearing on the receiving end. They initially thought that a firewall parsing the traffic was the culprit, but that wasn’t the case. They couldn’t figure it out — even got the network equipment vendor involved. But our solution traced the problem to a feature in the latest release of network software. The feature got dropped in the release, but not in the documentation.
There’s enormous complexity in these LTE networks. We have what we call a ping pong graph that shows the hundreds of signaling, bearer, and the other messages required to make LTE roaming work. Correlating and understanding these complex streams of data has become a Syniverse core competency.
Aside from enabling the full end-to-end service between operators, we’ve proven in recent trials that we can take CDRs and convert them to the Transfer Account Protocol (TAP) files needed for roaming.
Another valuable use of real-time intelligence is in improving the customer experience.
Let’s go back to Jane, who’s traveling to Paris and let’s assume she’s a premium customer who recently bought a high subscription and phone from you. The only trouble is there’s a provisioning error such that Jane’s device is not set up for international roaming.
So what happens in a situation like that? Well, when Jane’s phone is turned on in Paris, the home location register gets a message asking to connect to roaming, but it’s disallowed. Syniverse looks at that error, recognizes Jane’s a premium subscriber, and proactively sends an alert to you, the operator.
To the subscriber, these provisioning glitches can be infuriating, but if you get advance warning you can take action. And if Jane calls in to complain, you can at least inform her that you are aware of the issue and estimate when you expect her service to be up and running.
We can also proactively inform the operator when Jane is experiencing poor quality of service or her charges are moving into the “bill shock” range.
Here’s another customer service issue: people afraid to turn on data services when they roam. That’s a tough one because being without web access or email is no longer a viable option. Yet our records show that of the 75 million mobile subscribers who roam each month, 70% of them don’t use data services when they roam!
Here we have a solution designed to address these “silent roamers” that identifies those users and provides intelligence back to the network operator. It allows you to send the subscriber an offer for a 125 Mbit data service for $20 so they can send and receive their emails anywhere in France.
So you see that real-time intelligence is not limited to troubleshooting. It’s very applicable to marketing and trending. Engineering also finds many uses for it.
|Martin, thanks for educating us on the impact of LTE. It certainly sounds like LTE Is keeping Syniverse very busy.|
Dan, we are augmenting our traditional strength in roaming and data clearing in the 2G and 3G world with the new services needed in the all-IP LTE environment.
With LTE, customers will no longer just buying roaming service from us. IPX allows us to become a full fledged service delivery partner for them. We are now completing the end-to-end service for customers. And our deep knowledge of LTE protocols allows us to do many additional things for them such as converting CDRs to TAP files, detecting fraud, service troubleshooting, verify policy, and correlating real-time intelligence to boost subscriber customer experience.
LTE really is a brave new world. It’s a very exciting time for us at Syniverse.
Copyright 2012 Black Swan Telecom Journal