The IPX concept has been around for a while, but at the Carriers World/IPX conference held recently in London, there was still talk about the slow the rate of adoption for IPX services and what should be done to address the problem. One way to think about the IPX is that it provides premium inter-carrier service offerings. These are services geared towards operators and delivered over a private network. They are differentiated from “normal” wholesale services in that they provide charging transparency, varying levels of Quality of Service, and service awareness. I participated in a panel at the conference that was originally assembled to discuss how to create an environment where telcos can collaborate to deliver the solutions and services of the future, but it quickly turned into a discussion on why operators weren’t using IPX services as much as had been originally anticipated.
One of the panelists observed that there was a lot of effort put into defining the services – especially the voice interconnect services – that make up the IPX. To a large extent these capabilities were driven by the needs of the operator community. However, the operators are not beating a path to the IPX to utilize these services.
Catherine Haslam with Ovum noted in an opinion piece after the conference that while IPX providers have seen some traffic growth this has been due to LTE data roaming traffic, which for the most part is service unaware. That translates to lower revenue opportunities for the IPX operators and does not incent them to rush headlong into ways to help accelerate the proliferation of VoLTE, let alone VoLTE roaming at the operator level.
In talking with Phillipe Millet, Chairman of the i3forum, and panel moderator on emphasizing collaboration to move the IPX interconnect forward, I brought up the needs for specific goals that should naturally provide purpose to any collaboration. So what should the end game be for increased collaboration between operators and IPX service providers?
Connecting networks is something that wholesale carries have been doing since their inception; some things that IPX/wholesale operators do well include security, interconnection, and interoperability. The rise of VoLTE and IMS based services require that for end-to-end service continuity, interworking and mediation is needed between networks regardless of the standards that are in existence for those services. IPX operators are in the best position to provide that functionality which includes things like:
- Signaling header manipulation and call flow normalization
- Media transcoding
- Diameter AVP manipulation
- Screening and policy
Providing mobile operators with ways to accelerate VoLTE implementation and end-to-end HD Voice service continuity is definitely attractive to operators and a good goal for collaboration activities. But connectivity is only one example of the collaboration IPX/wholesale operators should focus on. During the panel, I pointed out that IPX operators are not waiting around for mobile and fixed operators to utilize their interconnect services. They are looking at new services that take advantage of their networks, expertise and position as a trusted intermediary to provide an array of hosted and white label offering that can help operators get into lines of businesses more quickly as well as help multinational enterprises implement global networks.
Some service providers are embracing virtualization and NFV and providing hosted services that look almost like precursors to network slicing, like cloud-based IMS and EPC. Software-centric infrastructure represents an opportunity and allows a portfolio approach to delivering services that are characterized by lower costs, lower barriers to entry and faster deployment that gives wholesales operators the ability to succeed quickly or fail fast with less capital risk.
IPX/wholesale operators are looking at their role in the IoT ecosystem as well. For example, IPX operators can provide signaling aggregation and hosting capabilities for a new breed of private virtual network operators (PVNOs) that are emerging to serve IoT verticals like the energy distribution industry where connected smart meters are providing new ways of servicing customers.
Some operators are pushing the envelope within the wholesale market, like PCCW Global with its white label video services and Telstra with its SDN-based PEN Marketplace. As Mike Van der Bergh, CMO for PCCW pointed out during the conference, they are in the “problem solving business”, he didn’t mention minutes business!
So while there is a need for industry collaboration, maybe as Catherine points out further in her analysis that the collaboration needs to be expanded. IPX/wholesale operators should expand past involvement with their customers’ operations teams to include the product management and marketing teams. They should collaborate at the service and application level and focus on ways to solve problems that leverage the unique capabilities of a wholesale carrier with a secure global footprint, an intimate understand of transport and multimedia processing heavy lifting, and the ability to interwork multiple networks.
The general consensus from the conference was that IPX operators need to rethink the business completely. I don’t disagree. What do you think? Tweet us at @Dialogic.