Asia Pacific had a relatively soft 2015 compared to other regions of the world when it came to new LTE deployments. According to the GSA, there were only 5 LTE commercial networks launched in 2015 in the APAC region. However, it is leading the way in VoLTE implementations. Of the 30 VoLTE networks currently deployed commercially, half are in that region of the world. It shouldn’t be surprising either that most of the VoLTE roaming trials and announcements have involved APAC operators. This fact did not go unnoticed at the recent LTE Asia conference in Singapore where VoLTE was a topic in majority of the presentations. Other topics discussed and presented ranged from Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) to the Internet of Things (IoT) to 5G with the likes of speakers from LG Uplus talking about the potential for targeted deployments of 5G based on customer density, usage patterns and service characteristics. In addition to some of these forward looking concepts, ways to monetize the existing 4G investment that operators have made over the past few years was also top of mind.
I gave a presentation at LTE Asia on that very last topic during the Roaming, IPX and Wholesale track. While operators have continued to spend on LTE deployments, according to IHS/Infonetics, they’ve reached their peak most likely here in 2015. However with Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) remaining flat, operators are scratching their heads wondering who is getting the lion’s share of the return when it comes to the investment they’re making in 4G networks. At the same time, operators are their own worst enemy when it comes to encouraging subscribers through high per-minute or per-Megabyte charges to eschew roaming and turn to OTT and alternative means to provide them the connectivity they need when they travel.
A survey done by the European Commission revealed that over 33% of EU travelers will go silent with their mobile data usage when they roam. This is due to the perception or reality of the bill shock associated with data roaming charges. And that estimate of silent roamers is low compared to other published accounts as well as IPX operators and analysts that I have spoken with. As an alternative, subscribers are turning to Over the Top (OTT) applications and Wi-Fi and getting very comfortable using these for voice services and texting.
There’s significant opportunity for operators from roaming, even though roamers only represent on the average a small percentage of their customers – like 5-10%. For example, Juniper Research estimates the retail revenue for roaming will hit $42 billion (US) by 2018, and in addition, Hot Telecom estimates the number of VoLTE subscribers to hit a critical mass of over 1.5 billion by 2019. That’s pretty respectable when compared to the estimated 3 billion OTT subscribers in the same time frame. The point is that operators have an opportunity to implement a framework that can connect billions of subscribers with rich media services anywhere they go across multiple networks.
So wholesalers, IPX, and Group Operators have an opportunity here to help accelerate the roll out of international VoLTE and 4G mobile data services by doing what they do best which is interconnecting and interworking networks. The can provide advanced interconnection services for HD Voice including:
- TDM termination that offloads Media Gateway Functionality to the IPX operator to allow MNOs to go all IP VoLTE/IMS
- Transcoding services
- Contextual voice services that leverage the extensive intelligence from the signaling and data plane traffic.
In addition, they can facilitate the interworking, optimization and heavy lifting involved with interconnecting networks that use the two approved VoLTE roaming architectures: S8HR and RAVEL (You can read more about these two methods in a previous blog; VoLTE Roaming – Are We There Yet?) The value proposition for MNOs extends to other benefits and capabilities like:
- Faster service implementation and time-to-revenue
- Ability to offer inbound VoLTE roaming without having an IMS core
- Outsourcing and hosted options to move from CAPEX to pay-as-grow OPEX
- Regional breakout in addition to local breakout to offload backhaul, improve latency on the more complex call scenarios and perform the heavy lifting associated with transcoding
- Ability to offer advanced contextual voice services on top of roaming hub services
You can go to SlideShare to download the whole presentation. In it, I also covered ways IPX operators and wholesalers can start embracing and emulating OTT services with white label options that leverage WebRTC technology. Did you attend LTE Asia? Let us know by tweeting us at @Dialogic and sharing your thoughts on the current state of LTE.