The real benefits of virtualised VoLTE

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third-party contributors to submit analysis on a key topic affecting the telco industry. In this article Mark Windle, Head of Marketing at OpenCloud discusses how the advent of 4G and IP and the introduction of cloud-based VoLTE infrastructure could spell a change in fortune for mobile operators. He argues that by evolving the network service-layer to use these technologies, operators have the opportunity to become more agile, innovative businesses, and accelerate the transition to all-IP communication services.

Internet companies and OTT service providers are constantly innovating and rolling out new services, designed by their IT engineering teams at the lightning fast pace associated with modern IT technology. In contrast, in telecom networks, technological change is traditionally implemented through the physical deployment, integration and commissioning of new equipment into the network.

Moreover, this costly and time-consuming process happens multiple times:  first for the test network and then for the live network. This tradition severely limits the speed at which operators can modify their networks and the number of modifications that can be afforded.  The result is slow, ponderous change in what is increasingly a fast-moving market. It leaves the operator unable to react effectively to competitors; unable to innovate and compete.

Apparently, the expectation of slow, laborious change even deters one from thinking about service innovation at all, as reflected by traditional vendors’ and operators’ views on VoLTE. Most regard it simply as an exercise in recreating today’s voice-calling experience on an all-IP network. Equally basic video-calling is added, and the audio bearer goes to HD to match what we’ve had on Skype for a few years.

The move to VoLTE is then perceived as little more than porting an existing service onto a more modern technology – with consequent network efficiency gains. Not particularly exciting.  And when inspected through the traditional lens of slow and expensive change it seems no wonder that, to date, deployment of IMS and VoLTE has happened at the traditional telecoms glacial speed. Ovum has revealed that of the 4G networks operating today, only 4% have launched VoLTE services.

For many operators, the barriers to deploy IMS and VoLTE are understood to be the cost and time constraints associated with implementing the necessary changes to their core networks.  Uncertainty of how quickly they can migrate their subscriber base to LTE, fuelled by questions over the availability of VoLTE enabled handsets, makes those barriers seem bigger.

However these barriers are based on the assumption that the traditional deployment of traditional telecoms equipment is required. It’s a false assumption. There is a better way.

Harnessing the power of the cloud

If operators transform their communications networks to leverage a cloud-based service-layer, they can support the deployment of IMS networks and new services, including VoLTE, much more competitively. For a start, the use of cloud-servers obviates the need for physical deployment of network equipment.  This advantage pays dividends each time more capacity is needed since cloud-based solutions can scale up (and down) simply by deploying software – in minutes not months.

In addition to dramatically reducing deployment costs, this scalability – the ‘grow-on-demand’ capability – de-risks the uncertainty in the rate at which migration to VoLTE will occur. Instead of needing to predict and commit to capacity increases months (or years) in advance, the cloud-based system can be scaled up just when actual demand requires.

As described above, virtualisation is widely recognised within the telecoms industry as enabling operators to deploy innovation such as VoLTE faster. However, there is a standard baseline for VoLTE (a common core set of services and service features) that will be the same for all operators’ VoLTE implementations. Real differentiation will only come if VoLTE can be developed beyond the standard. The often overlooked fact of service-layer virtualisation is that it can also benefit service innovation.

Enabling flexible innovation

In fact, the implications and the full power of cloud-based service layers are highlighted when using them for service innovation.

Unlike traditional test networks, where work on new ideas has to be scheduled in and then wait for its turn to come, virtualisation offers a new model: In the time it takes the developer to make their first coffee in the morning a completely new cloud-based ‘test’ network can be created for them to use for the day. Every R&D team can do this. Multiple ideas can be progressed in parallel.  The implications for innovation and competitive differentiation are clear. Consumers could at last see some real communication service enhancements.

By undertaking a DevOps (development and operations) business mind-set, operators can utilise their cloud infrastructure to enable end-to-end agility, from requirements to deployment, when creating new communications services.

The DevOps model is particularly well suited for operators looking to win and retain enterprise customers. Operators are keen to secure these high-value accounts, but to do that they need to have the capability to create bespoke services to meet the business’ evolving needs. By developing and optimising a service in the cloud, such as video conferencing or unified communications, operators can easily offer each business a bespoke variant based on its individual requirements: a dedicated (virtualised) service-layer to meet each customer’s needs.

In addition to avoiding the time and cost of traditional deployment, virtualisation of the service-layer also has significant implications for communication service innovation – and competitive differentiation for consumer and enterprise services.

A software-services centric model

The telecoms industry is fast coming to the realisation that those who embrace IT paradigms evolve at a faster pace, becoming more agile and better able to serve their customers. If operators follow traditional processes and wait for the technology to be standardised for the industry, they will remain dependent on traditional equipment providers for innovation, and service differentiation will remain absent.

Cloud-based service-layers enable operators to equip themselves to work with vendors, developers and end-users to launch unique VoLTE services propositions. This model has already been adopted by some operators. Others will need to follow or risk getting left behind.

Mark Windle 03 Mid-resMark Windle is the Head of Marketing at telecoms software innovator OpenCloud. Mark is an experienced telecoms executive having previously worked at Vodafone, and during his tenure at OpenCloud the company has grown at an impressive rate.

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