30 May 2015

Virtualised VoLTE gives operators the power of innovation

Mark Windle, Head of Marketing at OpenCloud, discusses how an open, cloud-based VoLTE infrastructure provides service differentiation with agility and innovative businesses.

The advent of smartphones and superfast data access via LTE has encouraged an upsurge in innovation by internet and OTT players, who are continually creating new communication services and applications for consumers.

Facebook, for example, has just announced that its messenger app is now integrated with video calling, instantly creating a global voice offering for the brand.

Mobile operators, however, are stuck in a rut and have become bit pipes for others’ innovation, providing access to services without themselves being the architects of any invention.

The unfortunate position that operators have found themselves in is largely due to the obstacles that they are faced with when delivering new services. Many are limited by the hold of hardware equipment vendors, who in building the operators’ networks must be commissioned to implement, deploy and integrate changes in their equipment.

 VoLTE general shot

This process must be trialled on a test network before being launched on the live one, which proves costly and time-intensive, making the business case for innovation risky. The result is that telecoms operators are being left behind by other industry players.

An opportunity for differentiation

If mobile operators are to change their fortunes they must start delivering innovation where consumers will benefit from it most. Communication services such as voice, one of mobile’s most pervasive services, and video-calling (its modern cousin) are the perfect starting point. Many of the world’s leading internet mobile players, including WhatsApp, Facebook and Google, are now featuring voice and video-call propositions and innovating in this space, and operators need to mirror this innovation. This is why VoLTE has gained so much attention recently, providing an opportunity for operators to upgrade from their old circuit switch networks to a more flexible IP ecosystem, enabling them to launch a range of new, differentiated voice services.

However, many vendor and operator views on the technology point to VoLTE simply being an exercise in recreating today’s voice-calling experience on an IP-network – albeit with some network efficiency gains – rather than creating anything ground breaking. It is therefore no surprise that VoLTE deployments have happened at the traditional glacial speed associate with telecoms operators, with no real urgency to deliver the service. According to Ovum, only 4% of 4G networks operating today have launched VoLTE.

The obstacles to deploying VoLTE

So what is turning operators off VoLTE? For many, the reluctance to deploy VoLTE is due to the cost and time constraints associated with implementing the necessary changes to their core network. This problem is compounded by questions over how quickly their subscriber base will migrate to the service, and the lack of VoLTE enabled handsets. Many of these assumed barriers are based on the idea that the traditional deployment of telecoms equipment is required, making it risky to launch VoLTE without insight into the success of the service, which is no longer the case. There is in fact a way that operators can deploy VoLTE in a fashion that mitigates these perceived risks.

Harnessing the power of the cloud

By harnessing a cloud-based service layer operators can transform their networks and operations to support the deployment of new services much more competitively. The use of cloud servers obviates the need for physical deployment of network equipment and provides scalability and flexibility over the network. Solutions can be scaled up or down, depending on the need for capacity at any given moment. This ‘grow on demand’ facility, de-risks the launch of new services by lowering the cost and time of deployment.

Virtualisation plays a crucial role as an enabler for operators in deploying innovative services like VoLTE with more speed and urgency. While there are standards for VoLTE (a common set of services and features) that will remain the same for all operator implementations, real differentiation will be borne out of moving beyond the “standard”.

Virtualised VoLTE as a means to innovate

The cloud’s greatest business value is in its inherent nature to encourage service innovation. Where the traditional test network was once a costly expense and scarce resource, a virtualised network can be used as an experimental test bed for new innovation. Waiting months, even years to trial a new service can become a thing of the past, and with the ability to create virtualised test networks in the time it takes to make a cup of tea, operators can dramatically shorten development cycles. Each R&D team can do this and multiple ideas can be progressed in parallel.

Virtualisation therefore opens up a new model for operators, encouraging a DevOps mentality – an innovation model where development and operational deployment are closely linked. This development can come from third parties or internal developers, who can create applications and customised solutions for mobile operators. Consumers could at last see some real communication service enhancements.

This model is also well suited for operators looking to win and retain high-value enterprise customers. With cloud-based virtualised network functions, each developer group can have their own miniature test network; they can then develop, deploy and test without hindrance. Operators can create bespoke services for enterprise clients to suit their needs, providing them with innovation that enriches their communication experience.

The innovative and competitive benefits for the operator are clear – in addition to reducing time and cost usually spent on traditional deployment, virtualisation of the service-layer significantly and positively impacts communication service innovation, as well as competitive differentiation for consumer and enterprise services.

Service innovation is virtually a step away

The European Commission is constantly highlighting the importance for innovation in the telecoms sector in order to achieve sustained market growth. It is clear that operators must ditch traditional processes that stifle development and find more efficient ways to innovate and better service their customers.

Virtualisation and cloud-based service-layers have signalled a new optimism within the industry, providing a huge opportunity for operators to work with vendors, developers and end-users to launch unique service propositions. This model is already being adopted by operators like Vip Mobile, a subsidiary of Telekom Austria, and others. The question for the rest of the industry is whether they will follow, or allow others to vault over them when it comes to making the most of the VoLTE opportunity.

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About the author

Mark Windle, Head of Marketing at OpenCloud, has more than fifteen years telecoms experience gained on both sides of the operator-vendor divide. Prior to his role at OpenCloud, Mark worked with the core services marketing team within Vodafone Group advising on value-added service propositions and strategy across the company’s global footprint. Previously he held senior product marketing roles within network infrastructure vendors addressing fixed and mobile operators globally with innovative service-enabling technologies for voice, data, and messaging.

OpenCloud is an independent software company that provides operators with the ability to cost-effectively develop and rollout innovative new services and applications using existing network infrastructure. Its open-standards based next-generation telecoms software is used by over 40 operators worldwide and underpins a wide range of network services. OpenCloud’s software platform also enables operators to implement flexible pricing models and on-the-spot promotions without having to upgrade its billing systems. OpenCloud enables operators to open up their networks and take full advantage of the global developer community.

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