Our IPX Vision Supported

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This post first appeared on my SAP Blog on August 17, 2011.

Sybase 365 recently released the results of our Global Operator Survey, covering the IP Exchange (IPX) technology.  Three hundred fifty-three operators were surveyed online, with an additional eleven one-on-one interviews.    This resulted in a very interesting cache of data from a variety of operators and service providers, worldwide.  I intend to publish a number of blog entries, based on the results of our survey.  This one is the first.

You can pick up your PDF copy here.

Let’s take this opportunity to now focus on a few areas that are of interest.  Many people have asked me over the last couple of years: “Bill, what is your vision for IPX?”  My answer has been relatively the same.  I envision IPX as the central, global backbone connecting MNOs and other accepted service providers, cloud services, and enterprise and providing intelligent hubs for a variety of interworking and interoperability functions.  What this means is that the IPX is and is becoming an absolute core function for many participants.  Our survey results do certainly lend support to what the IPX has become and what our vision is.

As far as I know, this is the first time that MNOs around the world have been requested to participate in an in-depth survey of their IPX awareness and potential.   I am certainly encouraged by these results.  For example, just over half (51%) of the respondents define the IPX as ALL of the key definitions of an IPX including “An easy way to deploy end to end IP on common standards,” “a cost-reduction measure,” “a means of ensuring service quality,” and “a route to 4G.”   This shows that our (and others) education of the marketplace pushing the benefits of the IPX have paid off.

In terms of vision, the survey clearly shows that inter-working between Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks will be a significant driver of IPX leverage by mobile operators.  A key element cited will be LTE Roaming agreements.  Today, there are only a handful of operators with LTE networks, but over 63% of the respondents noted that IPX becomes essential in just 1-3 years.    When asked about the benefits that the IPX offer for various next generation services such as LTE Roaming, an overwhelming majority cited various positive benefits with the largest number citing cost reductions as a key benefit.

One respondent noted that “LTE roaming is imperative to overall LTE success.”  Many noted that the managed QoS of an IPX for LTE roaming were key benefits.  

One major carrier stated that LTE Roaming “creates a cloud of on-net data roaming MNOs, thereby making it run on a managed pipe, rather than on an unmanaged GRX tunnel.”    Another respondent got into details and stated that LTE roaming will further accelerate once Diameter inter-working is proven.   They also noted that the integration of a clearly defined Diameter roaming solution that supports inter-working with the existing 3G environment as a perquisite for larger uptake.   A few others also noted that the support of Diameter on the IPX would be key elements.

We also asked if there were IPX benefits for IP-based signaling.  Again, well over half of the respondents noted a variety of positive benefits for IP Signaling, enabled by the IPX for next-generation services.  “A single IP connection, underpinned by policy control between network operators” was how one respondent deftly summed up the benefit.   Another indicated that “aggregated signaling, reducing network load and higher network resiliency and redundancy” is a primary IP signaling benefit.  Still several others cited more reliable and secure connections along with bandwidth savings.  One should note that “signaling” today is already supported on the IPX, based on transporting GSM MAP (the SS7 application layer) over IP (AKA SIGTRAN).    Next generation services will use a protocol called Diameter (defined by RFC 3588).  Diameter has been designated as the chosen signaling protocol by 3GPP to support so-called 4G (or LTE) services (outlined in RFC 5516, for those, so technically inclined).   Diameter was chosen based on the fact that is capable of managing a continuous flow of data between a complex mesh of network elements. 

Diameter servers/policy exchange controllers will be attached to IPX networks to provide a signaling and authentication location for multiple mobile operators to connect to in order to validate subscribers’ capabilities in roaming scenarios as well as many other scenarios.  As within next generation networks, Diameter will also be used to set up and negotiate a variety parameters and authentication for most operator to operator engagements – whether that is voice, video or some other communications.

We had also asked the respondents a more open-ended question around what did they expect from an IPX.  In fact, the question was really not targeted towards next-generation services, but what did they expect from an IPX, today?  Here, we can definitely say that the response was both a mix of services available today (such as SIGTRAN ), voice services, as well as content delivery, but quite a few people really gravitated towards services that are not yet widely available.   Quite a few noted  an IPX should provide access to multiple types cloud services and even mobile payment services.   Cloud services available today including Blackberry® cloud connectivity were mentioned by several respondents.   A significant percentage also mentioned RCS/RCSE, multimedia, and video as well has HD Voice services.

These very varied responses indicate it is clear that the IPX really is viewed by the global operator community as a central, global backbone connecting MNOs and other accepted service providers, cloud services, and enterprise and providing intelligent hubs for a variety of interworking and interoperability functions.  So our vision is not off-base at all.

When we first conducted this survey, we knew that the global operator community viewed the concept of an IPX with mixed notions – of what it really is, its benefits, and its drawbacks.  Consequently, it is very satisfying to read these results and know that the vast majority of the global telecom community believes what we believe.  Our own experiences in some specific markets with certain operators certainly had given us some insight, but to more fully query over three hundred operators  — many of them still years away from leveraging  an IPX – has really helped us to tailor our IPX solutions to match what the requirements are now and what they will become in the future.

In future entries, I’ll take a look at some other elements of our survey and what they mean to industry.