Looking to SS7: IP Networks Get Smart
BY DR. HONG CHEN
IP-based telecommunication services have wisened up over the last three years, taking
advantage of the immense bandwidth and resiliency of the Internet to provide functions
familiar to consumers at extremely competitive prices with high versatility. Some of these
functions include value-added services such as roaming, fax, and telephony.
However, many companies have quickly discovered that efficiently integrating these
services into a complete and reliable product offering requires an intelligent network.
Much like the PSTN relies on Signal System 7 (SS7) to enable standardized call setup,
routing, control, and vertical services, IP networks need an intelligent layer to improve
performance and support the introduction of new services.
THE CLEVER SOLUTION
Creating an intelligent network requires complex signaling and significant information
exchange. By adding an intelligent layer, networks are able to offload Internet services
from busy PSTN switches and reduce congestion. Intelligent networks offer service
providers a flexible operational environment that can support multiple IP services -
including remote access, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), phone, fax, video conferencing,
e-commerce, traditional dial-up services, and Web hosting.
The addition of intelligence to IP networks also allows the use of metered services,
and intelligent platforms typically provide provisioning and usage data gathering
capabilities through an integrated billing system. These integrated systems handle a
variety of pricing and discount structures to offer services to subscribers through a
single account and bill.
Another key benefit of SS7-like intelligence and IP interworking is that services
requiring cooperation with other services or systems at different sites can rely on
built-in capabilities of the hybrid system to determine the most appropriate
"termination service" site, and connect to the site to complete the service.
An ISP can also accept service requests from the subscribers of other service
providers. Efforts are underway in various standards bodies, such as ETSI TIPHON (the
European Telecommunications Standards Institute's Telecommunications and Internet Protocol
Harmonization Over Networks technical body) to define a uniform way to determine the
authenticity of subscribers and the services to be provided. This immediately increases
the number of service providers offering a given service, and dramatically expands the
addressable universe of customers.
THE NETWORK AS A COMMODITY
IP networks have demonstrated the capability to carry and distribute information of many
diverse types, including data, voice, audio, video, and variations of these types of
information. This gives information service providers substantial opportunities to develop
information products that can be deployed on the IP network.
Services may be offered by ISPs or telcos that own and operate equipment and
facilities, and can also be offered by "virtual" ISPs that do not own
facilities, but resell the services. A virtual ISP that has subscribers from traditional,
non-IP businesses can offer retail services without owning any of the equipment or
facilities, which benefits both the consumers and ISPs. For example, an access provider
offers Internet access - an originating service, while a terminating service provider
offers low-cost termination to originating service providers or virtual ISPs.
Either a retail service provider or a virtual ISP may offer these services to end users
and take care of account management, customer care, billing, and other account service
activities. Both types of service providers may use wholesale service providers that
actually develop and deploy the hardware and software necessary to implement services.
Most service providers today are challenged by the need to constantly innovate to
retain existing customers and attract new ones, thus reducing costly churn. As
intelligence is added to network devices (both IP and intelligent network), it facilitates
the addition of functionality, but also facilitates interoperability among networks. This
interoperability depends on the unrestricted exchange of customer and service data. As
SS7-like functionality has served to carry much of this information for the intelligent
network - it is also expected to provide much of the infrastructure needed for efficient
Although there has been much discussion on how SS7 can be used to facilitate improved
interconnectivity between traditional wireline networks and Internet-based networks, there
has been relatively little progress in defining exactly how SS7 and the Internet-based
services will interoperate. Vendors of Internet telephony equipment are just now beginning
to bring SS7-capable hardware to the marketplace, with commercial deployment about to
The integration of intelligence into IP networks is expected to proceed rapidly with
several drivers. Improved service will certainly help retain customers, additional
services will attract new customers, and reduced costs and improved efficiency will help
boost profit margins for all service providers.
As facilities-based service providers deploy the new IN-IP hybrid network systems into
their networks, those able to take advantage of the newly deployed functionality and
services will also benefit. And systems already in place to facilitate customers' access
to services when roaming between networks will increase in value.
Network-level authentication ensures that subscribers have ready access to any gateway
within their service provider's network. It also provides the underlying technology for
global roaming services. Global roaming provides local call access to long-distance
telephone services and portable features even when subscribers travel outside the serving
areas of their home providers.
It enables a network and settlement infrastructure with global connectivity, which
keeps track of all the cross service charges, and credits or debits the service providers
accordingly. This frees ISPs from the burden of managing deployment across multiple
networks, and increases potential market penetration and revenue. It also supports a
developing model of regional service providers interconnected and sharing services and
customer access via third-party networks.
The roles of access service providers, origination service providers, termination service
providers, virtual ISPs, and their contractual and financial relationships are clearly
defined and supported. Services may be extended globally in a distributed, interoperating
environment, providing account management and billing capabilities. This environment
allows service providers to offer various IP services with rapid time to market, and an
established settlement process ensures all debits and credits are properly applied.
With interoperability standards and SS7-like integration underway, plus improved
bandwidth and deregulation, Internet telephony over an intelligent software platform is
becoming a reality.
Dr. Hong Chen is chairman and CEO of GRIC Communications, Inc. GRIC is the global
leader in delivering integrated, multiple IP-based services for carriers and ISPs. GRIC
provides the technology that brings intelligence to the Internet through GRIC CSP
(Convergent Services Platform). The company is headquartered in Milpitas, CA, with
regional offices in Asia and Europe. For more information, visit the GRIC Web site at www.gric.com.