August 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 8
Fixed-Mobile Convergence Delivers Enterprise Communications Features Anywhere
By: Richard “Zippy” Grigonis
Dual-mode cellular and WiFi-enabled telephony devices are now considered mainstream. Femtocells (News - Alert) in the home and WiMAX are just now starting to pick up steam, driven by crowding in the most popular areas of the Radio Access Network (RAN). Thanks to low-cost broadband and new wireless access technologies, the promise of Fixed-Mobile Convergence (News - Alert) – which should now perhaps be called Mobile Unified Communications – is slowly being fulfilled.
One company helping to bring about FMC is Aruba Networks (News - Alert), which delivers an enterprise mobility solution that enables secure access to data, voice and video applications across wireless and wireline enterprise networks.
Peter Thornycroft (News - Alert), VoWLAN Product Director and Voice Technology Evangelist for Arbua, says, “We make a range of controllers, which in our architecture handle all of the traffic that comes in from all of a network’s access points. Depending on how you gauge it, Controllers can handle up to about 80 Gbps of throughput, which easily supports on the order of 500 access points. You can assemble them into a hierarchy, particularly if you have a distributed enterprise with some distance between them. Even on a campus, where you have a lot of traffic, you can place controllers closer to the access points and then some local traffic gets turned around there and longer distance traffic gets ‘pushed up the pyramid’. We also make a remote access point. Originally in these architectures, access points connected directly to the controller with a section of Ethernet cable. Now vendors run the traffic over layer 2 and sometimes layer 3. We certainly do that. So an access point is hooked up to the closest LAN drop, and then it will find a route back to the controller, which is a well-known preconfigured address, or something like that, and then it will set up a GRE [General Routing Encapsulation] tunnel, or if it’s over layer 3, an IPsec tunnel, and then everything travels through that tunnel. So, it’s a very clean overlay architecture. We obviously don’t control the wired LAN infrastructure itself.”
“We can place an access point in the home which is competitive with a VPN brick,” says Thornycroft. “We are also very strong in the security area. Some people use our equipment for securing wired ports — essentially, you’re looking at a NAT-type architecture, so a port is blocked until someone has successfully authenticated back to a RADIUS server, or some similar device. The way we’ve designed these controllers is so they do quite a bit of packet inspection so we’ve built a really strong functions that operate are wire speed.”
“As for dual-mode phones, voice over WiFi (News - Alert) has been important to us for at least the last four years,” says Thornycroft. “We sell into a number of segments. WiFi is becoming a broader field but still our primary customers tend to be hospitals, universities and grade schools, manufacturing, retail and we have a big customer base in what we call general carpet office and technology. That would include financial and technology companies. In retail we’ve had single-mode voice going for a long time. Anywhere people come to work and pick up the phone as part of their job. We have a great deal of experience in the ‘SpectraLink’ type of market — they were the dominant supplier of WiFi phones and they still make rugged, single-mode WiFi phones as part of Polycom (News - Alert).”
“More recently, for many people who work both in and outside of the office by travelling between buildings or locations, they’re much more interested in a dual-mode phone approach,” says Thornycroft. “On one hand that’s a driver of the technology, and on the other we see enterprises that have built out their wireless LAN and have now turned around and said, ‘Hey, I want to use this for voice and I want to combine it with a phone that has cellular service.’ That’s how they see the driver for dual-mode.”
“About a third of our customers at the moment are seriously using voice in both single and dual-mode environments,” says Thornycroft. “Another third are in pilot projects and the rest haven’t yet approached the technology.”
“About 18 months ago the cell phone vendors started to introduce the first dual-mode phones with WiFi capability,” says Thornycroft. “At that stage, many people started looking at how they could use them effectively. From my point of view, there were PBX (News - Alert) vendors who became interested in these things and several startups appeared that tried to make the technology work well with carriers and carrier services, and then we saw several other startups attempting to make them work well in the enterprise. The focus 18 months ago was all on seamless handover from WiFi-to-cellular and back again. Today, what’s changed most is that unified communications has come over the horizon and, to a degree, has overshadowed things quite a bit. A number of people who were interested in voice over WiFi have shifted their viewpoint and are looking much more at UC as the main selling proposition. That’s good for us, because it leaves us with a rather cleaner-cut market to look at for what we do.”
“There are two ways to approach this field,” says Thornycroft. “One way is to take a carrier network and a cellular network, and then extend it so it will go over WiFi. The classic way of doing that is UMA [Unlicensed Mobile Access]. From our viewpoint, UMA takes the GSM signaling bearer and pushes it up an IPsec tunnel that can go back across any form of IP including WiFi. UMA is ‘looked down on’ by many carriers and consultants because it’s basically 2G not 3G. It’s not derived from the IMS architecture. On the other hand, I would argue that it’s something that’s here today, and that until we all get our hands on IMS, UMA is what we have to work with. I don’t think anyone would disagree when I say that there are more UMA phones in use than any other form of WiFi cellular. There are probably about 1.5 million UMA phones in use at the moment. That’s more than any other type of dual-mode technology. So we’re actually looking quite closely at UMA and its applicability to enterprise networks. There’s no particular reason why it shouldn’t work well on enterprise networks. There will be some security concerns from the enterprise, and the other main concern we see is that the technology doesn’t touch the PBX. You’re essentially just taking a cellphone service and letting it tunnel over your network to get back to the cellular carrier. It’s simple but it doesn’t have quite the ‘richness’ in terms of single number dialing, integration with the PBX, and so on. Still, it should have a place in small business and perhaps in certain aspects of larger businesses.”
“Drilling down,” sasy Thornycroft. “We look at the capabilities of the phone on WiFi, we look at how well they handover between access points, and how well they handover between the WLAN and cellular. That’s really where we’re engaged. We see UMA as probably the technology that is most active at the moment.”
“As for the enterprise, it has turned into a UC story at the moment,” says Thornycroft. “It’s all about applications. We don’t really enter that area much. Some of the startups in FMC have moved themselves to unified communications. We see ourselves, however, as a WiFi company with expertise at that level. So our vision is to separate what goes on at the application layer from what goes on underneath it. I’m not sure if this is the correct terminology or not, but I sometimes call this the Core Completion Layer. We certainly get involved with WiFi and SIP, but certainly supplemental services and so on, such as IM, presence, directory services and so on, are all above us. We make sure that when you have a service that will get to your desk phone, there will be some way of getting it out to a cellular phone in the mobile world, which is what many people think of today as FMC. But you can also run that service over WiFi when that dual-phone comes back into your WiFi network. Some people talk about eliminating desk phones, which is a possible consequence of doing that successfully.”
“There are many ways of accomplishing this,” says Thornycroft. “As I said, about 18 months ago the PBX makers jumped in and said, ‘Oh, we’ll get dual-mode phones and we can make them work across WiFi and cellular.’ Most of them devised clients that run on the phone and give you PBX features when you’re in cellular. But everyone took the handover into WiFi and the voice performance over WiFi for granted and I think we’ve all discovered that it’s a little more tricky than everyone thought 18 months ago, which is why I think some vendors aren’t pushing that application as much as before.”
“So, we’re looking to bring in our expertise in WiFi and to make these kinds of phones work a bit better than previously, and to make them easier to deploy, because ease of deployment is one of the major barriers to acceptance of FMC.”
Enhancing FMC’s Mobility and Security
NextPoint (News - Alert), known for its Session Border Controller (SBC) technology, Security Gateway (SeGW) and FMC solutions, recently announced the addition of new mobility-enabling features to its Integrated Border Gateway (News - Alert) (IBG) product suite, bringing combined or distributed edge-to-edge IP session management solutions to fixed and mobile operators. NextPoint’s IBG now includes an IP Mobility Suite providing a Packet Data Interworking Function (PDIF) to support CDMA-based operators and Tunnel Termination Gateway (TTG) for Global System for Mobile (GSM)- and Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS)-based operators. With this functionality, NextPoint enables true mobility for users roaming between multiple IP networks. The PDIF and TTG IP Mobility Suite will provide for delivery of voice and data “combinational” services to mobile IP users, ensuring subscribers’ continuity experience across IP networks for both sessions and data.
NextPoint now offers three versions of the IBG. One version provides a single-component security gateway while a second version integrates intelligent session management capabilities. These two versions provide intelligent edge solutions to mobile and fixed-line operators’ to address their requirements for management and implementation of network elements from access edge to network core. With the availability of the newest version of the IBG, which now incorporates PDIF and TTG, NextPoint supports operators’ rollout of mobile services today while anticipating operators’ network evolution as they continue to create enriched voice, data, and multimedia services in an all-IP mobile environment.
NextPoint’s Director of Field Marketing, Aaron Sipper (News - Alert), says, “Our announcements concerning PDIF for 3GPP, and PDG [Packet Data Gateway] for 3GPP2, comprise a secure gateway solution for the kind of mobile infrastructure that operators are looking to implement in networks so that you can actually integrate WiFi or LAN services with the existing packet core on the mobile infrastructure. From an FMC perspective, we cover the gambit of being able to provide solutions for femtocells, a field in which we’re heavily involved along with Sprint (News - Alert) and other companies. We cover CDMA and UMTS opportunities, and any IUB, IU or even SIP-based femtocell services. What PDIF/PDG allows us to do is to roll in WiFi services, so if an operator is looking to deploy FMC service using WiFi at the home then this is another way they can do it.”
“As for trends, with femtocells every region is working on variations of it,” says Sipper. “Operators realize that there’s more to femtocells than just rolling them out as a ‘band-aid’ to fix their more serious underlying issues, whether it’s Sprint’s spectrum coverage issue or NTT DoCoMo’s (News - Alert) lack of data capacity because of its radio infrastructure that’s saturated with too many users. Operators also want to know how they can roll in a bundle of home-grown and converged services, and anything new and exciting that customers will feel compelled to buy. This is happening to the point where operators are looking beyond existing technologies. Considering the way femtocells are deployed on existing mobile signaling and protocols over the Internet, operators are looking favorably at femtocells as having a SIP gateway built into them, and that will give the femtocell a bit more intelligence, so it can terminate SIP sessions. If a voice call comes off the mobile handset, it can now be ‘gatewayed’ into the mobile core as a SIP service. The benefit is that, when it comes to FMC, operators want to give the consumer options. With a SIP-based model, the operators can say, ‘I can offer you WiFi access in your home, or a femtocell access in your home, that provides for converged services. A 2G or WiFi device can now connect to the mobile core, and the WiFi device could just be something other than a phone, such as a PC.”
“The infrastructure is not the issue,” says Sipper. “The issue is really the femtocell device itself. Can it be made inexpensively on a mass scale? The industry is in agreement that, to make the business case for femtocells to work, the cost should ideally fall below $100 per device. The price points today are in the $150 to $250 range, depending on what device is being deployed and whether it works with 2G, 3G or SIP. Obviously, the more intelligent the device with more capabilities, the more expensive it’s going to be. But over time, we expect the prices to fall anyway, just because of volume production and continuing miniaturization as more functionality is built into each chipset.”
Sharpening the Network Edge
Stoke (News - Alert) is a company that offers technology enabling operators to deliver a sophisticated subscriber experience within and across fixed, cellular, WiFi and WiMAX access networks. As carriers compete for the new market for “anywhere” network service — including a true mobile Internet experience — they must rapidly evolve the network edge to manage and harmonize growing “last mile” variables, including devices, access technologies, security, QoS, subscriber and application characteristics, etc. Legacy equipment is not quite up to the task here, since it was devised years go with no thought of the coming of FMC, large volumes of encrypted video traffic or wireless evolution to 4G.
That’s why Stoke is revitalizing the carrier edge with a multi-access convergence gateway built for contemporary access requirements. The Stoke Session Exchange (SSX) is a unique product, engineered to perform converged, multimedia IP session management and mobility across multiple access technologies — including fixed, cellular, WiFi and WiMAX (News - Alert). Stoke’s multi-access session management suite integrated with high performance hardware delivers a combination of security, application control, mobility and charging capabilities. The scalable, multi-function SSX slashes the number of discreet devices required at the carrier edge, lowering costs and simplifying the operator’s transformation to “anywhere” network services. The SSX was architected in compliance with standards of the 3GPP2 and ITU, and supports future evolution to WiMAX and LTE (News - Alert) [Long-Term Evolution].
Keith Higgins, Vice President of Marketing at Stoke, says, “There’s a lot of activity around FMC and using low-cost IP broadband connections around the world to alleviate pressure from the RAN [Radio Access Network], and that’s happening via femtocells, dual-mode phones, and there are many projects happening in this area.”
“Recently we’ve seen a couple of new things happening,” says Higgins. “First, there are more demands for 4G wireless showing up in the convergence requirements. People are saying, ‘By the time I get this technology into the network, I’m going to make sure it is dimensioned appropriately for elements of the 4G network I’m thinking about in terms of LTE or WiMAX.’ The other new thing we’ve seen is a recognition of the size of the market for equipment in this space. There was an ABI report published recently revealing that we’re talking about a billion-dollar equipment market in 2013 and that’s for just convergence and 4G gateways and different components of the various mobile broadband architectures.”
“The good news for Stoke is that we continue to be the only pure-play company in the industry focused on convergence and 4G from a platform standpoint and in the convergence space there are such initiatives as UMA,” says Higgins. “Some of the scale that people expected isn’t there today. Because of that there is perhaps less differentiation required on the platform. You can meet some of the early convergence requirements with relatively simple repurposed routers and what-not, but now that people are looking at QoS, advanced billing and specifically 4G requirements, they are seeing a complete mismatch with legacy equipment that’s been around for a while. We have a saying at Stoke that you can’t teach an old box new tricks. That’s becoming more and more evident as people try to combine everything from data mobility to encryption to deep packet inspection and advanced billing. You can’t do all of that effectively with legacy gear. That’s why we developed the SSX.”
“We’ve seen some effective dual-mode phone deployments,” says Higgins. “The iPhone (News - Alert) is a good example where you’ve got a rich Internet experience in WiFi and it works on the mobile networks. But what you don’t have today is any real tight integration of those. Today, when an iPhone is in WiFi mode, it’s just using the current customer’s broadband connection to the Internet, and AT&T has no knowledge or awareness of that session or connection. And now that they’ve got the two pieces working in parallel, a lot of the effort within the carriers is to unite those and be able to monetize the device when it’s in the WiFi domain. That requires some changes in the network in terms of suitable client technology, which has been somewhat slow to evolve to the point where it can do effective policy-based mobility triggers between the cellular infrastructure and the broadband infrastructure, and the interworking of that with gateways such as ours. So, many of our trials right now involve people who have made their selections on both ends of the session, if you will, and are working to optimize handover and create things that on a large scale can enable true seamless mobility so people can set their own policies around cost, performance, home zones, or what to do at Starbuck’s, and be able to have it administered in a very easy way.”
Ideally, of course, FMC services should be “access agnostic” and the edge should be able to conduct them to any customer or service regardless of the underlying technology (e.g. femtocells, WiMAX or the upcoming LTE). This is exactly the approach that NewStep Networks has taken for a few years now along with their partner, Oracle (News - Alert), so that convergence connectivity can occur way up at the applications layer rather than having the system fathom which wireless technology is being used by a carrier or end user.
NewStep is also intensely focusing on personalizing FMC and UC so that the user will experience a “tailored” or fully customized communication experience involving an amalgam of presence, location-based services, and the user’s own behavior. Recently it was announced that it has even incorporated a social networking communications framework into its Converged Services Node (CSN) platform. It takes the form of a Facebook (News - Alert) application that enables a converged click-to-call experience, providing user control over one’s identity, social network, and communications channels. Similarly, NewStep’s widgets for Yahoo! oneConnect and iGoogle convey convergence into a user’s own personalized mobile or web portal, leveraging all available presence, location, and behavioral characteristics.
Pretty wild, eh? IT
The following companies were mentioned in this article:
Aruba Networks (www.arubanetworks.com)
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