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August 22, 2007

A Q&A With Comverse Converged IP Communications' Randy Waters

By Rich Tehrani, President and Editor-in-Chief

I recently had the opportunity to ask Randy Waters, Vice President of Market Development for Comverse Converged IP Communications, some questions regarding the company, the role of SIP in the marketplace, new entrants, the future of communications, and finally what Comverse (News - Alert) will be showing at the upcoming Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO.
Comverse recently announced several customer wins, including Lyse Tele (for FMC service), Polish mobile operator Play (for billing and managed services), and Telkomsel, Indonesia’s largest operator (for personalized ringback tones and content management). In fact Telkomsel is the 50th operator to select Comverse Fun Dial as their ringback tone vendor.
Comverse will be exhibiting at the upcoming ITEXPO in booth 326.
RT: Please outline your new corporate strategy.
RW: Comverse classically focused on the messaging and billing domains of the communications industry. After extensive primary market research in communication trends and user behavior, the need to combine and integrate non-real-time communication (messaging) together with real-time communication solutions became clear. In order to strengthen its core technology in the ‘XoIP’ arena, Comverse acquired Netcentrex in 2006 to complete its Total Communications strategy. Netcentrex is recognized as a leader in the worldwide telephony application server market. The Netcentrex acquisition brought IP-based voice and video solutions to deliver a rich portfolio of VoIP, IPCentrex, Triple and Quad Play, and IMS applications to the marketplace. The acquisition formed a business unit called Converged IP Communications (CIPC) that included IPTV solutions. Combining CIPC solutions with Comverse’s wide range of messaging, billing, content, and handset software solutions, Comverse uniquely offers a broad range of seamlessly integrated applications for fixed and mobile networks. This strategy separates Comverse from the rest of the pack.
RT: What pains does your company solve for customers?
RW: It is Comverse’s vision to simplify communications for end users. The proliferation of devices, messaging services, and service providers provides end users with greater choice but, at the same time, a dilemma. How should a user best communicate with another user? Which devices does that user have? Is that user free to take a call? Will that user see the message that was just sent? Comverse’s goal is to provide end users with an intuitive solution for all communications that hides the underlying technology from the user and ensures that communication is straightforward — regardless of the device or network either party is using. Simplifying — and therefore stimulating — communication is good for Comverse’s customers (the network operators) too.
Integrating a broad range of voice, video, messaging, and content applications for fixed or mobile networks is very complicated and requires significant engineering effort by service providers. Service providers realize this is expensive and takes months or years to architect and deploy, especially as they are evolving their networks to next-generation or IMS technologies. Comverse integrates these applications to provide a turnkey solution to service providers, enabling them to get to market much more quickly, at a lower cost, and with higher quality. Comverse is designing its products to integrate seamlessly with one another, using open standard protocols and interfaces. Comverse solutions can be deployed as an integrated package, or interface with third-party components. This gives service providers the choice to use all or some of Comverse’s integrated application solutions.
RT: How has SIP changed communications?
RW: SIP has had a much greater impact on communications than anticipated when it was unveiled over a decade ago. SIP was initially designed as a peer-to-peer protocol that would enable inherently intelligent devices to communicate with each other in almost any manner (voice, video, messaging, data, etc.) over an IP network. At first, SIP was seen as an alternative to traditional telephony, a technology to reduce today’s telephone network to nothing more than a transport pipe. The SIP purists argued that application intelligence can and should reside at the network edges along with increasingly intelligent and capable devices. Of course that vision has become reality with IP phones, Smartphones, and even simple wireless phones. Carriers eventually saw this as the ultimate threat to their business and embraced the technology rather than fight it. As a result, SIP has become mainstream as the protocol of choice for establishing and managing communications across disparate networks. 3GPP has adopted it for its IMS architecture. SIP continues to evolve. The good thing about SIP is its simplicity and flexibility — it is able to easily adapt to initiate and manage almost any form of communication imaginable over IP networks. Of course this is also its weakness — making interworking more challenging. The standards bodies continue to solidify not only the protocol, but the mechanisms to reliably interconnect SIP components for communications. SIP interworking is now fairly easy for the typical communication applications and scenarios, but continues to be difficult for new more complicated converged communications.
RT: How do you think the future of the market looks?
RW: The telecommunications market is rebounding from the early decade decline. A second, much larger wave for VoIP and network evolution is just now swelling and will be crashing on shore over the next couple of years. This offers equipment providers many new opportunities to sell their solutions. However, with industry consolidation, we have fewer but much bigger customers to sell to. These makes it much more complicated for solutions providers and requires that they be bigger and that they bring more to the table. Partnering is more crucial than ever to succeed in this market. No single company can bring all the components to a network for these solutions.
SIP and all things IP represent major opportunities for today’s network operators. Myriad new services can be offered to customers beyond the mere voice communication of yesteryear. Revenue growth opportunities abound for visionary carriers but so do the threats. Standardized, SIP-based technologies reduce the barriers to entry for new service providers. Competition for the end user’s business is only set to increase.
RT: How does the growth rate in the U.S. compare to the rest of the world?
RW: For paid VoIP subscribers, North America accounts for 26% of the global market, with Europe around 29% and APAC around 39%. Over the next five years, these three regions will still dominate, but their global percentages will drop a little making room for Latin America, Middle East, and Africa. North American growth is projected around 38% CAGR, roughly similar to Europe and APAC. But the large growth regions will see growth around 60% CAGR over the next five years. VoIP in the U.S. is dominated by alternative providers and cable. The growth will be fueled by large Telco VoIP deployments.
RT: What do you think of Google (News - Alert) and Apple entering the telecom market?
RW: They bring a completely new perspective to the marketplace. It’s not just about voice and messaging. It’s now about content, data sharing, video, and entertainment as well. Google wants to change the way we communicate, using the PC as a convenient way to talk, type, listen, and see. Apple reminds us that it’s all about the user experience — simplicity, intuitive, captivating, and compelling. Providing communications as a natural extension from the human mind is where we face our challenges. Companies and service providers who do this best will win.
The arrival of the Internet giants on the communications scene is shaking up the telecoms industry. New business models threaten to cannibalize the long established business operations of both the wireline and wireless industries. The telecoms world has classically been one that was averse to change; slow to evolve. The cozy practices of today’s network operators are about to be shaken up.
RT: How about Microsoft (News - Alert)?
RW: Microsoft brings their desktop solutions to the forefront of telecommunications, integrating not only the business computing environments but also the consumer environment. Of course they bring tremendous capital and clout to this market. They are changing the way we think about integrating our communications experiences with our computing experiences and ultimately how we watch television at home. Microsoft and Comverse share a common vision in how we provide seamless communications across all devices: the PC, the mobile handset, and the TV.
RT: How will open source technologies change our market?
RW: Open source technologies have already significantly changed our market. Look at Linux and Asterisk (News - Alert). Most telecommunications solutions operate on Linux today. Open source drivers and applications are readily available on the Internet. Developers can download modules to save them weeks if not months of development. In turn, they must provide their enhancements back to the common repository for the benefit of others. These technologies bring the benefit of millions of engineers working to improve them. The downside, of course, is differentiation becomes more challenging. Ensuring product quality is also a concern that must be addressed through thorough testing.
RT: What are your thoughts regarding hosted solutions?
RW: There are many small providers that do not have the capital or the expertise to launch a VoIP service, but they want to augment their current offerings with it. Hosted solutions are perfect for these providers and takes advantage of IP technology. Large carriers face different challenges, but still need hosted solutions. Large carriers are often unsure whether or not a new service or application will have sufficiently strong market acceptance to justify the investment. By taking advantage of IP technologies, hosted solutions can offer a carrier a new service with little impact to their existing network. This is precisely why Comverse is aggressively constructing hosted services for its product portfolio.
RT: How will communications evolve over the next five years?
RW: We will now start seeing lots of interesting data and messaging applications for our mobile handsets that actually work and are easy to use. Look at the iPhone and other concepts pushed by other suppliers. This is just the start. We will see the television become more than an entertainment portal. It will become the home information center where families can share messages, calendars, and other communications including voice and video. We will see applications span across all three devices: phone, PC, and TV so the user experience is similar.
RT: What do you want the industry to know about your company?
RW: Comverse is more than a messaging and voicemail company. With our CIPC acquisitions, we now offer end-to-end components that realize our vision of Total Communications. Comverse has invested significantly in these high growth areas and is committed to reshaping itself for converged IP communications. Comverse will continue to target large Tier 1 carriers, but will expand its markets to include wireline carriers, ISPs, alternative providers, cable operators, and smaller service providers.
RT: What’s next for communications?
RW: Final realization of the service concepts being discussed for the last ten years. Too much effort has been expended on the technologies and architectures of next-generation and IMS networks. Focus is finally being turned to the consumer and how they want to actually use services — not have services jammed down their throats. Broadband technologies for the home and on the go will enable people to communicate more easily and more efficiently than ever before. But, we have to make these services easy and intuitive to use. Otherwise, people will not pay to use them.
RT: What will the industry see at your booth at ITEXPO?
RW: We are demonstrating our MyCall Communicator. Using Comverse’s Total Communication solutions, users can communicate intuitively between message formats — for instance, to send SMS and MMS messages, make calls, and retrieve voice mails on the PC desktop as well as a mobile device. We’re taking the mobile communications experience and extending it to other access types.
Booth #326 is a “can’t miss” for Telcos, CLECs, ISPs and their resellers who want to deliver profitable VoIP and FMC services for both the consumer and enterprise markets.
Rich Tehrani is President and Group Editor in Chief at TMC (News - Alert). In addition he is the Chairman of the world’s best attended IP Communications event, Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO.
What’s the best resource to learn about latest trends in the IP communications industry? Why, INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO, of course. ITEXPO West 2007 is just around the corner — this year it’s being held at the Los Angeles Convention Center in California, Sept. 10-12. Register here. Also, follow the links to preview sessions, speakers and exhibitors.

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