Clearwater is the Latest Development in Telcos' Software Transformation

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Clearwater is the Latest Development in Telcos' Software Transformation

By Rich Tehrani, CEO, Group Editor-in-Chief, TMC  |  July 29, 2013

The march to a software telco world is progressing nicely.

Communications service providers are at war with OTT providers and need to ensure they are able to battle on as level a playing field as possible. There are significant costs associated with running a major telco, and hardware infrastructure certainly ranks high among them. Sure, OTT providers like Skype (News - Alert) and WhatsApp have infrastructure costs as well, but they often leverage standard servers and software to achieve their goals. Contrast this to a telecom operator that typically buys proprietary equipment from a number of specialized manufacturers. The difference in costs between these approaches is quite steep.

This is of course is why carriers are pushing equipment providers to provide all of the network functions they supply in software which will run in virtualized instances on off-the-shelf servers. It also explains what ETSI (News - Alert) network functions virtualization, or NFV, is all about. Metaswitch Networks has been on the forefront of this trend and hopes to ride the wave into larger carriers worldwide.

To further this push from hardware into software, the company recently announced Project Clearwater, which takes the components of IMS and runs them on standard servers in an open source manner. Some carriers have leveraged open source Asterisk (News - Alert) in the past to provide telephony service to their customers; now they and others can take advantage of this new initiative to provide open source IMS as well.

One of the main reasons carriers want to shift their network functions to software is it allows them to select products from a wider variety of vendors. The reason has to do with the costs of developing telephony hardware for carriers. You need phenomenally deep pockets and lots of patience to sell to carriers as an upstart hardware provider. As a result, an amazing number of equipment companies have gone belly up waiting to become adopted by telcos worldwide. Software on the other hand has less cost associated with it, meaning a potentially higher likelihood of success.

Still, telcos can never be too cautious choosing a company on which to base their networks. One of the benefits of going with an open source project is you no longer need to worry about one company to support it.

I spoke at length with Metaswitch CTO Martin Taylor and he told me the company has learned a great deal from the efforts of many of the players in the social networking and cloud spaces and has taken the best ideas from these players and applied them to a SIP-centric IMS network. Some things the company learned and applied was using DNS as a load balancing technique as well as building massively scalable and resilient solutions in a low-cost manner.

How low cost you ask? Taylor says about 2 cents per subscriber per year based on the costs of AWS. Of course the solution is not dependent on Amazon, but this is just a guideline to consider. Moreover, this cost covers core plumbing of voice, video and messaging. You would still need an SBC, telephony app servers, messaging app servers and media gateways.

He further explains that carriers that are looking to deploy RCS know they have to compete with OTT providers, and being able to lower the cost of IMS is a huge help in doing so. Metaswitch will supply support and bug fixes such projects.

“Charging for peace of mind really is what it boils down to,” says Taylor.

This and supplying additional solutions is how the company hopes to monetize this new initiative, which is free for telcos to use.

This news is a potential game changer for telecom. Carriers once had to grapple with whether to purchase their IMS solutions from the U.S., Europe or Chinese equipment providers. Now they have the option of trying a software-centric, open source approach. They can even try this solution in tandem with other trials going on in their labs.

This kind of disruptive development has led TMC (News - Alert) to launch a new event called Software Telco Congress. Be sure to learn everything there is to know about NFV and the birth of the software telco at Software Telco Congress (, which will take place Nov. 19-21, 2013, in Santa Clara, Calif. I hope to see you there.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi