Market trends are not in favour of Telecom Service /providers with increasing use of OTT ( Over The Top ) applications like WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, Google hangouts, skype, Viber, etc. OTT applications are often blamed to take a stake in voice traffic revenue by using IP calls where the telco could’ve charged based on its rate plan of call seconds. This especially intensifies for long-distance or international calls where customers can use OTT providers instead of expensive telco rate plans.
What is an OTT ?
An Over The Top ( OTT ) application is one which provides communication services over Internet . Therefore these bypass the communication billing system setup by a Telecom Operator , resulting in no gain or loss of revenue to Telecom Operator who is providing the Internet service to user in first place .
Hence we see that OTT are major source of concern for Telecom Operators whose traditional and obviously expensive ( when compared to OTTs free service ) billing models are facing disruption .
Telecom Regulatory bodies around the world
The telecom regulatory authorities in some of the countries are for example listed as :
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) – Canada
Ministry of Information Industry (MII) – China
Autorité de Régulation des Communications Électroniques et des Postes (ARCEP) – France
Bundesnetzagentur (BNA) – Germany
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) – India
Ministry for Communications and Informatization of the Russian Federation (Minsvyaz) – Russia
Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) – Singapore
Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) – south Africa
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) , National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (regulators of individual states) (NARUC) , CTIA – The Wireless Association (CTIA) – USA
Such telecom regulatory bodies get to decide whether to enforce differential price to end consumers for using OTT so that telecom service providers can benefit or keep the Internet fair and open by passing Net Neutrality Laws and Bills and amendments .
What is Net Neaurality ?
The fundamental principle of Net Neurality is that Telecom Operators should not block , slow down or charge consumers extra for using other services as their means of communication. This states that it is wrong to charge users above the regular data rates for using VOIP apps and other internet based communication services.
The following counteries have adopted principles of Net Neutrality by passing bills or making law .
Chile – Chile’s General Law of Telecommunications, “No [ISP] can block, interfere with, discriminate, hinder, nor restrict the right of any Internet user of using, send, receive, or offer any content, application, or legitimate service through the Internet, as well as any activity or legitimate use conducted through the Internet.”
Brazil – ” Internet Bill of Rights ” makes equal access to internet mandatory in Brazil .
Netherlands – Even European Union has adopted Netherlands’ Net Neutrality amendment which reads “traffic should be treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, independent of the sender, receiver, type, content, device, service or application.”
USA – Citizens make ‘We the People’ platform to ‘Restore Net Neutrality By Directing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to Classify Internet Providers as ‘Common Carriers‘. Therefore not allowing them to either throttle speed by paid prioritization , discriminate in pricing or block any broadband access to legal content . Above facts are from this tech.firstpost.com article.
Inspite of the fact that I Support Net Neutrality with all my heart , as a telecom engineer I understand the cost investment made by Telecom operators in providing am efficient communication network to its subscribers ( Access , Network and Application layers ). Therefor I do have my sympathies with the Telcos and to level out the wide ranging conflict between Telcos and ISP ( Internet Service Providers ) , I pen down the following points which reflect the Telecom Operators Problems and also highlight the solutions that can be adopted to counteract the OTT threat .
Depleting revenue for Telco
Messaging – OTT messaging cost operators $13.9 billion, or 9% of message revenue in 2013
Voice – Voice services under threat from VOIP services like Skype, Viber
OTT apps – Voice & Message apps have been the operator’s biggest headache. Its time Operator should launch its own OTT Services
Data Traffic – The utilization is yet to reach its peak. Will face challenges from WiFi access
Critical Pain areas – Erosion of Operator’s revenue from voice and (especially) messaging
Telco’s OTT Application
At this stage, a telecom Service provider / Operator must enter the apps market and bring forth a Messenger which is more powerful, interactive and awesome than an OTT application. Fortunately, the Operator can always couple this application with his background telecom infrastructure to provide the edge in performance and functionalities.
Road block while developing a OTT application for a Telecom Service Provider :
Investment in Data Network is not being utilized due to lack of service
Reuse of Existing business Logic and extending the service reach across devices and networks is tough
Operator already has full fledged network Infrastructure in Place
Desire for minimum CAPEX while investing in new technologies
compete with OTT players and open new revenue streams is a challenge
Next we find the way of solving the problems and integrating them together to form a Solution .
OTT Application for Telecom Service provider
Introduce new services to benefit from investment on Data Plans and Bandwidth
Expose REST API to enable 3trd party Integration with existing network Infrastructure
Partner with individual OTT players to make new services that do not compete on core competencies like billing etc
Use protocols like SIP that reduce CAPEX and have goto market more quickly
Go for enriched service that lead to better user experience
This write-up outlines the process of creating an OTT application for a Telecom Service Provider. Components for the application include cloud Address Book, Video Chatting, Location share, Contact synchronization ,REST-based thin client , OS and device agnostic etc shown in the figure below:
The Application is designed to close knit with Operator’s own infrastructure hence the crucial entities like Network Address Book , Location Service are synced and fetched from Backend Network .
OTT application Feature Overview
Smart Address Book
Automatic: Get contacts from Gmail, Facebook
Fast search by first, last name, frequently
Roadmap: View calendar events
Personal: Get image from Gmail and display in contacts list
Share own location during chatting
Get map for calculating the distance between two chat users
Roadmap : Trigger device (say Switch on/off AC before reaching home) from a threshold distance away from home location
Session Based Chat
Voice Input for texting
Presence information of contacts
RoadMap: Legacy message integration
Voice call to mobile
Voice call to PSTN
Video call to other @imAll user
Share images during voice call to other
Compatible with IOS, windows
Can run as native app on ipad
Can run as browser client on windows
RoadMap: native app for android, windows phone,blackberry10
To upgrade the application and provide enganced and enrich service support the I propose the following roadmap.
From plain vanilla voice and video calling ( supported by every other OTT application ) our application should progress towards legacy telecom support whihc included PSTN , GSM , ISDN etc . This requires backbone of telecom network and a good setup for media codec conversion to suit various legacy media codecs .
Road Map from Traditional to New age services
Voice and video calling
Legacy services support like MMS and SMS
Integration with 3rd party Vendors
Give new enriched services like Multilingual support , file transfer , screen-sharing etc
give facility to integrated web plugins for web calling
To keep the interest of customers it is essential that the application be supported on other popular OTT services like skype , Gtalk . for exmaple a caller should be able to make call from Skype / Gtalk to our application .Multilingual capabilities, support for larger protocol spectrum will just act like icing on the cake .
How does it benefit the Operator??
Saves on development cost and time
Device Agnostic OTT Applications
Simplified Service deployment
Saves licensing cost per client
Reuses existing Messaging and Address Book service logic.
Open New Revenue Streams for operator
No separate SIP stack required for the client
Faster Time to Market
Update : At the time of writing this post I did not anticipate the wave of change that bring focus on subjects like “net neutrality” , ” Save the internet” and “free internet”. However now most of the telcos providers have either joined the bandwagon by prividing SIP trunk endpoinst for cloud teelphony providers ( eg twilio, Google Calls) or have made their own IP call application for B2B customers.
With the fast pace of telecom evolution both towards the access network front ( ie GSM , UMTS , 3G , 4G , LTE , VOLTE ) to core network side ( ie application servers , registrar , proxies , gateway , media server etc ) a CSP ( content service provider ) is trying hard to keep up with the user expectation . The user expects a plethora of services , reduced cost and high speed bandwidth . If this was not enough a CSP also has competition OTT ( Over The Top ) Players who provide communication and messaging for FREE .
You can read on how OTT’s players are disruption the revenue streams of traditional telecom operators and how can Telco’s develop their own OTT app , integrated with their backend system to answer to that challenge here – OTT ( Over the Top ) Communication applications
The following points outline the major business challenges faced by telecom operators today .
Technology Evolution Challenges
The increased data speeds and further more increasing hunger for the data overwhelms the existing network infrastructures.
Ensure uniform service experience across the network technologies to check the customer churn.
Access / Radio Technology independent delivery of services.
Enhance Reuse for exiting investments.
Multiple Service Platform Challenges
Typical network constitutes of Multiple Service Platforms increasing network complexity and integration challenges many fold.
Heterogeneous multiple SDP Solutions typically deployed to cater to Multiple Types of Networks/ Standards/Variants
Service Islands makes introduction of seamless services a challenging task for the CSP
Transport Upgrade and Convergence of Wireless Wireline
Retain investments in copper wire systems while migrating towards next generation Fiber Optic systems.
Severe competition among wire-line and wireless operators to provide latest services to retain subscriber base.
Fixed Mobile Convergence leading to a diminishing gap among the revenue shares of various operators in the space, and leading to losses for wire-line only players.
I have been contemplating points that make for a successful developer to develop solutions and services for a Telecom Application Server. The trend has shown many variations from pure IN programs like VPN, Prepaid billing logic to SIP servlets for call parking, call completion. From SIP servlets to JAISNLEE open standard-based communication.
A cloud communication provider is who acts as a service provider between the SME ( Small and Medium Enterprises ) and Large scale telco carrier. An important concern for a cloud provider is to build a Scalable and Flexible platform. Let’s go in-depth to discuss how can one go about achieving scalability in SIP platforms.
A typical semi multi-geography scaled, read replica based / data sharding based Distributed VoIP system which is controlled by a router that distributes the traffic to various regions based on destination number prefix matching looks like
A Clustered SIP platform is quickly recoverable with containerized applications. Clear separation between stateless engine layer and session management or Data layer is critical to enable auto-reboot of failed nodes in engine layer.
It should be noted that, unlike HTTP based platforms, dialogue and transaction state variables are critical to SIP platforms for example, call duration for CDR entry. Therefore for a mid-call failure and auto reboot the state variable should be replicated on an extrenal cache so that value can persist for correct billing.
Symmetrical Multi-Processing (SMP) architectures have
stateless “Engine Tier” processes all traffic and
distributes all transaction and session state to a “Data Tier.”
A very good example of this is the Oracle Communications Converged Application Server Cluster (OCCAS) which is composed of 3 tiers :
Communication engine stateless
Datastore which is in-memory session store for the dialogues and ongoing transactions
An advantage of having stateless servers is that if the application server crashes or reboots, the session state is not lost as a new server can pick up the session information from an external session store .
The components for a well-performing highly scalable SIP architecture are abstracted in their role and responsibilities. We can have categories like
Load Balancer / Message Dispatcher
LB routes traffic based on an algorithm (round robin, hashing , priority based scheduling, weight-based scheduling ) among active and ready servers
Backend Dynamic Routing and REST API services
Services which the Application server calls during its call flow execution which may include tasks like IP address associated with the caller, screened numbers associated with destination etc such as XML Remote Procedure Call (XML-RPC) or AVAPI Service in Kamailio
This layer is responsible for jobs in relation to operations and billing and should take place in an independent system without affecting the session call flow or causing a high RTT. Some top features possible with defining this layer well are
There are other componets ina typical VoIP micro services architecture such as Heartbeat service , backend accounting servuce , security check service, REST API service , synmaic routing service , event notofication service etc which should be decoupled from each other leading to high parallel programing approach.
To improve Flexibility w.r.t Infrastructure binding, all server components including edge components, proxies, engines, media servers must be containerized in form of images or docker for easy deployment via an infrastructure tool like Kubernetes, Terraform, chef cookbooks and be efficiently controlled with an Identify manage tool and CICD ( continuous integration and Delivery ) tool like Travis or Jenkins.
Autoscaling Cloud Servers using containerized images
Autoscaled servers are provided by the majority of Cloud Infrastructure providers such as AWS ( Amazon Web Services ), Google Cloud platform which scale the capacity based on traffic in real-time also called elasticity. Any VoIP developer would notice patterns in voice traffic such as less during holidays/night hours where servers can be freed, whereas traffic peaks during days where server capacity needs to scale up.
Additionally, traffic may pike when the setup is under DDoS attacks, not an uncommon thing for SIP server, then the server needs to identify and block malicious source points and prevent unnecessary upscaling. There are 2 approaches to scaling
Scale UP / Vertical Scaling
Scale OUT / Horizontal scaling
Resusing the existing server to upgrade performance to match the load requirnments
Increasing the number of servers and adding their IP to Load balancer to manage traffic . It should be noted that scalling up or down shouel be carried out incrementally to have better control on resource to requirnment ratio.
It is crucial for any Voice traffic / media servcis provoder to have state of the art security in the content without disrupting data privacy norms.
SIP secure practises like Authentication , authorization ,Impersonating a Server , Temparing Message bodies, mid-session threats like tearing down session , Denial of Service and Amplification , Full encryption vs hop by hop encrption , Transport and Network Layer Security , HTTP Authentication , SIP URI, nonce and SIP over TLS flows , can be read at https://telecom.altanai.com/2020/04/12/sip-security/
While scaling out the infrastructure for extensing the Pop( point of presence ) accross the differnet geographies , define zones such as
red zone : public facing server like load balancers
dmz zone ( demilitarized zone ) interfacing servers betwee private and public network
green zone : provate and secure interal serer which communicate over private IPs snd should ne unrechable from outside .
To futher increase efficiency between communication and transmission between green zone server , setup private VPC ( Virtual provate cloud ) between them .
To establish itself as a dependable Realtime communication provider , the product must follow stabdardised RFC’s and stacks such as SIP RFC 3261 and W3C drfat for Webrtc peer connection etc . It si also a good practise to be updated with all recommendation by ITU and IANA and keep with the implementation . For exmaple : STIR/SHAKEN https://telecom.altanai.com/2020/01/08/cli-ncli-and-stir-shaken/
Many Communication service providers offer Voice over IP and related unified communication and collaboration platforms. A new VoIP provider needs to envision enhancements and innovations that meet the growing user expectation.
Easy to follow technical documentationand help and quick response to any technical question about platform posted on QnA sites (StackOverflow, Quora .. ), tech forums ( Google groups, slack channels .. ) even Twitter handles to address issues.
Data Visualization Tools – Show overall call quality insights, call flows, stats, probable issues, fixes, spending/saving on user groups, duration, negative-positive margins, healthy/unhealthy calls, spams etc.
Graphical Event Timelines – time based events such as call setup , termination , codec negotiation , call rediection events
Drag and Drop Call Flow deisgner – As call routing logic beome more complicated with a large set of known and pre-defined operations ( parking , routing , voicemail , forking , rediercting etc) . The call routing can be easily composed from these preset operation as UI block attached to a call flow chain which results in calls being channels as predefined by this call flow logic . Leads to plenty of cutomaizibility and design flexibility to custoemrs to design their calls.
Encourage users to use the services either for free or for a minimal price
Besides increasing onboarding count and developing an internationla presence, this also helps gain a good word and pays long term.
Discount, onboarding bonuses encourage users to try out services without signing up with long term contracts. The value could range from 5-15$ one-time onboarding prize to use services such as DID number purchase, outgoing telco call or purchasing any other service addon.
No or minimal onboarding cost
Toll-free minutes 50- 1000 minutes per month.
Competitive Pricing some of the enteries below show an approximate pricing figure for various service ( note these may be outdated and should references be used as it is).
Pay as you go pricing : Rate per minute (USD) plan for example( from google voice )
Australia – Mobile ~$0.02 Portugal – Mobile ~$0.15 Switzerland – Mobile – ~Orange $0.11 United Kingdom – Mobile – ~Orange $0.02 United Kingdom – Mobile – ~Vodafone $0.01
Outbound calls to PSTN ~$0.015 per min ( depending on teleco and destination) Incoming Voice Calls on a Local Number ~$0.0060 per min Incoming Voice Calls on a Toll-Free Number ~$0.020 per min VoIP Calls (In-App WebRTC & SIP) ~$0.003 per min
Call Recordings ~$0.0025 per min Voicemail Detection, Call Analyzers, Call Transcription ~$0.015 – $0.050 per min ( depends on external API cost or inhouse R&D effort) Automatic Speech Recognition ~$0.02 per 15 sec
Trunk Calls ( heavy volume customers )
Inbound Voice Calls ~$0.0025/min Outbound Voice Calls ~$0.0065/min Tollfree Inbound Voice Calls ~$0.0135/min ( toll free numbers usually charge more than local numbers)
Services which should be offered on a non chargable basis :
Round the clock technical support
Compensation for Downtime
CDRs per account
IP to IP calls
Security Certificates in TLS and SRTP calls
Authetication and Authorization
Services that can be charged are
Value added services – Live Weather updates , horoscope update ..
CarrierIntegration – trunk , PRI
Toll Free Numbers – DID numbers
Virtual Private Network (VPN) : An Intelligent Network (IN) service, which offers the functions of a private telephone network. The basic idea behind this service is that business customers are offered the benefits of a (physical) private network, but spared from owning and maintaining it
Access Screening(ASC): An IN service, which gives the operators the possibility to screen (allow/barring) the incoming traffic and decide the call routing, especially when the subscribers choose an alternate route/carrier/access network (also called Equal Access) for long distance calls on a call by call basis or pre-selected.
Number Portability(NP) : An IN service allows subscribers to retain their subscriber number while changing their service provider, location, equipment or type of subscribed telephony service. Both geographic numbers and non-geographic numbers are supported by the NP service.
Interworking among the services from legacy IN solution and IMS /IT. Allow the Operators to extend their basic offering with added services via low cost software and increases the ARPU for subscribers.
Next Gen 911
911 like emergency services afre moving from tradiotional TDM networks to IP networks . However this poses some challenges such as detecting callers geolocation and routing the call to his/her nearest servicing station pr Public safety Answering Point ( PSAP)
Backward compatibility with existing legacy networks
PSTN-SIP gateways to interface bwteen SIP platform and SS7 siganlling platform also convert the RTP stream to Analog waveforms required byb PSTN endpoints
Internetworking with IMS
IMS is a IP telephony service archietcture developed by 3rd Generation Partnership Project ( 3GPP) ,global cellular network standards organization that also standardized Third Generation (3G) services and Long Term Evolution (LTE) services
Develop on Interactive and populator frameworks like webRTC
Agile Development and Service Priented Architecture (SOA) are proven methods of delievry quality and updated products and releases which can cater to eveolcing market demands . In short “Be Future ready while protecting the existing investments”
Make a WebRTC solution that offers a plug in free, device agnostic, network agnostic web based communication tool along with the server side implementation.
Enterprise communication agents Integration – consider integration with Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, Skype for Business , Slack , WebEx
CRM Integartion – Salesforce , Zendesk
Business specific integartion
Canvas for eleraning
telehealth platform for doctor consultation
A2P ( application to person) msging
Integration of the services with social media/networking enables new monetizing benefits to CSPs especially in terms on advertising and gaining popularity , inviting new customers etc.
Enterprises seek to reach their customers with trusted telecom mediums such as phone calls/SMS. Telcos play an instrumental role in increasing the customer’s trust for an enterprise by means of updates over call and SMS in addition to emails and postal mail. The medium of VoIP services offers value addition in their present product/service delivery model for any firm whether it be an e-commerce firm or banking.
VoIP providers should develop an SDK rich, a dev-friendly arrangement that can facilitate onboarding SMEs ( small-medium enterprises) by self-guided tutorials and quick setups.
Support developer base to aggregate, use open-standard services/technologies and tie them with other communication technologies suited to their business use-case using the VoIP platform as the medium of communication between web/mobile app endpoints and telecom endpoints.
Log aggregation and Analytics. PagerDuty Alerts Daily and Weekly backups and VM snapshots. Automated sanity Tests Centralized alert management, monitoring and admin dashboards . Deployment automation / CICD Tools and workflows for diagnostics, software upgrades, OS patches etc. Customer support portal , provisioning Web Application
QoS : Media Stats can help us collect the call qulaity metrics which determins the overall USer experience. Some frequently encountered issues include
High Packet Loss
250 ms of audio suration lost in 5 sec
jitter >= 30 ms in 5 sec
Low Audio Level
audio level < -80dB
RTT > 300 ms in 5 sec
Pro-active Isssue Tracking via Call Meta data Analysis
Call details even during a setup phase , continuation or reinvite /update phase can suggest the probably outcomes based on previous results such as bad call quality from certain geographic areas due to their known network or firewall isseus or high packet loss from certain handset device types . We can deduce well in advance what call quality stats will be generated from such calls .
Contains which can be identfied from calls setup details itself include :
geography and number – Call was made from which orignating location to which destination
SIP devices – device related details , Version of device (browser version etc..,)
Chronological aspects of call – Initiation, ring start, pick up and end time.
call direction – inbound ( coming from carrier towards our VoIP platform ) or outbound ( call directed to carrier from out VoIP platform )
Network type – network ssues and quality score across network type
Contarins which can be identfied during a ongoing call itself include :
Participants and their local time – ongoing RTCP from Legs, probability of long Conferences is low in off hours
Call events – DTMF, XML, API calls , quality issues
The minor issues identified during an ongoing calls RTCP packets such as increasing jitter or packet loss can extrapolate to human perceivable bad audio quality of call after a while . Thus any suspected issues should be identified as early as traced and corrective action should be put in place .
Predicting Low Audio / Call quality
Having a predictive engine can forecast bad call Quality such as 408 timeouts , high RTT , low audio level , Audio lag , one way audio , MOS < 2.5 out of 5 etc .
The predictive engine can use targeted notifications pointing towards specific issues that can comeup in a call relatine and assign a technical rep to overlook or manually intervene . This can include scenario such as an agent warning a customer that his bad audio quality is due to him using an outdated SIP Device with slow codecs and suggest to upgrade it to lightweight codecs as per his bandwidth. This saves bad user experince of the customer and can happen without cusomer reporting the issues homself with feedback , RTP stats , PCAPS etc. Save a lot of trouble and effort in call debugging .
CSP’s are looking into long term growth and profitability from new online services media streaming services. A new VoIP provider could develop use-cases exceeding the exsting usecase of media stream rending to create a differentiator such as
Recording and playback
IPTV and VOD ( Video On Demand)
Voicemails , IVR , DTMF,
TTS( text to speech ),
realtime transcription / captioning
Speech recognition etc
Some more services that a new VoIP provider should consider