WebRTC CPaaS ( Communication Platform as a Service )


A CPasS ( communication platform as a service ) is a cloud-based communication platform like B2B cloud communications platform that provides real-time communication capabilities. This should be easily integrable with any given external environment or application of the customer, without him worrying about building backend infrastructure or interfaces.
Traditionally, with IP protected protocols, licensed codecs maintaining a signalling protocol stack, and network interfaces building a communication platform was a costly affair. Cisco, Facetime, and Skype were the only OTT ( over the top) players taking away from the telco’s call revenue. However, with the advent of standardised, open-source protocol and codecs plenty of CPaaS providers have crowded the market making more supply than there is demand. A customer wanting to quickly integrate real-time communications on his platform has many options to choose from. This article provides an insight into how CPaaS solutions are architectured and programmed.

SIP based Communication Platform as a Service

Sample CPass Architecture build on open source technologies

Over all Archietcture of Real Time Comunication ecosystem with Media management, CDR , processing pielines , real time analytics.

Data Streams for realtime analytics and telemetrics

I have written an article before on Steps for building and deploying WebRTC solution , which includes standalone, cloud hosted and TURN based NAT handler systems .

A typical CPaaS solution provides

  • Call server + Media Server that can be interacted with via UA
  • Comm clients like sipphones , webrtc client , SDK ( software development kits ) or libraries for desktop , embedded and/or mobile platforms .
  • APIs that can trigger automated calls and perform preprogrammed routing.
  • Rich documentation and samples to build various apps such as call centre solutions , interactive auto-attendant using IVR , DTMF , conference solutions etc .
  • Some CPaaS providers also add features like transcribing ,transcoding , recording , playback etc to provide edge over other CPaaS providers

Self hosted Datacentre vs Cloud server

Cloud-based infrastructure 

Cloud Services as Amazon Web service, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud, Digital Ocean is great resources to host the multiple parts of a CPaaS system such as gateways, media servers, SIP Application servers, other servers for microservices including accounting, profile management, rest services etc. Often virtualized machines ( VMs) mounted on a larger physical remote datacentre are an ideal choice for VoIP and cloud communication providers.

  • (+) pay as you go
  • (+) no stress on resource management like cooling, rack space , wiring etc
  • (+) easy to setup
  • (-) not in premise, security is not in control
  • (-) outages in cloud infrastructures datacentre could lead to service disruption

Self hosted / inpremises Servers / private cloud

Marinating datacentre provides flexibility to extend and or develop tightly controlled use cases. It is often a requirement for secure communication platforms pertaining to government or banking communications such as turret phones.

Some approaches are to set up the server with Openstack to manage SDN ( software-defined network). Other approaches also involve VMWare to virtualize servers and then using docker container-managed via Kubernetes to dynamically spawn instances of server as load scaled up or down.

  • (+) more secure and controlled
  • (+) no monthly recurring fees to cloud vendors
  • (-) maintenance of racks and servers
  • (-) requires planning for high availability and geographical deployment for redundancy

Using existing SDK vs building your own RTC platform from scratch

I have come across so many small size startups trying to build CPaaS solutions from scratch but only realising it after weeks of trying to build an MVP that they are stuck with firewall, NAT, media quality or interoperability issues. Since there are so many solutions already out in the market it is best to instead use them as an underlying layer and build applications services using it such as call centre or CRM services making custom wrappers.

Tech insights and experiences

companies who have been catering to telco and communication domain make robust solutions based on industry best practices which beats novice solution build in a fortnight anyday

Keeping up with emerging trends

Market trends like new codecs , rich communication services , multi tenancy, contextual communication , NLP, other ML based enhancements are provided by CPaaS company and would potentially try to abstrct away the implementation details from their SDK users or clients.

Auto Scaling, High Availability

A firm specializing in CPaaS solution has already thought of clustering and autoscaling to meet peak traffic requirements and backup/replication on standby servers to activate incase of failure

CAPEX and OPEX

Using a CPaaS saves on human resources, infrastructure, and time to market. It saves tremendously on underlying IT infrastructure and many a times provides flexible pricing models.

Call Rate charging and Accounting Services

Call Rates are very critical for billing and charging the users. Any updates from the customer or carriers or individuals need to propagate automatically and quickly to avoid discrepancies and negative margins.

CDR ( Call Detail Record ) processing pipeline

CDRs need to be processed sequentially and incrementally on a record-by-record basis or over sliding time windows.
CDR can also be used for a wide variety of analytics including correlations, aggregations, filtering, and sampling.

Updating rate sheet ( charges per call or per second )

The following setup is ideal to use the new input rate sheet values via web UI console or POST API and propagate it quickly to the main DB via a queuing system such as SQS. Serverless operations such as using AWS lambda can be used via a trigger-based system for any updates. This ensures that any new input rates are updated in realtime and maintain fallback values in separate storage as s3 bucket too

CDR (Call Detail Record ) managemenet, billing, dispute management

In current Voip scenarios a call may be passing thorugh various telco providers , ISP and cloud telephony serviIn current VoIP scenarios, a call may be passing through various telco providers, ISP and cloud telephony service providers where each system maintains its own call records and billing. This in my opinion is duplication and missing a single source of truth. A decentralized, reliable and consistent data store via blockchain coudl potentially maintain the call records making then immutable and non diputable. Some more details on the concept are in the article below.


UC(Unified Communications) and Unified Communications and Collaborations ( UC&C )


The rapidly changing scene of telecoms operations brings to light many challenges faced by telcos and service providers as they cater to the end-users, with swift and innovative services, while at the same time keeping surcharge operational costs at bay. Today a customer(B2B) expects converged orchestrated harmonized applications bringing call control and customizing features, all under one roof.

What is Unified Communication ? 

Unified Communications solutions bring together voice, messaging, video, and desktop applications to enable companies to quickly adapt to market changes, increase productivity, improve competitive advantage and deliver a rich-media experience across any work space.

Unified Communications (1)
Unified Communications

Components of Unified Communications

The latest UCC solutions are based on open standards such as  SIMPLE/XMPP protocols or socket.io and REST webservices

  • Communications:                        Voice, data, and video
  • Messaging:                                   Voice, email, video, and IM
  • Conferencing:                               Online, audio, and video
  • Application integration:               Microsoft Office and CRM
  • Presence:                                       IP phone, desktop clients, and call connectors
  • Common user experience:          Desktop, phone, and mobility
  • Cloud / Virtualization                   Network Provisioning , Virtualized Applications

Video feature of UCC further has many aspects

  • Codecs : H323,H264,vp8/vp9 for video
  • Scalable Video Coding (SVC)
  • USecase : Call , conference , Broadcasting , Livestreaming

Audio aspects

  • Codecs like OPUS, AAC
  • Service like : voice Mail , IVR , auto attendant with Voice XML

What is Unified communication and Collaboration ?

Currently the mode of communication across various users differs such as emails , SMS, VOIP call , GSM call, message on other platform etc .These random forms of communication cannot be tracked thus hamper fast decision making .

uc

Features

  • Voice and Video call support
    • Video conferencing up to 5 participants
    • Supplementary service support ( Call Hold, Call Wait)
    • Support orientation/ rotation changes
    • Tabular layout
    • SIP Preconditions
  • Integrate existing VAS and legacy services
  • IR.92/IR.94 support and IMS network Integration
  • User Capability exchange
  • UCS for Presence capabilities
    • Subscription and Publish during Login and Logout
  • Multiple Registerations
    • Device switching
    • Same MSISDN can be registered with Multiple devices
    • Configured with multiple accounts to receive and send messages.
  • Message over IP
    • Support for RCS 5.1 specific features (enhanced messaging/phonebook/call)
    • Message synchronization for all client’s registered UA
    • Scrollable list in chat window
    • Share files and chat at the same message box format
  • Visual Voice Mail
  • Cloud Address Book
    • Address Book synchronization
    • Synchronized contacts list
    • Edit Contacts and sync with all devices
    • Dialing from contacts, call logs
  • Geo location with map
    • Share your location with others as well as view theirs on a single map.

Additional Features

  1. Register with your credentials to explore new functionalities and VAS ( Value added Services).
  2. Make a Audio/Video call or chat with a friend- all at once with one click ( no bridge setup )
  3. Send and receive voicemails seamlessly.
  4. Send offline messages to your friends on Social networks (facebook, gmail, or yahoo) with just a click.
  5. Enhancement in GUI of the WebRTC client for better interaction with the user by adding Message Box, Drop down list on Call Control Box to initiate call directly.
  6. Oauth with Facebook and gmail enables logging in through thord party credentials too.
  7. Notifications for voicemails as per calendar.

Challenges with Unified Communications

  • Adds complexity in to already complex infrastructure
  • Lack of standardization
  • Organization Infrastructure and Bandwidth Limitations
  • Integration of services from different application platforms like emails
  • migrating existing communication infrastructure like desk phones
  • Interfacing of telephony applications with Business Applications such as CRMs

Types of UCC solutions

There exists broadly two types of UC&C solution – On-premise and cloud based . The fundamental difference is the location of the backend infrastructure supporting the communication system . Some more differences are outlined in table below:

On -premiseCloud Based
Mostly in SaaS nature ( software as a service )

– Hosted by the consumer / business unit itself
more customizability and flexibility
more investment and maintenance

Service provider offers his infrastructure to the consumer as a service bills monthly / yearly etc
quick setup
lower upfront payment
billing is either per user basis or on consumption .
– data is synced to cloud servers for storage and can be fetched from there when required such as cloud synced Call-logs or contact-book

Device / Platform Agnostic

The UCC clients are designed keeping mobility in mind . Thus UC  Solutions are made compatible with online provisioning / portal system , native mobile apps like android /ios , Desktop app for linux, mac, windows etc .

Unified Communications

UC&C + CRM

UC&C models integrates with Enterprise and Customer Relation Management Systems (CRM). Therefore provides unified messaging across teamspace/workspace/workflow management systems . It is trackable and can be used for realtime notification and analytics .

SRS TFX service suite (2)
SRS TFX service suite
SRS TFX service suite (1)

This directly ensures boost in sales and profitability by quick communication between customers / partners / eco-system / sales-rep / developers / field agents and others part of the communication system.

SME adopt UCC solutions

SME ( Small and Medium Enterprises) are first to adopt UC&C due to absence of  already setup traditional communication infrastructure like PSTN lines , desktop phones , special handsets etc .

Factors that enable SMEs to adopt UC&C solution much faster and readily. :

  • quick setup
  • low budget of UC&C solutions
  •  BYOD ( Bring your Own Device ) to work

The advantages

  • (+) All information is stored in one place therefore easier to retrieve
  • (+) Increased Productivity
  • (+) Greater flexibility
  • (+) Faster Response and Information delivery

 Future of UCC

  1. Context Driven + Real Time Analytics
  2. Monitization by cross vertical integration
  3. Integration with IOT
  4. Automation for Billing and Operation – OSS/BSS
  5. Machine Learning
  6. Big Data Management

In conclusion UC&C is aimed at providing inter operable communications with ubiquitous coverage for applications and devices such as desktops , IP phones , smartphones, smart watches , kisosk etc. It means web, native apps and IP phones having the ability to create, share and participate in integrated multimedia ( like audio, video , desktop, files ) collaboration.


Telecommunications convergence – VoIP , PBX and IMS

There has been rapid evolution of telecom platform over the last few decades . Starting from the the mobile phone network-enabled universal communication agnostic to actual location to present day high bandwidth high data rate entertainment/ streaming like applications. The affordable, personal communication system has converged to enterperise level secure communication systems that cater to low latency and highly secure end to end encrypted scenarios.

As bandwidth has increased, so has the proliferation of VoIP systems. From the user’s perspective, modern mobile devices deliver the converged, multi-media communication and entertainment experience.

VOIP

VOIP , short for Voice over IP , is called so beacuse it not only converts your voice calls in analog voice into digital packets but also channels voice data through IP networks such as LAN , WAN , Internet etc using the Internet Protocol (IP) .

  • VOIP system on LAN ( Local Area Network ) can use it as its backbone system to establish communication between endpoints . For example : Office communication system within the same enterprise/building.
  • Similarity  VOIP over WAN ( Wide Area Network ) use the help  of IP PBX and VoIP service provider to enable communication across Internet . For example : OTT providers and internet calls.
  • By using the services of telecom providers in support with above plan it is also possible to land a VOIP call onto a real phone over GSM / PSTN via gateways.

For a provider of IP telephony system , number of factors come into picture such as :

  1. Bandwidth :
    • Low bandwidth has always been a big concern for IP calls especially due to packet loss and thus high noise. While a LAN connection ensures good experience, calls over internet or VOIP PBX are not necessarily as neat.
    • Network switching between different Internet service providers causes congestion and lags too.
  2. Inter-operability : Connecting remote works / employees to the VOIP network requires interoperablity between their hand held device like android , ios , tablets , smart watch or other types od communication devices such as hardphone, desktop-systems , kiosk , surveillance cams etc is a challenging considering the underlying OS and networking support.
  3. Traffic: Maximum simultaneous call or peak traffic rate can create bottlenecks in communication channel or worse still result in high bandwidth usage. For example as p2p conf call between 5 parties will create a mesh network between each participant resulting in 4 outgoing and 4 incoming channels.
  4. QoS (Quality of service ) :
    • Call drops ,
    • prioritization of important calls ,
    • Security preventing the attacks and hacks ,
    • keeping information secure by encryption end to end
  5. AAA
    managing Authentication , Authorization and accounting
  6. Reuse existing Hardware :
    • Replacing old hardware or installing softphone apps on mobiles etc .
    • Reuse old servers . Manage setup between datacentres and cloud deployments
    • Administravtive hurdles between different counteries and geographies for using hardware
  7. Scaling
    • How quickly can it scale up or scale down ?
    • Will the communication system grow horizontly or vertically ?
    • How to ensure that the growing system can accommodate new users , physical office location , remote centers , call centres etc ?
  8. Codecs
    Under low bandwidth condition it is a good idea to switch to low resolution ( in case of video ) and low bandwidth codec ( in case of audio ) .

Other factors such as privacy , accounability , Lawful interception ( legal requirnments in many enterprises ) , Auditing , SLA ( Service Level Agreements) to ensure the system is up 99.99 % of time and agrreeing to pay compensation if system is down for longer duration than 0.01 % of time so on.

Some of the positive aspects of using IP communication over traditional communication systems are :

Higher ROI : Return of investment is a big factor for SME before making the switch to IP telephony inplace of traditional established system like landline phone and cables. However it is for a fact that once the VOIP comm system is setup , it most certainly reduces call costs by 70%.

Third party Interations : It is often a necessaity to integrate communication system with CRM ( content realationship management ) systems or Sales management systems or other lead gtracking systesm which are driven from communications with possible clients or investors ( called leads) . Since most web portals are on IP protocl as HTTP, VOIP fits very well, with the click to call on webpage itself among other features such as directory integration , notofoication , call scripts etc.

VAS ( Value Added Service) : Value Added Services , refer to services build on top of existing underlying mobile communication call and sms. These could be innovation usecases build using -IVR / DTMF such as cricket score , astrology updates or call recoring , find-me-follow-me applicatoion for multiple devices , voicemail/ visual voice mail , re-routing to home phone or assiatnt phone , called ID etc . In short it can add intelligence to the way calls are managed .

Hosting the PBX

Unified communication Solutions as SaaS or IaaS refer to on-premise or cloud-hosted IP PBX Solutions. Comparison of both is as follows

On -premiseCloud Based
The solution is usually of the SaaS nature ( software as a service ) which is hosted by the consumer / business unit itself . The service provider offers his infrastructure to the consumer as a service and bills monthly / yearly etc .
Hosting the solution system on premise and setting up the infrastructure means more customization and flexibility but it also means more investment and maintenance . On the other hand hosting the solution on cloud is often a quick setup with relatively lower upfront payment. The billing is either carried out per per user basis or based on consumption . The data is synced to cloud servers for storage and can be fetched from there when required such as cloud synced Call-logs or contact-book .

Convergence Vision 

We already know some of the latest trends of industry with respect to telecom convergence such as :

FMC

Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) stands for integrating user’s fixed desk phone with his mobile phone. Call continuity is a VAS( Value added service ) which lets him to switch calls between different call devices even softphones , mid call also. It has multi-faced advantages such as not missing any call on account of being out of office , having the same call preferences on each device such as blocked numbers , IVR settings etc .

UC

Unified Communication refers to the accessibility of all communication and collaboration services from the users call agent ( phone / soft-phone ) . These services can include file transfer , chat , conference , call settings , blocking , white-listing , fax , cloud sync , call logs , called ID , favorites , recording .
Read more about Unified communication and collaboration here .

BYOD

Bring your own device is one of the hottest trends in industry almost across all domains where user is expected or is given to option to bring his personal laptop for official use . It is the responsibility of enterprise comm system to seamlessly integrate it with in-office communication system and provide the same privileges and security to business critical applications as preset in configuration settings . It increases the flexibility and productivity while keeping the infrastructure cost down.

IMS provided Network Interoperability and Access Independence

ims-access-network-independence
Image Source unknown. Represents the convergence of IMS subsystem with various access types

IMS based tele-coommunication convergence described in figure below

  • clients get direct connectivity to IP PBX in offices or hotels
  • home users connect through cable wires or Wifi/WiMax
  • non SIP based legacy endpoints connect via signalling and media gateways

The access endpoints connecte to a single managed core IP network which intercoonectes with IMS core . The back end system not only manages calls and sessions but also registration  ,  billing , operations and adminstartion.

IMS convergence vision
picture courtesy – unknown

 Intelligent Network   —>    Next Generation IMS System 

The signalling protocols migration like from signalling system 7 (SS7) to session initial protocol (SIP) have been taking place in Telco-Industry. Similarly nodes of legacy network like signal transfer point (STP) of legacy network are being migrated to call session control function (CSCF) of IMS  that allows the rapid development and deployment of enhanced, revenue-generating multimedia services for fixed, mobile and cable operators.

IMS architecture enables operators to seamlessly run a plethora of next-generation converged services over their fixed, mobile and cable networks, achieve a faster time-to-market for new services and have fewer performance bottlenecks.

converged telecommunications

Business benefits of IMS 

  1. Delivering Services: Delivering services and applications on a “wherever, however, whenever” basis.
  2. Multimedia services: Enabling service providers to offer multimedia services across both next-gen, packet-switched networks and traditional circuit-switched networks.
  3. Protocol stack: IMS architecture provides pipes and protocols onto which service providers can attach no. of applications very conveniently.
  4. Open Source standard: IMS architecture is based on open standard which makes it possible for different vendors of hardware and software to integrate with each other seamlessly.

As a subscriber, one of the main benefits of the IMS architecture is the capacity of the network to deliver the same set of services whatever the access network used.

convergence

This is made possible thanks to the centralization of the service execution process. A specific call server of the control plan (called Serving Call Session Control Function, S-CSCF) is responsible for invoking the application servers based on criteria provisioned in the central database. The S-CSCF gets these criteria (called Initial Filter Criteria) during the user’s registration in the IMS network.

Circuit Switched Voice –> Packet based VOIP 

Voice over IP revolutionized in the Telecommunication space.It also makes your communication experience much richer and nicer with a series of enhanced features and extended possibilities. The no. of user migrating from traditional circuit switched network to IP has been quite substantial in recent years. CSP are embracing VOIP technology as a potential revenue generator and investing huge chunk of money to create value propositions for themselves in VOIP.


Conclusion

In conclusion here are the top business benefits of adopting a converged and unified IP telephony solution such as IMS and SIP are

Cost Savings : Saving money is the number-one reason most businesses and households make the switch to a VoIP system, VoIP systems don’t require a phone cabinet or on-site routing equipment- just phones.

Features: VoIP also allows users to take advantage of advanced features only available on internet-based phone systems. Features like online call monitoring, and online phone system access to add or configure extensions are also available with VoIP systems.

Flexibility: VoIP allows people to go mobile and call directly from their cell phone and be charged at low VoIP rates

Tracking Options: Since VoIP is an internet-based system, user can track and manage their system from their computer. Most VoIP systems allow user to track call volume and call time fairly easily- a feature that can be especially helpful for businesses that bill clients hourly or for time spent on the phone.