7 Jun 2013

Jim Machi, Dialogic on software based session border controllers

Dialogic is exhibiting at Connecting West Africa, taking place at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Dakar, Senegal on Tuesday the 11th of June.

Jim Machi is the Vice President of Product Management at Dialogic. Today he shares his views on software based session border controllers.

Why would you want a software based session border controller?   

Why would you ever want a software-based session border controller (SBC)?  Is it even feasible? Right now, SBC’s are boxes that often implemented at the edges of IP-based networks.  It might seem unlikely for a hardware node of that critical network element morph to become a piece of software.

If the SBC sits on the border of two IP networks, then there are IP connections on both sides of the box, while means there is a physical connection to an IP network.  However, that physical connection doesn’t have to be at the exact demarcation point.  In fact, it doesn’t have to be part of the SBC box. Some other device could take care of the physical IP connection, and the IP data stream could then pass through a software-based SBC function that resides elsewhere. For example, a software-based SBC could be a resident in a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) type chassis, such as an ATCA chassis, where network interface cards (NIC) handle the connection to the IP network. A series of single board computers could go into the chassis where the software based elements could run as an application. The software-based SBC could simply be connected and running on one of the single board computers. It could be running in a virtualized environment in a single board computer, or as part of a few applications in a 1U or 2U platform. Ultimately, it could also be in a cloud environment.  In this case, the actual physical NIC could be thousands of miles away from the SBC software.

Now that we’ve deemed it feasible, why would someone want to use a software-based SBC? First of all, economics come into play. COTS hardware can enter the picture, and when that happens, costs for that product set typically come down. A related piece to this reasoning is savings on the chassis. If you put the SBC on a single board computer that goes into a common chassis with multiple other network notes, also on single board computers, then there is savings on the chassis.   There would also clearly be sparing savings, since the COTS components are less expensive, and they would be more commonly available, obviating the need to as much on-site sparing. 

Software based SBCs are also a great way to get started if you think you need one. If you don’t know how many sessions you need, then you can get started using this and scale it up relatively easily. And it may be more economically viable for your situation if you need to scale as you go. 

Additionally, you can add more resources to the SBC easily. At Dialogic, we believe strongly that media and multimedia transcoding will be required for the SBC, and not because that is a strength of ours. We believe in that because if you buy into the notion that an SBC is basically an IP-IP gateway, then it will be obvious that transcoding would be required since transcoding is required in a TDM-IP gateway.  It’s simple if you think about it from that perspective. 

Let’s get more specific now. From a service provider perspective, costs and CAPEX are clearly important and we covered some of that above from the perspective of using COTS hardware. However, another consideration of using COTS hardware is some hardware (the base chassis say) will go away as part of using a software-based network node, and then CAPEX will go down. This is clearly a driver as well for a movement to software based elements. 

Another important consideration though is that service velocity is increasing. New services are being rolled out quicker. Agility with respect to the network elements are required to be able to meet these needs. Software-based network elements enable this agility because of what I said above – ease of scalability and ease of adding newer functions such as transcoding.  It’s likely that the needs of the SBC will continue to evolve over time. With transcoding right now, we see the needs to transcode HD Voice codecs to the more “regular” codecs. But in the future I’m sure we’ll see video transcoding needed as well. Even if you feel video transcoding is covered now, what about when the H.265 video codec comes out in a year? Will you need to buy a new SBC to cover that?  Or can you upgrade a piece of software?

And what about when WebRTC enters the scene? There is transcoding required there as well because the WebRTC audio and video codecs are different than utilized in the networks today. But there is also a signaling conversion required as the HTTP to SIP signaling conversion needs to occur. Having a piece of software to upgrade would also enable this support much easier. Transcoding and WebRTC are just two ideas that come to mind right now. What is the future to hold in this regard? Yes, you know that there will be a lot more!

For enterprises, software-based SBCs offer many of the same benefits as above, especially as it relates to WebRTC since I would expect WebRTC to enter the enterprise first. Integration of enterprise apps, whether WebRTC apps or not, could be a big differentiator with a software based SBC. And a software-based SBC, with its ability to scale down, offers a cost effective alternative for enterprises that don’t have one today, because the SBCs on the market are either too expensive for them or because the ones on the market today offer “too much” in terms of session capability. 

So you can see why a software-based SBC is convenient. But can it do what the hardware based SBC’s can do? Obviously, that is dependent on your supplier, but there is no reason that the software based and hardware based SBC cannot handle the same functions. There might be hardware assist in a hardware based SBC, but this would be to enable higher densities or more sessions, but shouldn’t be there to add features. At Dialogic, this is what we believe anyway. Almost 13 years ago Dialogic really drove the concept of Host Media Processing as an alternative to the Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) boards that drove Dialogic’s early years.  We know what is possible as the technology transitions to software.  And we know that you don’t have to lose functionality in this transition. We are experts in this “software-ization” of hardware and have applied this mantra to our software based SBC.

Software based SBCs have entered the industry discussion, because there are use cases where they make sense. If you are considering using one, or want to talk more about this, let us know.
Find out more; meet Dialogic at Connecting West Africa, visit Stand 15. Visit the website: www.comworldseries.com/westafrica

5 Jun 2013

Jim Machi, Dialogic on The Promise of the African VAS Market

Dialogic is exhibiting at Connecting West Africa, taking place at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Dakar, Senegal on Tuesday the 11th of June.

Jim Machi is the Vice President of Product Management at Dialogic. Today he shares his views on the Promise of the African VAS Market.

I was asked a question a few weeks ago about “the future” of value-added services in Africa. This question was deeper than it first appeared because the person asking me the question was really wondering whether VAS will be “required” once 3G services, and thus over the top services (OTT), become bigger over time in Africa. Before we really get down to answering the question, it’s important to remember that a value-added service is a service beyond voice that the consumer is willing to pay for. This does not necessarily mean that it has something to do with mobile broadband and smartphones. In fact, the advent of value-added services (and innovative value-added services at that) occurred with basic feature phones long before mobile broadband was even feasible. SMS, and derivatives of SMS such as voice SMS, televoting using SMS, gaming using SMS, and color ring-back tones are examples of value-added services that have generated revenue for service providers because they provide value to the subscribers.

So yes, VAS has a very bright future in Africa. According to the June 2012 Wireless Intelligence report, “Global Cellular Market Trends and Insight,” Africa has an almost 17% annual mobile connection growth rate, which is the world’s fastest growing, and 3G accounts for more than 10% of all connections in Africa. This shows the great potential for all kinds of value-added services.

And right now, Dialogic customers offer a wide range of VAS that are applicable to and being sold in Africa today, ranging from text messaging (including voice SMS), mobile payments (including exchanging pre-paid from one phone to another phone), IVRs and roaming solutions. Please see the Dialogic Solution Showcase on our website for examples of deployed services. We will see more VAS going forward, and we should get a glimpse of some of these new services at Connecting West Africa in June.

So, back to the reason behind the original question I was asked. What a value-added service is will change as networks change and as subscriber demand changes. However, the key principles of value-added services will remain, which is why VAS will always be a key ingredient to a service provider offering even as the networks change:
  • Use VAS as alternative to voice communication mechanisms, such as texting. As smartphones and mobile broadband enter the market, this will likely morph to include other communication mechanisms, such as those provided by instant messaging or Facebook.
  • Use VAS as a personalization vehicle, such as with color ring back tones or social networking interaction.
  • Use VAS as entertainment, such as with televoting for TV shows or playing games. Again as mobile broadband enters the market, we will see people using their phones to watch TV or videos on YouTube as an example.
  • Use VAS as a way to improve your productivity, such as with location-based services or IVRs.
  • Use VAS for mobile commerce, such as with payments or mobile banking. As mobile broadband becomes more prevalent, and people start using their smartphones as an on-ramp to the internet, you will likely also see more mobile advertising (think about going to the internet today and how common it is to see advertisements). 

Find out more; meet Dialogic at Connecting West Africa, visit Stand 15. Visit the website: www.comworldseries.com/westafrica

4 Jun 2013

Jim Machi, Dialogic on Mobile Congestion, Radio Blogging and Podcasting

Dialogic is exhibiting at Connecting West Africa, taking place at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Dakar, Senegal on Tuesday the 11th of June.

Jim Machi is the Vice President of Product Management at Dialogic. Today he shares his views on Mobile Congestion, Radio Blogging and Podcasting.

Over a month ago, I participated in a radio blog / podcast ]
with Tech in Twenty. The theme was mobile congestion. Please listen to the 20 minute broadcast/podcast/radio interview since it was riveting! Seriously, it was fun, the interviewers Luis and Jennifer asked good questions and I think the interview is interesting. But then again, that’s me J.

Let me briefly go over what I covered in that podcast. Mobile congestion is something we’ve all experienced likely multiple times and it is best exemplified by the “spinning” icon you get on your phone when you’re trying to access a video. Everything just slows down. I think we can all understand that. And with more tablets, more smartphones, more smart mobile whatever’s, this problem is just going to continue to get worse.

The interviewers then asked me, OK, why don’t the carriers just build more towers? Well, they could and in fact do, but in reality there are many reasons for the “spinning” so there are multiple ways to attack the problem. First of all, the carriers can ask the subscribers to pay more when they are using the network as an on-ramp to the internet ALL THE TIME. So that’s why you see many carriers having data capping pricing plans. The carriers can also buy or build additional capacity such as adding cell towers are leasing more transmission lines. New technology like advanced codecs comes into play. Upgrading networks such as going to LTE, or advanced versions of 3G, also come into play. Also, instead of using the mobile cellular network you can use Wi-Fi as an offload mechanism. And finally, one can maximize the existing capacity of the network by optimizing the traffic that flows through it.

All of these are part of the solution and they were wondering how Dialogic played in the space and why we were unique. Great question. We play in the space by offering solutions that maximize existing capacity through optimizing the traffic. This is a very cost effective and fast way to add more capacity to the networks, which is why carriers would come to us. And we are unique since have capability and expertise in BOTH voice and video, not just voice, or not just video.

We covered a lot of other ground as well, so go listen. I had a good time with it.

Find out more; meet Dialogic at Connecting West Africa, visit Stand 15. Visit the website: www.comworldseries.com/westafrica