This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Robin Kent, director of European operations at Adax
The telecoms industry is undergoing a huge transition. There’s a brand new connected world out there and reports suggest that by 2020 some four billion people will have made the move and be subscribed to the LTE horizon. In light of this, service providers are making the transition to 4G but legacy connectivity for voice, SMS and Value Added Services (VAS), such as mobile money, location based services and music downloads, still remains an absolute requirement. As a result, in many cases Signaling System 7 (SS7) Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) interfaces must be maintained, and due to this, legacy interworking for these services are an absolute requirement. The big question for operators is how to manage this change. How do they offer a wonder of the future to end users but also deliver a high level of service for legacy requirements?
There are a number of challenges that the industry will have to address in this age of transition. Currently, Telecom Equipment Manufacturers (TEMs) are struggling to provide TDM interfaces to equipment such as firewalls, as well as charging and billing systems that only have IP interfaces. To address this problem, they need to make sure they are equipped with a solution that delivers SS7 TDM connectivity and an interworking function that enables any such system with IP interfaces to seamlessly work alongside any legacy node. This will also help them avoid paying out for an expensive STP replacement. By interworking traditional SS7 TDM with cost effective IP links, operators can reduce OPEX and CAPEX, thus saving both time and money in the long run.
The reliability of the all-IP network is another major area that requires attention in this era of transition. Quality-of-Service (QoS) is vital for any operator, and as such, reliability is paramount in achieving a high service level. Despite being written off by so-called industry experts and media commentators numerous times alongside the decline of voice calls and text messages, SS7 is seen as the tried and trusted signaling service, a title that is yet to be given to the all-IP network. Due to substandard IP transmission between the STPs and Mobile Switching Centres (MSCs), we’ve heard of critical cases where some areas have been out of communication.
Operators have had to address this issue of reliability, and as such, have fallen back to the trusted SS7 links, to ensure that a high level of service is maintained. Operators are now adding direct SS7 signaling connections via TDM technology as an alternative carrier to the poor IP transmission. The number of possible SS7 protocol stack combinations is growing depending on whether it is used for specific mobile or intelligent network services and whether the transport is over IP, ATM or TDM networks. With this in mind, it’s key for operators to have a gateway solution in place that will enable application developers to quickly and cost effectively offer TDM interfaces to their existing IP only solutions.
Keeping up with end user demand is a challenge in all industries but none more so than the telecom world today. Consumers are choosing WhatsApp over SMS, and FaceTime over voice calls, but the network tools underpinning this shift in mobile usage need to adapt and accommodate change. However, the idea that all telecommunication infrastructures will be built on IP systems is still far from becoming a reality. Network operators want to grow and adapt to the change but cannot afford to suddenly pack up their bags and leave behind their legacy interfaces. Legacy SS7 based services need to work alongside LTE protocols to ensure that both ends of the functionality spectrum meet the QoS required. Operators need a signaling gateway solution for SS7-IP interworking that they can rely on to ensure the transition from legacy to LTE is as smooth as possible.
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