VoLTE, VoWiFi and RTC: Going Beyond Commoditized Voice
The workplace is evolving—employees that are more mobile and wireless are now the norm at most companies.
80% of workers are not bound to desks, and their workplaces are mobile by definition.
These workers are interacting with their teams via a suite of enterprise applications and it’s a natural evolution to embed those communications experiences onto the mobile device, both natively and in real-time. New devices and technologies are accelerating this shift in usage models.
“Non-SIM devices, VoWiFi and VoLTE have really broken the linkage between access technology and the communications service, and that makes the communications service portable across different access technologies. That is a huge change for the industry.” — Terry McCabe, CTO, Mitel Mobile Division
Carriers globally have increasingly exhausted the growth potential of selling minutes and data to their existing consumers. McCabe added, “Historically, mobile networks were built to address a mass of consumers. It was hard to create niche services or specific services to address a subset of subscribers. But the future of voice isn’t about me dialing a number on a phone and calling you. It is about me interacting with an app. There’s lots of ways in which communications is transforming.”
Monica Paolini of Senza Fili (advisory experts in wireless data technologies and services) interviewed McCabe as part of a report for RCR Wireless News.
This interview covers subjects like:
- The shift to mobile centric-communications in the enterprise
- The design of VoWiFi and VoLTE architectures
- How mobile carriers and operators can create compelling offerings that address the enterprise
- The value of VoLTE vs over-the-top (OTT) applications
They also discussed how Mitel has worked with mobile operators to integrate cloud PBXs with mobile offerings so enterprise businesses can enjoy a full set of PBX features and services on mobile devices.
Watch the full interview here >>>
The full interview:
Paolini: Good morning and good afternoon. This is Monica Paolini with Senza Fili. Today I'm talking to Terry McCabe, the CTO in the Mobile Division at Mitel. And our conversation today is part of a report on voice and a new role that voice is taking in the area of VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling. Terry, thanks for being with us today.
McCabe: Great to be here.
Paolini: So can you tell us a bit in terms of the background of what you do personally and what Mitel is doing, the new Mitel I should say?
McCabe: Of course. Mitel, of course, as a company has been around for many years—well known in the enterprise communication space. Of course PBX solutions, unified communications, cloud unified communications. But just over 12 months ago Mitel acquired Mavenir—and Mavenir, I was the CTO there also. So we were providing voice video and messaging solutions based on IMS to 4G LTE networks. So we had some breakthrough business. Some of the first launches of voice over Wi-Fi, voice over LTE and rich communications across North America and Europe.And coming together with Mitel gives us a larger canvas to work with and gives us some unique opportunities to combine what is best and most interesting in the enterprise space with what's going on in carrier voice, video and messaging communications.
Paolini: Now, that's quite interesting because when you think about voice, voice is something that everybody uses. And the enterprise has been there forever. So there's nothing really new about either of them. And yet there is a lot of interest in the enterprise. What's special about the enterprise, especially from a voice and a mobile operator point of view?
McCabe: Well I think, really, when you think about the way that the operator, the carrier in the mobile spaces, has run their business in the last two decades, really they have not created, in most cases, compelling offerings that address the enterprise. Really, the enterprise is just another consumer.
And so, when you think about how enterprise telephony has evolved. The features, the functionality that you expect from an enterprise telephony system. A business telephony system. The integration with call centeres. The integration of features like hunt groups. The ability to short code dial within organizations. All the various features that are baked into the way people use desk phones within a business and yet, those features just aren't available as part of packages or offerings that are given on the mobile device.
Now as employees have become more mobile and as the workplace itself has become a wireless workplace, it's a natural evolution to bring some of those enterprise communications experience onto the native device and bring it there natively.
Paolini: So can we do some examples of how you help operators to reach this market? It is a huge market and it feels like it's an untapped market even though it has been there forever.
McCabe: It's not wholly on tap, there are some operators and we've certainly worked with some operators in the Nordics for instance, where they have, they've launched very targeted offerings of cloud PBX integrated with their mobile offerings.
So that they can offer a full set of PBX features and services on mobile devices to customers as a supplementary service. And we see that type of offering being attractive to carriers globally who feel that they've, well if you like, they've exhausted the growth potential of selling more minutes or more megabytes of data to their existing consumers. So the enterprise as an opportunity to add value remains interest and remains a compelling area. It perhaps previous generations of mobile technology did not adapt well to serving. If you think historically mobile networks were built to address a mass of consumers it was hard to create niche services or specific services to address a subset of subscribers.
Even the IT systems that lay behind those carrier platforms themselves weren't very flexible, didn't necessarily give you the tools to create different billing plans, to be able to self-provision and self portal for self probationing for enterprises that are fundamentally important, if you want to serve that market.
So IT technology's moved on. And network technology is going through, with LTE, a pretty fundamental transformation. We're moving from circuit switch, which has evolved through that's GSM and on into 3G. We've now reached a point where voiceover IP is becoming the standard communications platform within the carrier.
And voice over IP of course has been the basis of much of what's taken place in the enterprise telephony and communications environment over the last decade, two decades actually. So there's a great deal of overlap from a technology perspective. But there's also the flexibility and agility that an IP communications framework brings to that mobile network that wasn't there previously.
Paolini: But, you mentioned that the PBX in Nordic countries, do see other types of applications that sort of a core for some type of enterprise but, there's a lot of enterprise out there? What other services can you develop specifically for the enterprise and that VoLTE allows?
McCabe: So, I think there are ways in which you can package. The voice video and messaging services in order embed them within, or make them part of the workflow of applications running on smart devices. What they might tell you, one of our observations, one of the things that we've really focused on is the fact that's upwards of 80% of the workforce is not desk based and a lot of business communication solutions have addressed the desktop and extending the desktop onto a mobile device. But for 80% of workers, they have no desk. And their workplace is mobile by definition. And for those workers, often now enterprise applications are where they interact with their mobile device, embedding communication services there, creating APIs that allow IT departments and SaaS providers to incorporate real-time communications. Into business and enterprise workflows.
That's a hugely valuable area. And another area is of course communicating with your customer. Your customer is now most likely to be communicating with you over a mobile device. And that device is the multimedia device. You now have a continuum that runs from messaging, which traditionally would have been text messaging, right through chat, transfer of multimedia content, to voice and video.
And if you think about what would I call it, contact centered technologies, and where that has been in the past, you're now seeing the best of contact center incorporate everything up to social media.
And that's when you really start to see a transformation in the way that businesses interact with their customers and the carrier can play a very valuable part in enabling that and can create value for themselves in incorporating and exposing their network capabilities to those enterprises.
Paolini: So the new voice services are not just me calling you to talk about whatever we need to talk. It's not just that voice and data are sent through the same channel, they're actually part of the same application. Now, what that means is that for an operator to manage that kind of traffic, it becomes a little bit more complex. So, because it's not just, is there a call or not? There is a call, and the call is happening when the application is being used. So isn't voice becoming more difficult rather than easier to manage?
McCabe: Well, there are some technological challenges that have been involved in the rollout of voice over LTE and voice over Wi-Fi. It's taken a little longer than people had hoped or expected. However, having cross those challenges, having met the challenges, we now have a platform for innovation and you're absolutely right, the future of voice isn't about me dialing a number on a phone and calling you. It's about me interacting with an app. And as part of that I want to talk to you or I want to talk to a persona. I may not know that that person is you. There's lots of ways in which communication is transforming. The other part is different age groups are communicating in different ways, different social groups are communicating in different ways. And the carrier wants to remain relevant. Not just be a transport mechanism. To do that, being able to package and service the critical aspects of communication and do that well. I think that's still a valuable activity. It may not be as directly valuable in terms of billable minutes.
But it's still valuable when you think how much effort the Facebooks, and Googles, and other OTT players are putting into attracting eyeballs and attracting minutes of use so that they can monetize it in a different way. If it wasn't valuable, we wouldn't be doing it.
Paolini: And on one hand, voice becomes a much more flexible way to communicate, but on the other way, the phone number, which is what you use to direct the call, is no longer the only way you address people to say I might talk to you as a persona, not necessarily you, I'm not equating you as your phone number. That means that I can reach you on a non-synced device, on any device. And my identity is a little more of a richer and a more flexible concept because of that.
McCabe: And that started with OTTs. Once people started using OTT applications. There was this concept that I have one identity, my number, and that's the only thing that it is. Well, when you're talking or when you communicate in social communities, you have different identities in different communities. We're now introducing and have launched a set of services that allows you to express different identities natively on your mobile device so that I can have my home phone number, my mobile phone number, my business phone number. You can argue they're all on the same device, so what's the difference? Well, I want to segregate my calling behavior. Maybe I want to segregate the billing. Maybe I want to have do not disturb turned on from my business number at night but I want my friends and family to be able to reach me while I'm traveling. And those sorts of behaviors, people have become accustomed to from what they do in the social networking world when they use online communications tools. And as you mentioned earlier The idea of non-SIM devices, voice over Wi-Fi and voice over LTE have really broken the linkage between access technology and the communication service. And that makes the communication service portable across different access technologies. That is a huge change for the industry. I think people are still coming to terms with it.
You've seen in North America with T-Mobile, and also with some of the other tier one carriers. You've seen them launch multi-device offerings. And with things like AT&T's number sync, they're doing that in such a way that they envisage it in the future, allowing you to embed that communications experience in smart devices, in wearables, in a whole range of different objects that surround you. Communication isn't about a smart phone. It's about simply using network bandwidth and the carrier happens to provide you with the connectivity that allows you to reach out to other people.
Paolini: So that's quite interesting what you're saying. Because instead of the operators competing with OTT by replicating their offering, they're taking what's relevant, what's valuable in their offering and bringing it into their own native services. So does that mean that with both the operators are better positioned to compete with the OTTs.
McCabe: Yes they are, and the reason is not necessarily from great planning. It is because IMS and the IP technologies and the fortunate emergence of NFV at this time. Those things come together to give you a much more flexible way of creating services, rolling them out, scaling them, and then exposing them through APIs in order that you can change who consumes them and how they're consumed. NAV is very much a technology attribute that happens to have coincided with when voice over LTE and voice over Wi-Fi are now rolling out in volume. But they are, fundamentally, it's a fundamentally important technology because of moving away from proprietary technologies.
Moving to a fluid, agile software-based approach, towards the realization of services. And that is above everything else that's what enables the operator to be more competitive. They don't have to be as fast as the OTT. They don't have to be on the bleeding edge. But they do need as you say to pick the lessons and be a fast follower and execute very, very well indeed. And the combination of voice over IP with excellent quality in the LTE environment, the flexibility of virtualized software-based solutions. They really have the tools to be able to respond in a very different way to just a few years ago.
Paolini: Now you mentioned virtualization, so let me ask you. How has it changed the way you help operators, and how is it changing? Because it's obviously still an ongoing process.
McCabe: Well, we've been delivering virtualized solutions now for quite a few years, and as time goes by, what we do as a virtualized solution has expanded from the application servers where we started, right down into the network to some of the media processing.
Virtualization is, by stages, moving into even the radio network, so you're seeing virtualization as a technology being adopted right the way through the carrier environment. And part of the way, you now, the simplest way that it changes things is it simplifies the build out of networks. You're not procuring limited supply hardware going into these environments. So lead times are shorter, there's more competitive pricing, so the cost of the hardware implementation goes down. And then you start looking at the lifecycle and the overall TCO benefits. So you don't have the rigid combination of hardware and software solution that means you can reach end of life on a hardware platform without having to rewrite the software, re-confirm it on a new platform. That may sound like a small thing, but it's big, it's really big. There's also the whole concept of orchestration, I think the virtualization, that's actually a very mature piece of the picture. When we look at where NFV is today in the standards, it's around the orchestration, and how to get to a point where you can realize a multi-vendor network environment that has a set of orchestration tools that allows you to create new services simply through the operation of the orchestration tools. We're still not there yet. And we're getting there, and it's probably an area that requires more standardization than we have on the table today. But just the, you know, I'm visiting with an operator this week whose entire IMS core, their SBCs, their application servers are all fully virtualized.
And they launched their VoLTE network just about six weeks ago. So, there is real proof points that that part of the technology is mature. And now it's the orchestration that presents the next stage in the challenge. And we're confronting it, and we're dealing with it right now.
Paolini: So that's the next, and that's a big challenge, because it's basically putting it all together, and that's the multi-vendor, multi-function, and that's a real challenge, I would say, as you say.
McCabe: It is, and there's quite a lot going on. You know, there's standards, bodies, there's testing organizations. The next 12 months is going to be a pretty active time in terms of getting to a point where perhaps there are fewer ecosystems, but those ecosystems are more open and the industry as a whole starts to come together a little bit.
Because today what you have is, you know, everyone has, if you've got one component, then, you declare an ecosystem and everyone, you try to attract everyone to you. And, that, of course, doesn't meet the customer's needs. And we always have to stay focused on what it is the customers are really looking for.
Paolini: Now another hot topic in voice is Wi-Fi calling, although we've had Wi-Fi calling for, you know, ten years, but it really became much more prominent now both for operators that want to do it ahead of VoLTE, with VoLTE, or in addition to VoLTE. Well, what's your take on that? What impact is it going to have on voice?
McCabe: Well, different operators have different drivers for voice of a Wi-Fi. In some cases, you've got particular operators who have very challenging, perhaps they have spectrum assets that make in-building access difficult, or you look at an operator who's in an early stage of their rollout.
Their in-building coverage isn't good, and they’ve been particularly driven to adopt voice over Wi-Fi early, to improve their user experience. And consistently, we've heard good feedback from those operators and what they've seen and what they've achieved with the solution. Then you also have, in some case, and I won't say all operators have gone down this path, but if you're trying to be disruptive, disrupting the revenue or disrupting the whole balance around roaming by allowing your subscribers to use Voice Over Wi-Fi while overseas.
If you were an incumbent with large roaming revenues, maybe it's not the most attractive package in the world, but if you're trying to be disruptive, if you're trying to attract new subscribers and show that you are focused on, you know, on giving people new experiences voice over Wi-Fi for international roamers can be a wonderful benefit and a wonderful asset, I use it all the time myself. And then, you know, you have other operators who are looking at voice over Wi-Fi as much. What would they call it? A last resort where all else fails, and so they go, you know, they use a carrier first approach, and then they fall back to, they fall back to Wi-Fi when you're out of coverage and you can't get anything else to work.
And the real changing point, and perhaps it's the interesting thing that, for a long time, voice over Wi-Fi as you say was there, but people weren't aware of it. You accessed it through apps or with specific loads of software from specific operators. It was the advent of Apple, and what Apple did with the iPhone, introducing that native experience that really transformed the way that people looked at voice over Wi-Fi.
And likewise, Apple's introduction of support for multi device capabilities, again, has kind of shown the way in terms of how a carrier service offering can extend to non-SIM devices. So, when voicable Wi-Fi first started to gain popularity, we talked about this disaggregation concept where the carrier wasn't providing the end to end service anymore, and how that transform the way that they would look at services. And I think that multi-device and multi I-D, multiple identity concept, really is the logical progression from where we started with voice over Wi-Fi.
Paolini: Okay, in closing, what's coming up next, what are the guys at Mitel working on these days.
McCabe: Well, we are working a lot on the whole area of embedded communications that I talked to you about earlier, and I think embedding communications is the only tip of the iceberg. You talk about the user experience of Uber, for instance, people expect communication, location, messaging to be incorporated into the flow of their apps, and enabling carriers to effectively make their assets available to app developers and attract developers is something that we believe is compelling for the carrier.
We're also looking at areas like securing communications. Security's in everybody's minds at the moment. You see a lot of news articles and a lot of items about that. Enterprise communications in particular are vulnerable to, or people feel are, ought not to be vulnerable to interception. So, we're working on secure network solutions to enhance that.
And of course, we continue with our progression to allow these different multi-device and multi-identity capabilities to be available to the consumer, and not just the Enterprise customer. So, expanding the range of services available to the consumer, as a customer of the mobile network. And you'll see more product announcements coming out as part of our program of Mitel Next announcements over the rest of this month, there's another one of those events. And later in the year, a second.
Paolini: Okay, we'll look forward to it. Well, Terry, thanks so much for sharing your insights with us today.
McCabe: Thank you, Monica.
Paolini: So this conversation with Jeremy Kay about Mitel was part of the report on Voice, Voice from Senza Fili that was prepared in collaboration with RCR Wireless. Thank you for attending.