Bring Agility to Your Legacy Plant:
Many in the telecom industry predicted that in a bid to keep up with end-user demands, service providers would rip and replace their legacy infrastructure as the introduction of 4G loomed. But this didn’t happen. There was a vision that the focus would shift exclusively to all-IP, but as we’ve seen, this hasn’t materialized entirely. Equipment manufacturers who appeared to cut their legacy connectivity offerings, such as Cisco, which announced the end-of-life of its IP Transfer Point (ITP), were too quick to make the leap. And their promised seamless integration from legacy to LTE is now in need of repair. Because of this, service providers that held tight before making any knee-jerk “rip and replace” reactions are the ones who are benefitting now.
From the outside, it is easy to see why service providers want to focus on providing better 4G connectivity. Recent research from consumer watchdog Which?1 found that the rest of the UK lags behind London when it comes to accessing 4G data services. On average, UK users can connect to 4G only about 50% of the time, with users in Wales being able to connect only just over a third (35%) of the time. The US has its own problems with 4G connectivity, too. A report by OpenSignal2 found that it had the 55th fastest speed in the world.
However, the legacy connectivity for existing voice and Short Message Service (SMS) applications remains an absolute requirement. It is crucial for service providers to grasp how their legacy technology, such as time-division multiplexing (TDM) equipment, can work alongside IP over shared-use networks. In doing so, not only can they keep up-to-date with modern-day user demands, but also protect their investment in legacy equipment.
When it comes to future-proofing their networks whilst getting the most bang for their buck, service providers can continue to use the legacy TDM equipment they have invested in at the edge, but focus on modernizing the core by using Voice over Internal Protocol (VoIP) and SIGTRAN (signaling transport) to transmit calls and data over long distances.
Supplanting long-distance, dedicated, TDM circuits with IP over shared-use networks provides substantial savings by reducing their core network transport costs and negating the need for the costly rip and replacement of legacy switching systems. These solutions are music to the ears of shareholders, as they keep capital expenditure at a minimum during uncertain times.
There are also solutions available to service providers that will route Signaling System 7 (SS7) traffic over an Internet Protocol (IP) network to an IP-enabled device, or route IP traffic over an IP network to an SS7 device. Message Level Two User Adaptation (M2UA) backhauls further provide transparent connectivity between traditional, circuit-switched SS7 signaling points and any IP-enabled signaling element. By leveraging Message Transfer Part Two (MTP2) to M2UA interworking, service providers require no modifications to the MTP3 layer, addresses, or routes on either side of the network. They will also not require any additional point codes, which is a huge benefit for providers because introducing new codes can require the whole network to be re-architected — and in a large network, there may not be any available.
40 Years Later
It is still important to maintain legacy infrastructure to meet the current demand to interconnect different networks. Multi-protocol solutions are required to connect divergent circuit and packet switching architectures. SS7 technology isn’t retrograde — it’s traditional. Forty years on, it is still the most robust, high-performance, and reliable signaling solution out there, and it’s needed today more than ever.
Service providers need to concentrate on delivering a saleable and flexible solution to manage the convergence and growth of their networks whilst maintaining legacy connections and infrastructure. It is the only way they will continue to grow and satisfy end-user demand.
If digital transformation has taught us anything it is that customer expectations are increasingly difficult to predict. Therefore, a successful organization is an agile one — and one that doesn’t throw all their eggs into one basket. Rather, successful service providers will be the ones that don’t entirely supplant their legacy infrastructure with modern technologies to continue their efficacy through changing times.
Ten years ago, the telecoms market wrongly predicted the total demise of circuit switching and the complete replacement of TDM by IP, with some large hardware manufacturers following suit. Yet, today the situation is oddly different. Service providers need to realize as much return on investment in their networks as possible, whilst keeping their capital expenditure low. Therefore, they are finding ways to bringing their legacy TDM equipment up-to-date to meet modern-day user demands.
1. “Which report: UK ‘lags behind’ London on 4G coverage”, BBC NEWS, 5 October 2016. Retrieved 061917. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-37552636
2. “The State of LTE November 2016”, OpenSignal. https://opensignal.com/reports/2016/02/state-of-lte-q4-2015/. Retrieved 061917.