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January 2007

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Voice SMS—Creating a Service People Will Adopt


 By Brough Turner, SVP & CTO, NMS Communications

It is great to think up new communications services based on new technology, it is another thing to find or create a community of users large enough to be useful, provide a user experience that people enjoy, and set price points that are acceptable to a relevant proportion of customers. Today, a case lesson has emerged in Asia that’s instructive for developers everywhere. It’s an exciting new service called Voice SMS or Voice Short Message Service.

Voice SMS was launched in early 2005 under the name “Bubble Talk” by mobile operator Digi in Malaysia using a platform from Bubble Motion. Within six months, more than 35 percent of Digi’s subscribers were using Bubble Talk and the other mobile operators in Malaysia were losing market share. In reaction, these operators were forced to quickly launch equivalent services and did so within the first year.

What is It?

Voice SMS is a fast way to send a short message to another mobile subscriber. In that sense it’s similar to an SMS text message. But Voice SMS is much easier to use. There are no keystrokes to compose the message, you just talk. When I send you a Voice SMS, you receive an SMS text message saying “You have a Voice SMS from Brough. Click here to listen to your message.” One click and you’re listening to my message. In some implementations, it says “Dial *0* to listen to your message. That’s four clicks with the “Send” key, but it’s equally easy for users.

There are additional advantages for Voice SMS over conventional text SMS. The text user interface on mobile phones is great if you use a European language, Kanji, or another widely practiced language. But once you get beyond the top twenty languages, there is little or no support for text messaging. And of course, text messages are of no use to people who are illiterate. Yet they easily learn to use Voice SMS.

Voice SMS is perfect for when you want to communicate but don’t need or don’t want a live conversation—for example when you think the other party is likely to be asleep or in a noisy environment. Voice SMS is a convenient way to give them some information or initiate a non-real time conversation where the other party can delay their response until they are ready.

Perhaps most important, voice conveys emotion and can provide more in-depth understanding than any text message.

Why Not Use MMS?

The mobile industry has already standardized a service that can do everything Voice SMS does and a lot more—that’s Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS). It’s fully specified by standards organizations, including 3GPP, 3GPP2, and the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA). It’s an evolution of SMS designed to send and receive multimedia messages—graphics, video, audio clips, and so on. In developed markets you may know it as picture mail. But even in developed markets adoption has been slow, awaiting universal handset support and universal network interoperability.

As just one example of the many problems with MMS, I learned that Sprint was offering “SMS Voice Messaging” service in the US, so I surveyed employees at NMS headquarters in Framingham Massachusetts. I found several Sprint subscribers, but none of them had handsets that supported the service!

This highlights a key difference in the Voice SMS services that emerged in Asia—they work with any handset ( 3G, 2.5G or 2G), they work with any network, and they reach any mobile subscriber on any network because they only depend on existing voice telephony and SMS text messaging—two services that are ubiquitous. This any handset, any network advantage is overwhelming!

Will MMS catch up? Probably yes, once the technology is ubiquitous, but that will take many, many years.

Advantages for Operators as Well

The any handset, any network advantage serves operators as well. It means they can target their entire subscriber base from the start. Since it uses SMS text to alert the receiving party, there’s no handset configuration required. The user interface is very simple, so there is little customer education required. The service meets a user need, as demonstrated by its rapid adoption at price points 30 percent to 100 percent above those of text messages.

Then there’s a fantastic potential for follow-on services—voice alerts (sports, weather, traffic, etc.), jokes, premium content (celebrity voices), contests, dating and, of course, advertising—services that are becoming popular where Voice SMS has been successfully deployed.

Voice SMS Status

Today there are over a dozen networks offering Voice SMS services, mostly in Asia. The two leading suppliers of Voice SMS platforms are Bubble Motion and Kirusa who both use NMS solutions. uReach, another NMS customer, has at least one Voice SMS deployment and a minimum of ten other suppliers have announced Voice SMS platforms.

Because the service requires only voice and SMS connectivity, it is also possible for third parties not associated with any mobile operator to offer Voice SMS services. At least one start-up company in the US, Pinger, has launched such a service.

Conclusion

Communications and community are hot areas for new services, but they both depend on what economists call network effects—you have to have a large enough community before the service becomes useful. It’s critical to design your new service so there is at least some functionality available to any potential customer. If it works better with new technology that’s ok, but make sure that everyone can participate whether they have the new technology or not.

Brough Turner may be reached using the Comment form below. Also be sure to check out Brough’s blog at blogs.nmss.com/communications.

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SS7 in an IMS World


 By Jon Mechling, Director of Product Management

Carriers and service providers worldwide have started an evolution of their networks from circuit switched to Internet Protocol (IP)-based, packet-switched architectures. Key drivers of this evolution include:

  • lower CAPEX and OPEX promised by a common IP-based infrastructure
  • the ability to offer a range of new services based on Internet capabilities
  • the ability to provide the same set of services regardless of a subscriber’s location or network access technology (e.g., mobile, DSL, cable, WiFi)

A key part of this new network is the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS). IMS is a service delivery architecture1 that specifies a number of network functional elements and interfaces which, when taken together, support the development, deployment, and management of new telecommunications services.


Acronym Listing

ABG

access border gateway

MRF

Media Resource Function

ALG

application level gateway

MRFC

Media Resource Function Controller

AN

Access Node

MRFP

Media Resource Function Processor

AS

application servers

MS

media server

AuC

authentication center

OSA-GW

Open Service Access Gateways

BB

Broadband Access

P-CSCF

Proxy CSCF

BG

Border gateway

PDF

Policy Decision Function

BGCF

Breakout Gateway Control Function

PDG

packet data gateway

CAMEL SE

Customized Applications for Mobile Enhanced Logic Security Extensions

PDN

packet data network

CS

circuit-switched

PEF/TPF

Policy Enforcement Function/Traffic Plain Function

CSCF

Call Session Control Function

PLMN

Public Land Mobile Network

HLR

Home Location Register

PS

packet-switched

HSS

Home Subscriber Server

PSTN

Public Switched Telephone Network

IM-SSF

IP Multimedia Services Switching Functions

RAN

radio access network

I-CSCF

Interrogating CSCF

SCIM

Service Capability Interaction Management

IMS

IP Multimedia Subsystem

S-CSCF

Serving CSCF

IMS IPGW

IMS IP Gateway

SGSN

Service GPRS Support Node

IP

Internet Protocol

SGW

signaling gateway

IPv6

Internet Protocol version 6

SIP

Session Initiation Protocol

IP CAN

IP Connectivity Access Network

SLF

subscriber location function

LBS

location-based services

SS7

Signaling System No7

MGFC

Multimedia Resource Function Controller

TAS

telephony application servers

MGW

media gateway

TISPAN

Telecoms & Internet converged Services & Protocols for Advanced Networks

Figure 1—IMS Architecture, showing functional entities and defined interfaces2

Some of the services envisioned for IMS-based networks include:

  • two-way mobile video and messaging
  • mobile collaboration
  • IP-based call centers
  • Video-on-demand and content download
  • location-based services
  • enhanced push-to-talk/view/conference services
  • Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC)

Revenue projections for these new services exceed $800B through 20093—no wonder service providers are excited about IMS!

Metcalfe’s Law—the Value of Interconnectedness

Metcalfe’s Law states that the value of a network goes up with the square of the number of users connected to it. This is because it is not the individual users, but rather their ability to communicate and interact with each other, that adds value. In the case of modern networks, some of the “users” are enhanced services nodes, but the premise remains the same—the value of the network increases faster than the number of end nodes connected to it.

 

Figure 2—Interconnectedness as the key to a network’s value

As exciting as the prospects of IMS-based services are, it will take years for IMS to become the predominant deployed network architecture, and for IMS-based subscribers to become the majority of end users. The number of fixed-line and mobile telephones is estimated to be in the range of 2 billion worldwide. The number of IP-enabled telephones is a small fraction of that—for example, In-Stat has estimated that 10 million IP phones shipped in 2006 (growing to 164 million in 2010), most of these as part of enterprise networks sitting behind IP PBXs. Meanwhile Ziff Davis has estimated that worldwide VoIP subscriptions will increase from 15.8 million in 2005 to 151.2 million in 2010. Only as we approach 2020 will IMS networks grow (and non-IMS networks decline) to the point where the connectedness between the two domains will become less valuable.

So, even as the number of IMS-enabled subscribers grows (some estimate at rates of 50 percent per year), a key value of IMS-based networks will still be their connectedness to conventional, non-IMS wireline and mobile networks. Likewise, the value of the non-IMS networks will be enhanced by the population of IMS-based subscribers that can access the non-IMS services and subscribers.

The key to this connectedness is signaling. There are many control protocols within IMS—in fact, the IMS specifications exceed 1,500 documents, and cover more than 90 functions and interfaces. The SIP standard, which is the basis of much IMS signaling and control, starts with RFC 3261, but adds 98+ extensions.4 But between an IMS-based network and a conventional circuit-switched network, there is one key signaling protocol—SS7.

This signaling connection is represented in Figure 1 by the link between the SGW (Signaling Gateway) and the CS (circuit switched) Domain. If used to carry ISUP signaling, the SS7 connection supports simple call setup and teardown between the two network domains, giving the IMS subscribers (and other IMS enhanced services elements) voice band connectivity to the 2 billion telephones in the world. Likewise, if used to carry TCAP signaling, IMS subscribers have access to TCAP-based services such as 800 #/Freephone, local number portability, Short Message Service, and non-IMS-based mobile roaming (evolving to fixed/mobile convergence). Similarly, IMS subscribers roaming in non-IMS mobile networks will be able to access some of the home network services via CAMEL and WIN protocols carried atop TCAP to the IMS network’s signaling gateway.

In addition to the value of the basic utility of the SS7 link between IMS and non-IMS networks, the fact is that there are hundreds of billions of dollars invested worldwide in SS7 networks and associated equipment (Service Control Points, Service Nodes, etc.). While new investment in such traditional technologies is flat or declining as carriers move toward IP-based approaches such as the IMS5, the SS7 infrastructure will continue to be used as the signaling backbone for the circuit-switched networks for the foreseeable future. The same SS7-based circuit-switched services that are valuable to the growing IMS population are just as valuable to the already-enormous circuit-switched population, and will remain so for decades.

NMS’s Role in Signaling

For years, NMS has been a leading provider of SS7 technology to vendors of enhanced services solutions worldwide. Our Open Access™ TX family of signaling boards and our SS7 protocol stack are supporting voice, messaging, and test applications on six continents, in over 100 carrier networks.

For leading-edge VoIP services, NMS offers a SIP protocol stack integrated with the Natural Access development and runtime environment. Our SIP protocol software enables any Open Access CG-based platform or PacketMedia™ HMP application to interface with SIP proxy servers and other SIP-based servers worldwide.

NMS is also developing new products for the emerging IMS market. Key among these will be signaling servers that will allow service applications in the IP environment to access the SS7 network, increasing the accessibility (and consequently the value) of those IP-based services dramatically.

For more information on our Open Access signaling products, please complete a brief product inquiry form.


1As specified by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), IETF, and other organizations
2Source: “IP Multimedia Concepts and Services in the Mobile Domain”, by Miikka Poikselka, Georg Mayer, Hisham Khartabil and Aki Niemi
3Source: “IP Multimedia Concepts and Services in the Mobile Domain”, by Miikka Poikselka, Georg Mayer, Hisham Khartabil and Aki Niemi
4See http://www.jdrosen.net/papers/draft-ietf-sip-hitchhikers-guide-00.txt
5Infonetics Research, 11/06

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Product News

Natural Access 2005-1 SP3 is Available for Download


Natural Access™ (NA) 2005-1 SP3 is available for download. The Natural Access Software and Downloads page contains both an incremental install and a full install. The incremental install is convenient if you simply want to upgrade an existing installation. Full installations require that you uninstall any previous versions of Natural Access and are the best choice for new system.

The NA 2005-1 SP3 release includes GA support for the CG 6060C, as well as support for the following operating systems:

Windows® 2000 Professional (Service Pack 4)

Windows 2000 Server (Service Pack 4)

Windows Server® 2003 Standard and Enterprise Edition

Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition R2

Red Hat® Enterprise ES, version 3.0, Update 8

Red Hat Enterprise AS, version 3.0, Update 8

Red Hat Enterprise ES, version 4.0 Update 4

Red Hat Enterprise AS, version 4.0 Update 4

X86 Solaris™ 8

SPARC® Solaris 9 (32-bit, 64-bit, and mixed mode)

SPARC Solaris 10 (32-bit, 64-bit, mixed mode)

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Customer Application

Brasil Telecom


Brasil Telecom has launched a new call center solution with interactive voice messaging, built upon an advanced speech services platform from NMS Communications (NASDAQ: NMSS) and ITIntegration. The project is being supported by NMS channel partner ECIL Informatica. The Brasil Telecom win adds to NMS’s already-strong presence as a leading provider of technologies and solutions for mobile applications and infrastructure in the large, high-growth Latin American market.

The solution is based on ITIntegration’s ObServer platform, which is powered by NMS’s Open Access media processing platforms. ObServer provides an interactive telemessaging system, integrated with the call center. ObServer’s modular architecture allows the addition of new functionality and features as the contact center customer volume increases.

“NMS’s Open Access platforms offer ease of use, flexible technology and an open standards-based development environment, all of which contribute to reduced time-to-market for our customers’ solutions,” said Alex Sobral, CTO of ITIntegration. “Combined with our software, the Open Access-based ObServer platform provides customers an unequaled capacity to create new applications quickly with modular growth capabilities and simplified integration.”

Max Padro, NMS Sales Director for Latin America, said, “The joint NMS/ITIntegration solution allows Brasil Telecom to offer enhanced speech-driven services to its customers now, and quickly and easily scale to meet growing customer demand and emerging network requirements. With the rapid roll out of VoIP we have seen over the last several months, operators must be ready to make a quick and smooth transition to IP. Our Open Access products are designed with that in mind and are at use in converging networks around the globe.”

About ITIntegration

ITIntegration guarantees total satisfaction to its customers by providing customized software solutions for contact center business. Their main solution is the ObServer Platform®, completely based in software, open standards, modular structure, possible change of scale and integration enabled with any open standard solution. Visit www.itin.com.br for more information.

About ECIL Informatica

ECIL Informatica is a leading solution provider for Telecom, Energy and Automation market in Brazil. The company was funded in 1992, and it has been continually investing to offer products with high own value added. Visit www.ecilinformatica.com.br for more information.

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Support Tip

Unrecognized CG 6565C in Chassis without a Telephony Backplane


When you install an NMS CG 6565C board in a CompactPCI (cPCI) chassis without a telephony backplane, the CG 6565C will not be recognized. The CG 6565C must sense the presence of the H.110 bus for proper operation. With some cPCI chassis, the H.110 bus is an option and customers who don’t need the H.110 bus can save some money by omitting this feature. When installed in a chassis without an H.110 bus, you may also see the Hot Swap LED come on and stay on when the CG 6565C fails to detect the presence of the H.110 bus.

This issue can be resolved by turning switch 5 on DIP switch 4 (SW 4) to the ON position on the CG 6565C. This switch is located on the front side of the CG 6565C near the CPU (see CG 6565C manual). Switch 5 disables the H.110 bus detection function when set to the ON position. Please note that this switch function is not available in the CG 6500C, which must therefore be used in chassis with the H,110 bus.

For additional support tips, visit Technical Notes.

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Spotlight Events

Connect 2007 Dates Set for Americas, Europe, and Asia


We are pleased to announce the dates for our Connect Americas, Connect Asia, and Connect Europe events:

Connect Americas
October 2–3, 2007
Boston, MA, USA

Connect Asia
October 17–18, 2007
Guilin, China

Connect Europe
November 7–8, 2007
Madrid, Spain

Registration and hotel details will be made available over the next few weeks. Watch this newsletter for more information or register to keep informed about future Connect events. If you are interested in speaking or exhibiting, please contact Christine Krajewski at +1 508 271 1129.

For detailed information on NMS’s participation in industry events, conferences, and seminars, visit the Events Calendar.

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Web Seminar

Web Seminar



On February 20, 2007,
NMS will present the web seminar

“IMS Applications—What does an Application Developer Need to Know?”

IMS is a standardized IP-based architecture for the convergence of fixed and mobile communication devices, services and networks. The goal of IMS is to facilitate developing, deploying, and billing for, diverse applications involving voice, text, pictures, video, location, presence and other current and future communications network capabilities. Operators are looking to IMS to combine significant ease-of-use for subscribers with common interfaces that drive operator branding. At the same time, network consolidation promises substantially reducing operating costs.

This web seminar will begin with an overview of the evolving world of IMS, and then focus on the current status of real applications involving intelligent SIP IMS endpoints, horizontal IMS platforms that abstract access layers and core services, and network-based IMS services where business logic and application functionality reside. The emphasis will be on end-to-end technical requirements from concept to delivery. What has the industry learned so far? And where are we going?

Who Should Attend

Product managers, systems architects and developers interested in applications that can be deployed on mobile or fixed telecommunications networks.

Register now for this web seminar on February 20 at 11:00 am Eastern / 8:00 am Pacific.

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