But with mobile voice minutes under price pressure, and with the emergence of feature-rich IP services in the wireline world, the industry could be about to hit a ceiling. And unless mobile operators find a way to manage the transition to converged wireless/wireline services, revenues are set to flatline over the next 10 years: So finds the latest Unstrung Insider report, Routes to Roam: Mobile Core Convergence.
At heart, the successful convergence strategy will require mobile carriers to develop and leverage service-aware core networks and somehow insert themselves into the application delivery-chain regardless of the user’s access network. One of many starting points is the development and selection of mechanisms to bring alternative access networks, such as wireless LAN, broadband, or the corporate LAN, into the mobile domain.
The next-gen core network, under development by the Nokias and Ciscos of the world, is a major asset for mobile operators. Traditionally, the core serves calls and data sessions to and from mobile devices attached to the operator's own radio access network (RAN) and interfaces with other mobile networks, the PSTN, and IP networks. The future vision is for a mobile packet core capable of delivering service to subscribers wanting to access applications from generic IP access networks.
The question, then, is how can alternative access networks be ported to the mobile core and keep the operator in the driver's seat as new IP-based converged services take off?
Broadly speaking, there are four or five options under consideration by vendors and operators:
- WLAN-3G integration scenarios, as envisaged by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) and implemented by startups such as Azaire Networks Inc.
- Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) technology (now absorbed into the 3GPP), as envisaged by startup Kineto Wireless Inc. and backed – somewhat half-heartedly – by a slew of major vendors, including Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)
- Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) gateways to the mobile core, championed, from the mobile operator perspective, by BridgePort Networks Inc. and its MobileIGNITE Alliance. Rival offerings come from vendors like NewStep Networks.
- PBX-to-mobile gateways focused on the enterprise (see the Motorola-backed SCCAN Forum, for example) or wireline-focused systems from the likes of LongBoard Inc.
What unites all these approaches is the desire to ultimately conform and add value to the IMS (IP multimedia subsystem) network architectures being investigated – and in many cases deployed – by operators the world over. With Convergence, as with Rome, there’s more than one way to get there, but all paths should eventually lead to the same destination.
— Gabriel Brown, Chief Analyst, Unstrung Insider
The report, Routes to Roam: Mobile Core Convergence, is available as part of an annual subscription (12 monthly issues) to Unstrung Insider, priced at $1,350. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.unstrung.com/insider.