In its open meeting today, the FCC is discussing Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposed approach to the IP transition process, which will determine how competitive and incumbent networks are interconnected once TDM networks are completely replaced by IP. Ahead of this process, however, a diverse coalition of carriers has succeeded in developing the technical interconnection requirements for voice services, and is now moving into the second phase of that process.
The coalition is the creation of Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) and the SIP Forum , two groups who came together to address technical interconnection issues in the wake of the US National Broadband Plan, and earlier this summer ratified two key documents, which together define the first standardized IP-based network-to-network interconnection (NNI). The next phase, says Richard Shockey, chairman of the SIP Forum, will be to test and validate the work of the initial phase, but also to address where value can be added in an all-IP network, as the industry moves to adopt a New IP approach that is scalable and delivers new services and new value.
"Everybody was extremely happy with the process," Shockey claims, in an interview with Light Reading. "It wasn't about AT&T and Verizon, or what just the incumbents want, it was an open industry-wide consensus-driven product."
The group was co-chaired by executives from AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), but included representatives from both competitive carriers and rural carriers, he says. One thing the group carefully avoided was "anything that looked like policy," recognizing there are still concerns around how interconnection plays out in the IP transition process. Chief among those are whether or not rural carriers and competitors are going to find themselves having to backhaul traffic to a limited number of interconnection points provided by the incumbents. There are also issues around the retirement of the legacy copper network, which technically speaking are totally separate of the IP transition, though the two things are often lumped together in the policy debates.
Regardless of how the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) handles those potential controversies, the industry needed a standard solution for how the actual interconnection takes place and that is what the ATIS/SIP Forum IP-NNI Joint Task Force set out to do about two years ago. The two documents it ratified and published earlier this summer include:
- An IP Interconnection Profile, which lays out the reference architecture and both protocol and media specifications for what is delivered at interconnect points. It is available here from ATIS or here from the SIP Forum.
- An IP Interconnection Routing Report, which defines how the preferred IP interconnection point is identified for a given phone number. This addresses how numbering databases will be used going forward. It's available here from ATIS or or here from the SIP Forum.
These are both supporting voice services, but they lay the groundwork for real-time communications services, according to Susan Miller, president of ATIS. In a statement, she pointed to the possibility of new services including "high-definition voice, point-to-point video calling and multimedia text across wireless, wireline and cable providers."
Voice remains a $140 billion business across all platforms, says Shockey, who also works as a private consultant. "Whether it's mobile, enterprise, residential landline or cable, voice is a service customers have paid for willingly for some time," he says. "And one of the things we need to do is move it to all-IP and protect the business itself from being technologically obsolete, to a certain extent."
Where things get more interesting for network service providers, however, is in the newer services such as point-to-point video, enhanced voice calling, multimedia text and unified communications from desktop to mobile devices through voice over LTE, RCS and other platforms. Those are things that could generate additional revenue, he notes.
Today's interconnections are one-off affairs between carriers that still involve very manual processes that don't scale, Shockey notes, which is why the North American industry came together on this effort.
There is also the opportunity to address a few of the problems that have arisen in the IP world, such as number spoofing and the rise of "robocalls," which is becoming an enormous problem for the FCC, which is getting 200,000 complaint calls a month about this.
One of the possibilities is to deliver more information with an incoming call than the number, including logos, pictures, addresses or other things, to validate the call is actually coming from the number specified, Shockey says.
"So if a call comes into your mobile phone and it is from your doctor, it might have your doctor's picture and a message that says it's validated" by your wireless provider, he says. Currently, the presence of IP gateways into the public switched network has made it relatively easy to spoof numbers, which is what robocallers do to prevent detection and get through to consumers. Using SIP data, however, it would be possible for carriers to verify the origin of a call when it is passed from one carrier to another, which would make number spoofing impossible, Shockey says.
"Basically, we would be using public key encryption, lifting technology from ARIN and others to prevent IP address spoofing in the BGP routing tables, and applying it to the phone networks," he comments.
Phase 2 is already underway, and its charter is posted on the SIP Forum website.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading