Technology Challenges for Next Generation CLECs

February 13th, 2007 |
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In an interview with PodTech.net at the World Center Marriott in Orlando, Florida, MetaSwitch‘s Chris Mairs, CTO and senior vice president, business development, and Andy Randall, vice president, marketing, discuss the partnership between Cisco and MetaSwitch, the definition of service in next generation networks, and the challenges CLECs face in the 21st century IT climate.

Transcript:

Host: Catherine Girardeau – PodTech

Guest: Chris Mairs – MetaSwitch

Guest: Andy Randall – MetaSwitch

Catherine Girardeau – PodTech

PodTech.net brings you a conversation with MetaSwitch’s Chris Mairs, he is the CTO and Senior Vice President of Business Development, and with Andy Randall, Vice President of Marketing. They’ll discuss the partnership between Cisco and MetaSwitch, the definition of service in Next Generation Networks and the challenges CLECs face in the 21st century IT climate.

Chris Mairs – MetaSwitch

So, I’m Chris Mairs, I’m the MetaSwitch CTO and I’m also the Senior VP for Business Development.

Catherine Girardeau – PodTech

Welcome to the Podcast.

Chris Mairs – MetaSwitch

Thank you.

Andy Randall – MetaSwitch

I’m Andy Randall, VP of Marketing, MetaSwitch.

Catherine Girardeau – PodTech

So, thanks for being here. We’re here at the Marriott in Orlando, kind of a side event to COMPTEL. There was just a breakfast put on by MetaSwitch for some of your customers and business partners. I wanted to talk to you Chris, if you could start with your CTO hat on, to talk about some of the challenges CLECs are facing and kind of the technological challenges, how to develop a 21st century platform as an equipment vendor?

Chris Mairs – MetaSwitch

So, CLECs will always be in the position of needing to innovate and differentiate themselves from the incumbents. The incumbent has the huge advantage of owning the customer base, and the CLECs often moving into a — moving it in a competitive way to take customers away. So, what we need to do is be able to offer innovative services and different service bundles where the customer maybe says, well, the telephone service I get from my incumbent provider is all right, so I’m fine with that, but hey, if I can get that in a single pricing bundle with video as well under some unique data services, then I’m prepared to move in order to take the bundle. Similarly, the CLEC may be able to pick up on a new trend, a social trend, a classic example historically would have been something like text messaging, another one that’s reasonably hot at the moment is presence or custom ring-back, all these new services that come along.

The key is that the CLEC needs to be able to deliver that more quickly than the incumbent in order to be able to move in. So, they need an architecture where they can slot in new services quickly and those services may come from different vendors, so they’ve got services coming from multiple different vendors on different application server platforms. One of the keys here is an architecture such as IMS, and MetaSwitch has for the past two years already had some of the infrastructure in place, it allows those application service to be slotted in, which allows for quick delivery of new services. The key then is how do you blend all that in such a way that the experience for the user is seamless, they don’t need to see that all the different applications are coming from different vendors, and the billing infrastructure is correct, and the operational infrastructure is correct, so that CLEC can actually make money from that. There’s a lot of nuts and bolts in the architecture of the network, and specifically in the architecture of the switch to allow appropriate records to be flown out at the right time and then consolidate back together again, and all the subscriber information to be held in a single repository, which is called the HSS, the Home Subscriber Server, and from there all the different application servers can pull out data relating to a subscriber and offer a joint up solution.

Catherine Girardeau – PodTech

Chris, I’ve question from that. The way you’re presenting, which appears right, is that the CLECs need to be more nimble, need to be faster than the incumbents, and we see IMS has an architecture to enable this, and that all make sense, but then when you look at the headlines, it’s the incumbents who are all making the noise about the move to IMS, and the ones that are embracing this architecture. Do you see a conflict there, what’s really happening in terms of who is adopting IMS and what people are doing with advance services?

Chris Mairs – MetaSwitch

Okay, interesting question. So, if you look at the very big guys, the AT&Ts of this world, then what’s driving them to IMS is a need to replace a very, very, very complex and monolithic network infrastructure with a new architecture, and they’ve settled on IMS as being the right architecture. They are throwing literally billions of dollars at that sort of network replacement, and they need a strong architecture to do that with, and IMS is the best blueprint around to do that with.

For the smaller guys — and IMS may not want to take it in its absolutely purest form and take every single piece and decompose the network to the ultimate level. Nonetheless, it has some very clear differentiation of the network into the control plane transport and the application server planes, and buy that separation out into different plane, that smaller guys can leverage the IMS architecture to give them a better service delivery platform.

Catherine Girardeau – PodTech

You kind of discussed the definition of service for a Next Generation Networks in that last question, is there more to say about that?

Chris Mairs – MetaSwitch

You can’t just deliver plain old voice anymore, you’ve got to be able to deliver new services and you won’t know what those services are today, and certainly you won’t know what services people are prepared to pay for. A classic example would be ringtones on mobile phones. Today, many youngsters expect to be able to download a whole track of music for free, but equally they’ll pay $0.99 or $1.99 for a ringtone on their mobile phone, which is only a small clip of that same track, so how does that work? I don’t understand it, but people do that, and so as a service provider you don’t necessarily — you’re never going to be able to rationalize or prejudge what’s going to happen, but when a phenomenon does happen, you need to be able to make the most of it and make money from it.

Andy Randall – MetaSwitch

I think that points to one of the key things about service delivery is, it’s not just about being able to do these things, it’s about the granularity with which you can build for them as well, and yeah, some things are going to go to bundles, where people pay a monthly subscription fee, another area, it’s moving very much towards having a lot of small cheap transactions, that’s why iTunes does so well selling all these songs at $0.99 each. If a service provider can move into that model, where people in some sense get some kind of service for — a small fee at a time than that’s very much going with the direction that certainly the younger generation are expecting to be able to get access to it.

Chris Mairs – MetaSwitch

So, a good example of that might be, as a residential user, the parents might setup a teen line service, where you have a separate facility on your home phone where if a call comes in for your teenager, it rings to a different — it’s a different number associated with the home phone, and you get a different ringtone for it, and that’s for your teenage kid. Now, what you might want to do is have a package bundle where the teenager gets $10 a month which they can spend either on calls or on text messages or on ringtones, and the single bundle there and the teenager makes the choice. The parent of course is safe, because they’ve partitioned the bundle to $10 a month, but the teenager gets to spend the money on what they want to spend it on.

Andy Randall – MetaSwitch

Most billing systems today wouldn’t be able to let you do that, most carriers can’t deliver that kind of service yet because the billing systems aren’t there and the backend infrastructure isn’t there, so I think that’s what we’re getting to.

Chris Mairs – MetaSwitch

That’s right, so it’s not just the underline protocols which IMS is so heavy on, it’s some of the more sort of prosaic back office stuff like the billing systems which have to be changed to make them much more granular.

Catherine Girardeau – PodTech

As Senior VP of Business Development, you mange overall MetaSwitch’s partnership with Cisco Systems, can you tell me a little bit more about what MetaSwitch is doing with Cisco?

Chris Mairs – MetaSwitch

Sure. So, our relationship with Cisco is primarily a sales partnership. So, both our sales forces are joined up and make joint calls on customers, where we can offer a combination of Cisco equipment, MetaSwitch equipment and possibly professional services from either organization to deliver a total solution. We also have close relationships with Cisco’s product management teams for their various equipment, their routers, their IAD’s, their phones, and through our combination of product management relationships and sales relationships, we can actually deliver effective solutions in the CLECs space, but also in the rural IOC space, and also in cable, we’ve just recently announced a relationship with Cisco in the cable space.

Andy Randall – MetaSwitch

I can talk about that a bit maybe from the customer perspective. I think what we see when we do go out to customers and talk to them about Cisco relationships and do these joint calls with the Cisco team is that, they very much look to Cisco as the incumbent vendor, as the dominant vendor for Next Generation Networking infrastructure. So, lot of our customers, they’re not just making a decision about putting in a soft switch, they’re making a decision about changing their network completely, migrating their network to a Next Gen Core. So, those decisions are very tightly tied together in terms of how do we upgrade our network infrastructure and how do we deliver applications and services on top of that. So, the fact we have that partnership, really enables them to take a holistic view of what they’re trying to do and also obviously makes them feel good about MetaSwitch in that, we’re taking that view that we have to go beyond just the soft switch to make sure that their whole network implementation works. That’s a key driver behind the partnership with Cisco is, to make sure that we’re not just delivering a switching platform, but we work with the routers, with the switches, with the customer premise equipment, Cisco’s very dominant end, for example, IP phones, the world’s largest supplier of IP phones, so that we see very good feedback from the customers about how that relationship’s working.

Chris Mairs – MetaSwitch

Just adding a little bit to what Andy was saying about the technical challenges over Voice over IP network. We have a very distributed switch architecture, where we separate out the media gateway from the call agent and we have redundant call agents, and that’s all great, but if the underlying IP network doesn’t have the appropriate characteristics in terms of latency, jitter and redundant paths, and it’s very complex building a totally redundant IP network. If that infrastructure isn’t there, then whatever we do in a switch is worth nothing, so that’s why our relationship with Cisco is important for us.

Catherine Girardeau – PodTech

Chris Mairs, CTO and SVP of Business Development for MetaSwitch.

Chris Mairs – MetaSwitch

Thank you.

Catherine Girardeau – PodTech

Andy Randall, VP of Marketing for MetaSwitch, thanks so much. At the World Center Marriott in Orlando, Florida, this is PodTech.net.

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