John C. Tanner
As the internet moves more and more into the mobile realm, mobile in turn is moving more and more into the era of all-IP networks. Much of this is being driven by the rise of LTE, which is ostensibly an all-IP proposition. More to the point, however, with worldwide mobile data traffic set to increase 13-fold between 2012 and 2017, reaching 11.2 exabytes per month, according to Cisco Systems’ Visual Networking Index, cellcos are under pressure to address data service delivery not only on their own networks, but beyond them via roaming services. Complicating the issue is the fact that most cellcos have to support roaming for all-IP services while also supporting legacy voice, SMS and data services at home and abroad.
The mobile industry’s default solution to the problem is IPX (IP Exchange), a concept spearheaded by the GSM Association that promotes common specs for end-to-end IP traffic delivery and quality of service that gives cellcos a cost-effective way to manage LTE services across networks.
When Telecom Asia first researched the topic of IPX in 2011, there was a lot of interest in IPX but comparatively little activity. At that time, the majority of operators were in the planning stages of IPX, with deployments expected in the next one to three years, pending the outcome of trials with partners, and to an extent depending on the progress of LTE rollouts, as many operators saw LTE as the major driver for IPX. Also, there was considerable debate over what counted as “true” IPX.
Things have progressed quite a bit in the last two years, as LTE rollouts have accelerated and as a number of IPX providers have arisen to help cellcos connect their LTE roaming traffic quickly without going through the laborious process of bilateral agreements.
In 2013 alone we’ve seen a lot of activity surrounding IPX. In July, for example, PCCW Global launched an HD video calling service for enterprise customers and carrier partners over its IPX. The month before that, BICS said it had performed the first intercontinental LTE roaming connection over IPX between Europe and Asia after enabling Swisscom’s LTE users to roam to South Korea, while Tata Communications and Telecom Italia Sparkle implemented what they billed as the world’s first LTE roaming peering between two IPX providers, enabling both carriers to exchange LTE roaming traffic on their respective IPX platforms.
SAP Mobile Services, which enabled the first commercial LTE roaming service between Globe Telecom and China Mobile Hong Kong late last year, entered into an IPX peering agreement in August with Etisalat UAE, the largest operator in the Middle East and Africa, to deliver LTE roaming traffic to all of its mobile operators.