The last five years have seen unprecedented changes in the mobile industry, in particular in the equipment supply chain.
Pursuit of an all-IP future has seen development in TDM network equipment halted, and loss of the specialist skills required to enhance proprietary infrastructures. With 90% of all telco revenues still generated by person-to-person (P2P) communications — namely voice and SMS delivered over traditional TDM — the idea of an all-IP network looks a significant risk in the current market.
However, a combination of heritage telco and new internet technologies offers a pragmatic escape route for the stranded service provider.
Back in 2004-05, the road ahead was IP-based mobile communications services. Vendors jumped to create solutions that service providers, looking at an increasingly bleak future for voice (the current number-one revenue generator), enthusiastically accepted.
Research dollars were reassigned to IP solutions and support for legacy kit, like those of the first-generation Intelligent Network (IN), has subsequently been “end-of-lifed”. Consolidation has also left many vendors with “two of everything”, an unenviable position in any industry under price pressure. As a result, duplicated equipment lines have been terminated and hundreds of legacy-skilled engineers have been lost to natural wastage, redundancy and retraining.
But then 2008 came around and the global economy nose-dived. Reducing network capex and opex is no longer a priority, but a necessity.
Large core-network projects are being scaled down, migration strategies are heavily scrutinized, and the all-IP future originally envisaged by both the vendors and service providers couldn’t be further away. Today we have a generation of established providers with an incredibly uncertain future, stranded in no-man’s land between the business imperative to create innovative and compelling services for today’s consumers, but struggling to do so on existing heritage (and end-of-lifed) infrastructure — without either the product support or the in-depth technical understanding of the network that has, historically, characterised their relationship with the vendor.
Amid all this change remains one underlying constant: today’s established mobile service providers offer the same set of services, based on the same (or similar) network technologies as their competitors – i.e. the Intelligent Network (IN) architecture and SS7 signalling.