For over a decade delivering on quality of service commitments has been the subject of discussion, because it is difficult. What happens, the conversation goes, if you deliver content to a customer that came from another network, perhaps with a hop in the middle, and something goes wrong? What happens at the moment is that the customer phones you up to let you know and you have to put it right. And it is not your fault.
Guaranteeing Quality of Service is a cornerstone of the customer experience. Get it right and you have satisfied customers, less in-bound calls and less costs. Get it wrong and you have the opposite and you also have to phone your partners and their partners and negotiate some kind of compensation, after the fact. Service level agreements are an obvious, and much used, answer but in a world where content may come from anywhere the logistics are daunting.
One of the organisations involved in the discussions all those years ago was the GSMA and they have done something concrete about it. Several years ago they defined a model they named the GSMA-IPX, to differentiate it from other wholesale models using the same concept that use the IPX name.
It is built, according to the GSMA, on their four founding principles, which “are seen as vital for a successful and sustainable IP Interworking solution:
- Cascading payments
- Efficient connectivity”
It is their solution to delivering IP voice and content, securely, with a relevant quality of service, with the minimum number of hops and at a reasonable price. The key is that it is not accessible from the public internet and therefore entirely under the control of participating operators.
The benefits of the GSMA-IPX scheme are clear. Operators – both fixed and mobile – have the opportunity to use the system, and participate in it, meaning that larger carriers can offer the service to smaller players as well as a host of other players. The ability to deliver quality services in a simpler, more secure way is compelling.
Importantly, it is not simply a technical solution – there is a standard business model built into the solution, the interconnect agreements are based on the simplest interconnect billing model – cascading payments, where each operator in the chain gets rewarded for delivering content appropriately to the next. On top of that, finally the billing is value based. “Thanks to a separate control channel within the IP network, service billing is easy and straightforward.” This is probably one area where we might disagree with the GSMA – billing is almost never straightforward.
The system will certainly simplify the number of hubs and agreements. Different service categories are delivered with standardized, built in quality rules. The aim is to provide simplicity and clarity while increasing the confidence in delivering quality services. Effectively, only one commercial agreement is needed, along with one connection, and because the concept also involves ‘Efficient Connectivity’ no more than two ‘hops’ should be necessary to deliver a service to consumers – anywhere.
Although it makes life simpler, it is not quite time to relax. Things, as we know, have a habit of going wrong. To minimize this, control systems and processes need to be in place and, for instance, Subex’s solution is acknowledged by leading carriers to be a proven, world class example. Interconnect billing systems still need to be flexible, able to handle cost management, reconciliation, dispute management and ‘best’ cost routing. And while the GSMA-IPX is built on the principle that it solves the Quality of Service issue, participants need to know that it does. While it is impossible to remedy lapses and errors in real time, it is certainly possible to monitor in real or near real time, allowing operators to take timely action, with both customers and partners, if quality does drop.
GSMA-IPX is possibly the first example of a ‘standard’ that includes commercial elements and the first that seems to work from the customer back to the network. It is transparent, as each service, such as HD Voice, comes bundled with an agreed level of quality and an agreed price. This means that GSMA-IPX is truly an enabler – of new services and bundles, and of simpler, more flexible agreements.
Confidence in margins and quality at the wholesale level allows you greater flexibility to innovate at the consumer level. Convergent service offerings that include voice, MMS, SMS and a variety of content are now easier to package and deliver, giving you greater visibility and control of business processes. It makes it easier to measure the success of services and products and gives you the flexibility to change them or decommission them quickly enough to sustain customer satisfaction.
With IPX, there are other opportunities for operators and carriers too. 4G backhaul is an obvious one, but there are others – some in the Cloud. One of the unforeseen side effects of the Cloud is that it is producing silos as different functional areas are moved into it. Payments, EBPP, tax, even ERP is moving to the Cloud and as that happens the silos appear. A major opportunity for telcos is to relink the silos in the Cloud, something that BillingViews has called C2C. As we noted, 74 percent of Dimensional’s survey respondents said they felt “value would be gained from integrating various cloud applications” and tying them into a common business intelligence solution that spans multiple clouds. An initiative such as the GSMA’s IPX has the potential to help Cloud based service providers manage these silos using the standard business and technical frameworks. The telecoms industry has the experience to do this. Having created their own silos during the 90s and 2000s, ‘flattening’ silos is a large part of what they have been doing for the past few years.
As long as participants have the systems and processes to monitor, manage and account for the services that they deliver via IPX, we believe it takes the world of standards to another, commercial level, with benefits to everyone in the value chain. If monitored efficiently, it can produce benefits for customers, and for business.