The Ever Changing Landscape of Telecom Industry

In today’s communications climate, telecom companies face a unique set of challenges that stem from technology trends and customer demands. Dealing with copious amounts of data while trying to provide innovative products and services that will help retain customers and increase revenue. The service providers are shifting to a new business model, the managed services model.

The world of telecommunications has become very complicated, with dozens of national and regional carriers as well as dynamic and ever changing technological options. How are you choosing the right carrier for your business?

As a Managed Service provider End to End has been dealing with Carriers, ISPs and Hosting Providers for twenty years. We have seen firsthand the challenges that organizations face when dealing with these large engines.
Contracts can take months to sign and once signed the telco sales team is out and in with operations. Usually a whole new set of people you have never dealt with before. People that have little knowledge of what you really asked for, people that follow orders from a piece of paper that was created by another completely separate department. This is no different than the big box store where the name of the game is volume. Less employees handling more product and dealing with more customers to keep prices down. Nothing wrong with that, keeping prices down is how you attract more customers.

Let me shift gears.

Aggregator is a term used in the industry that describes an organization that takes in Wholesale Carrier Services from multiple Carriers or ISP’s and aggregates them into one Network. These aggregators are generally smaller than the large Carriers and ISPs and as a result can usually provide a more customized experience.

Our emphasis has always been on the Managed Service Provider (MSP) role first and everything else, like hardware, second. This focus has enabled us to keep up to date with all of the leading MSP Processes and allowed us to develop unique tools that are truly leading edge in the industry.

The large Carriers and ISPs (Internet Service Providers) have always believed that they are in the “service” business, as the name suggests. Look deeper, though, and you’ll see that the infrastructure investment for the providers has typically been focused on circuits, connection and transport, on bits (Speeds and Feeds). It’s logical, but in today’s changing ecosystem the traditional notion of bits, as the network’s optimum product, is now becoming obsolete.

In the old days (not that long ago) Carriers always included Management, but their level of responsibility was to their demark* and no further.. More recently however the carriers have started to view the network as a platform for applications and not just something that pushes bits from place to place. All these changes are forcing the Carriers to rethink their business model and enter into the real MSP Market to strengthen their competitive position. Aggregators have also seen the value of providing Managed Services to their clients and have started the transition down that path. Circuits First, Managed Services Second.

The challenge that the Aggregators and major ISPs, face is the same. How do you provide managed services that go beyond the demark you have traditionally provided? What if the customer wants you to manage a large switching infrastructure behind the demark, or the Firewall connected to the Internet pipe they have provided. How about the new VoIP Phone system, the phones, wireless with Guest Access, BYOD, and so on? How do you address this ongoing demand for quality to provide full operations support of those services and meet each customer’s quality expectations? The challenge is a daunting one.

For End to End however the challenge to go in the other direction is not so daunting. We have been dealing with the Carriers and ISPs for a long time, so we understand how they operate, and we have been providing managed services since 1993. Moving into the circuit business is not something we have taken lightly. It has taken us a long time to get our Managed Services organization to a point where we are comfortable introducing the circuit component. The opportunity has always been there, it was just a matter of focus.

In fact, what is exciting, is that our Managed Service organization (the NSC – National Support Centre), will not have any additional tasks added to their responsibilities. To the NSC its business as usual. End to End, like all aggregators, is still required to interface with their upstream providers when the circuit goes down.

Aiming to increase the service value and meet the customer’s quality expectations, a Core services group has been created to manage the Provisioning and Support of the circuit business. This group’s responsibility is not only to maintain the circuits but to help integrate these new services with some of our own. This is where the flexibility of an aggregator comes in. For example, our existing Hosted SSL VPN Service offering fits nicely into the circuit business offering, requiring very little change in the way our service is delivered.

We are very excited about this new edge to our business. It falls in line with our Managed Services initiatives and can only help to make us even better at providing a superior customer service experience.

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demarcation_point

In telephony, the demarcation point is the point at which the public switched telephone network ends and connects with the customer’s on-premises wiring. It is the dividing line which determines who is responsible for installation and maintenance of wiring and equipment — customer/subscriber, or telephone company/provider. The demarcation point varies between countries and has changed over time.
Demarcation point is sometimes abbreviated as demarc, DMARC, or similar. The term MPOE (minimum or main point of entry) is synonymous, with the added implication that it occurs as soon as possible upon entering the customer premises. A network interface device often serves as the demarcation point. 

The 3G/4G LTE Challenge for Network Professionals

This post is a long time coming, but I couldn’t keep it inside anymore. 3G and more recently 4G has taken off in a way that has changed the way we communicate. For Handhelds, Tablets and Laptops instant access to the Internet has never been easier. This is a good thing right? Yes, I do not argue that at all.

The challenge I am going to describe is the same challenge Network professionals have had with all new technologies.

Back in about 1995 we would use 56K Leased Lines to connect two offices together. We started to migrate to ISDN (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integrated_Services_Digital_Network) dial up. ISDN BRI offered two Channels each at 64K, giving the customer 128K of throughput. Laughable today, but at the time 128K was awesome.

First there was confusion around the Hardware required to terminate the ISDN. A Terminal Adapter (TA) was required, but there was also an NT1 device that was always required but sometimes built into the TA. Although at the time the information about ISDN and how it worked was not easily available (no Wikipedia back then), we were able to fumble out way through enough to figure out the Hardware part of it.

In the beginning we used a Motorola UTA220 and the configuration of this unit was done with a front panel  LCD display with three buttons – Yes, No and Home. There were many parameters that needed to be set up, some obvious others not so much. If you missed the menu item you were looking for you would have to go back and start over again. Doesn’t sound to bad…The critical parameters of ISDN were the SPID Numbers and the DN’s. Without these in the configuration the line would not come up.

Each carrier required different parameters in their SPID and DN’s. This is where the real confusion started. I am sure the engineer that set it up and designed the system for (in this case) Bell Canada, knew what was required to set it up, but we could not find anyone to help us. All of the documentation we read told us to use the B channel phone numbers for the SPID and DN’s, but we could not get it to work.

Eventually, somehow and I can’t remember how we figured out that Bell Canada required 00 at the end of the phone numbers for the SPID settings and the DN’s required the Area Code as well as the number. How many days went by before we got this info I have no idea……So we got the TA connected and the channels up… Lets make an ISDN call to another TA and create a line….. No such luck. Every time we tried we got a fast busy. Again, I cant tell you how much effort of days went by before someone (Not Bell Canada) decided to dial a 9 before the number and presto we were in business.

Here we are back in 2012 and we have customers and a lot of them wanting to use 3G/4G as a primary in locations were there are no other options and as a backup to their broadband connection. Rogers, Bell Telus, Shaw and I am sure every other Canadian and US carrier is offering 3G/4G, so they are certainly easy to order. But what are you getting?

From the Carrier side you may get any one of the following:

1. A  connection with a private IP address that gets NAT’d to the internet.

2. A connection with a public IP address that gets NAT’d to the internet

3. A connection with a private IP Address that uses a Proxy Server to get to the Internet

4. A connection with a public IP Address that uses a Proxy Server to get to the Internet

OR

A connection with an IP that may be public or may be private that may or may not get NAT’d and/or may or May not go thorugh a proxy server because none of their Engineers, Sales and Operations folks actually know how their 3G/4G network has been designed and deployed.

Then you have the SIM Card / Modem debacle. As you know the SIM card is required from the Carrier to access the Network. In most cases this SIM card gets installed in a 3G/4G modem in the form of a USB stick. Many of the WAN devices now come with a USB slot for just this purpose. Each Hardware Vendor then releases a list of supported USB or Express Card Modems supported. The issue is that these modems are getting changed all the time and the Vendors and Carriers do not seem to be in synch at all.

We have also noticed Regional differences… A card that worked in Ontario with Rogers would not work in Alberta and when we got one working it was Proxying in one place and NATing in the other. WHY? no one knows!

I think there are different sizes of SIM Cards now, which confuses the issue just that much more.

Here is an example of the ongoing confusion from just one Vendor:

Wireless technologies supported (performance and throughput) PCEX-3G-HSPA-G

• HSPA: 850, 900, 1900, and 2100 MHz (forward link up to 7.2 Mbps; reverse link up to 5.76 Mbps)

• Backward compatibility:

• HSDPA: 850, 900, 1900, and 2100 MHz (forward link up to 7.2 Mbps; reverse link up to 384 kbps)

• UMTS: 850, 900, 1900, and 2100 MHz (forward link up to 2.0 Mbps; reverse link up to 384 kbps)

• EDGE: 850, 900, 1800, and 1900 MHz (forward link up to 236 kbps; reverse link up to 124 kbps)

• GPRS: 850, 900, 1800, and 1900 MHz (forward link up to 80 kbps; reverse link up to 42 kbps)

(part number CISCO881G-G-K9 or CISCO881G-K9)

PCEX-3G-HSPA-US

• HSPA: 850, 900, 1900, and 2100 MHz (forward link up to 7.2 Mbps; reverse link up to 2.0 Mbps)

• Backward compatibility:

• HSDPA: 850, 900, 1900, and 2100 MHz (forward link up to 7.2 Mbps; reverse link up to 384 kbps)

• UMTS: 850, 900, 1900, and 2100 MHz (forward link up to 2.0 Mbps; reverse link up to 384 kbps)

• EDGE: 850, 900, 1800, and 1900 MHz (forward link up to 236 kbps; reverse link up to 124 kbps)

• GPRS: 850, 900, 1800, and 1900 MHz (forward link up to 80 kbps; reverse link up to 42 kbps)

• Set for North American bands above global bands

• 3G Firmware is PTCRB Certified and also for AT&T’s network

(part numbers CISCO881G-A-K9 with PCEX-3G-HSPA-US)

PCEX-3G-CDMA-x*

• CDMA 1xEV-DO Rev A (forward link up to 3.1 Mbps; reverse link up to 1.8 Mbps)

• Backward compatibility:

• CDMA 1xEV-DO Rev 0 (forward link up to 2.4 Mbps; reverse link up to 153.6 kbps)

• CDMA 1xRTT (forward link up to 153.6 kbps; reverse link up to 153.6 kbps)

(part numbers CISCO881G-S-K9, CISCO881G-V-K9 and CISCO881G-B-K9)

*S=For Sprint Networks; V=For Verizon Wireless Networks; B=For BSNL Networks

Frequency bands supported PCEX-3G-HSPA-G

• 850-, 900-, 1900-, and 2100-MHz WCDMA bands (HSUPA, HSDPA and UMTS)

• 850-, 900-, 1800-, 1900-MHz GSM bands (EDGE and GPRS)

PCEX-3G-HSPA-US

• 850-, 900-, 1900-, and 2100-MHz WCDMA bands (HSUPA, HSDPA and UMTS)

• 850-, 900-, 1800-, 1900-MHz GSM, bands (EDGE and GPRS)
PCEX-3G-CDMA-x*

• 800 MHz: North American cellular band

• 1900 MHz: North American PCS band
Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card Universal Subscriber Identity Module (USIM) or Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card slot on the PCI Express card (HSPA, UMTS, and GSM)
Antenna connector For Express Card external antenna connection:

• TS9 type connector requires for PCEX-3G-HSPA-G and PCEX-3G-HSPA-US

• SSMB plug-type connector requires for PCEX-3G-CDMA-x*

http://www.cisco.com/en/US/prod/collateral/routers/ps380/ps10082/data_sheet_c78_498096.html

Try and find any of this information on the Carriers web site… Non existent! Is it because they want you to lock into three years and use there modem? I don’t know.

Then there are the rates and policies and fine print. Some of the services will detect multiple devices and block access. Some carriers will block IPSec traffic. Some will not provide warnings once you have reached your usage and then charge you exorbitant rates for your overage.

I know that as this technology matures it will get clearer and clearer until eventually anyone can get it working, but as I said earlier until then, it is and will continue to be a challenge.

Finger-Pointing

One of the most annoying attributes of any solution or integration is when the vendors or suppliers start the finger-pointing process. Some are quick and I mean very quick to point the finger at the other guy, and maybe for good reason. Maybe they ran into that particular issue so many times and it is always the other guys fault.

I find,  mostly with carriers and I won’t name names, that the way in which they finger point is the most annoying. In a recent case, half way through my explanation of the issue the technician interrupted me and told me the problem was with the vendor’s equipment. Did he think he was talking to a moron? Does he really talk to that many morons? I was quick to set him straight, but the finger-pointing continued soon after….

So, I will fast forward to a  call by one of our staff to the vendor to report back that the carrier has indicated it is a problem with the vendor’s equipment. The Vendor listened a little longer than the carrier but the ultimate answer was the finger point back to the carrier.

I have been in this business long enough to know that the only solution to this is the following:

1. Call the carrier.

2. Call the Vendor.

3. Conference them together.

4. Say the following: ‘I neither provide the equipment or the circuit, you two on the other hand do provide the equipment and the circuit. So I don’t really care whose problem this is as long as it is fixed, so lets stop finger-pointing and work together to get to the bottom of this. ‘

I wish I could say that all the two become great friends and happily fix your (their) issue – well they don’t, but be strong…With your help they will get to the bottom of it eventually.