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Addressing the expanding need for

Media Processing in telecoms networks

A Disruptive Analysis thought-leadership paper


Sponsored by:

November 2013
Author: Dean Bubley
Contact: information@disruptive-analysis.com

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Introduction
This document considers the evolving role of media processing (MP) capabilities in
telecom networks, reflecting many operators moves especially towards WebRTC,
but also considering synergy with IMS services, telco-OTT propositions, cloud
services and developer platforms.
As operators adopt more forms of IP communications either transitioning old
services to all-IP networks, or creating new ones it will be necessary to consider
MP as a specific fundamental building-block, and optimise its deployment where
possible. WebRTC is a particular enabler of the democratisation of voice and video
services, which will lead to multiple stakeholder groups and business units within
operators working on IP communications in tandem.
The main argument is that flexibility and scalability are paramount for MP, as the
exact communications applications, their need for media processing involvement
and their rates of growth are hard to predict.
The market for both voice and video is fragmenting in numerous ways, in stark
contrast to the telecoms industry history of one or two main well-defined standalone
services. We are seeing the emergence of numerous models for human realtime
connectivity, and in particular we should expect the integration of communications
within websites and apps as well. While this is a hugely exciting trend and will drive
numerous service creation or development opportunities, it will need a willingness to
experiment to create these new offerings cheaply and effectively. Competitors to
telcos will certainly look to cloud-based platforms pragmatically for the more complex
capabilities, and operators will need to follow suit.
Rather than recreate MP functions for each new service or application, it makes
sense to deploy shared and virtualised MP servers that can be re-used for different
purposes as required. This also fits with the increasingly-popular concept of network
function virtualisation (NFV), and may also reflect the need for intelligent location and
management of MP elements for best latency and transport traffic minimisation.
It is also useful to consider the concept of MPaaS (MP
capabilities are offered just to internal customer units
externally to 3rd parties on a pay-per-use basis. This
providers broader IaaS/PaaS cloud service portfolio, or
centric API initiative.

in the cloud), whether the


within the telco itself, or
could fit with the service
dovetail with a developer-

Either way, the opportunity to create shared MP resources, which can service
traditional requirements such as IMS/VoLTE, plus new innovations around WebRTC
and beyond, seems to be a compelling concept. Obviously, the devil is in the detail,
but the general principle seems elegant and worth deeper investigation.
Note: This document has been commissioned by Radisys, but represents the
independent & consistent viewpoint of Disruptive Analysis (as at time of publication).
Disruptive Analysis has retained full editorial control over the content and stance.

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Background: fragmentation of communications


Historically, the telecoms industry has delivered standardised voice and data
products very well phone calls, audioconferencing, SMS, voicemail, call-centre
services and centrex in some markets. Enterprise business units of telcos have
perhaps re-sold third party videoconferencing, and maybe provided unified
communications and call centre propositions as well. As a result, the IP mediaprocessing needs have been broadly static and predictable.
Although many telecoms companies have discussed the possibility of integrating real
time communications features (especially telephony) with various IT or web
applications, in reality there has been little concrete emerging from most operators.
And carrier VoIP has been adopted only slowly, predominantly on fixed broadband
and in the wholesale domain.
However, recently there have been signs that this might be about to change, over the
next few years, potentially yielding a sudden diversity and fragmentation of the
communications space, both in business and consumer segments.

Figure 1: Communications is fragmenting from historic monolithic silos

Standalone
calls
Circuit
IP

Embedded
app/web
calls

Non-call
comms

Source: Disruptive Analysis

There are several reasons for this:

Telcos are adopting IP-based communications anyway, typically as they


evolve to either fibre (fixed) or LTE (mobile). This may provide a catalyst for
adoption of other services beyond vanilla telephony, as operators look to
leverage investments in NGN or IMS infrastructure.
End users are now clearly happy to experiment with (and sometimes pay for)
new forms of communication. The continued growth of services such as
Skype, Google Hangouts, or even the use of in-game chat in multi-player
games is a strong indicator that customers have transcended the phone call.
And increasingly, users seem willing to exploit video communications, at least
in certain circumstances.

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A new tier of cloud telephony service providers have emerged, which seem
to have captured the imaginations of both developers and (in some cases)
telcos. Firms such as Twilio, Tropo, Apidaze and others are offering APIs and
development kits for the creation of advanced communications services,
either voice- or video-based. These platform vendors are often cooperating
with telecoms firms (and some have even been acquired by carriers), a
promising signal that brings together some interesting hybrid propositions.
WebRTC allows various disparate units of operators to experiment with voice
and video, rather than remain dependent on the traditional core network team
and basic services as building blocks. It reduces the bar to integrating
communications in context with websites or mobile apps. (WebRTC is
considered in greater depth below). It can also be used to extend carrier
services beyond the traditional coverage areas to create scale and utility. This
may enable competition with pure Internet/app players, although there are
few obvious success stories so far.

Taken together, these seem to indicate that we are close to a tipping-point. Certainly,
the messaging industry has witnessed a huge explosion of alternative approaches,
beyond traditional SMS. Something similar seems about to happen to voice as well,
especially as some evidence suggests that younger users are finding the interruptive
nature of phone calls anathema and intrusive. What remains unclear is how fast the
shift will happen, and whether or not we will continue to expect widespread
interoperability between the different services, and whether the landscape will be
characterised by carrier versus Internet competition, or some measure of
convergence of these domains..

What does media processing involve?


For many not directly involved with it on a daily basis, the actual applications of
media processing can sometimes be obscure and hard to grasp. In general, it
involves a network element working with a stream of media (ie voice or video
packets etc) and applying business rules (via applications) and treatments
(enhancing voice or video quality), in order to create a particular function or service.
For example, with videoconferencing, it is critically important to get the speech and
visual streams coordinated and in sync. As they transit the network, the streams may
pick up different delays and latencies, and so need to be recombined properly
(perhaps buffering one part) to make the end-resulting video/voice call acceptable.
Another very important function is transcoding. Fragmentation of codecs between
standards, platform choices, and legacy interworking and enabling communication
between users, regardless of which device and client, is one aspect of this capability.
Even between clients using the same codec, the ability to normalise frame rates,
optimising bandwith, picture size and bit rate adaptation are required for effective
communication. Although WebRTC is hoping to standardise on certain codecs (this is
highly contentious), there will definitely be cases where a stream needs to be
connected to another system such as the PSTN, enterprise communications
systems, or perhaps powerful Internet islands such as Skype or Microsoft. There is
also still quite a lot of Adobe Flash media used, which again will require translation
to/from WebRTC. There will also be new emerging codecs which will be adopted
over time, such as H.265 and VP9.

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Other functions might include recording content, playing/inserting other snippets of


voice and video into a stream, applying quality enhancements to voice or video (eg
echo cancellation or changing image contrast/brightness) and so forth. There may be
value in equalising the volume levels of the various participants on a conference call,
dealing with noisy background distractions and so forth.
In Disruptive Analysis view, there is likely to be an increasing need for media
processing in future. There are likely to be more codecs, more need to interconnect
disparate platforms, more desire to do analytics on voice and video, and obviously
just deal with the sheer extra bulk of video traffic as well as new forms of voice
communication beyond basic phone calls.
Potentially, media-processing is also a fertile ground for developer innovation its
quite possible to imagine an audio or video equivalent of Instagram, for example ,
applying filters or other dynamic effects to audio and video. Inserting adverts,
subtitles and so forth could also be very useful, as well as innovative ideas around
mixing of streams or even extending the idea of media to data applications such as
sensors and telemetry. If media processing becomes available in the cloud as a
network service, accessible via Web oriented APIs, the web services model of
consumption of these resources can be enabled, providing Web application
developers with powerful but easy to use capabilities for innovative services.
Much like in traditional telecom services, not all communications applications will
need extra MP resource some WebRTC sessions are set up directly as P2P from
one browser to another, without intervening servers or gateways. Any additional
processing in that situation will be done locally on the device. But overall, the
indications seem to suggest that a good proportion of the new applications will transit
some sort of cloud or core network infrastructure, at which point MP resources might
be applied.
This is especially true for mobile devices, for which the browser-to-browser model
appears to have significant limitations various other ways to integrate voice and
video are appearing already.

Why is WebRTC so important?


Disruptive Analysis believes that WebRTC (a W3C/IETF standard for realtime
communications on the web) is one of the most disruptive and pivotal shifts in
telecoms technology in a decade.
Championed by Google and many of the leading telecom operators and vendors, it
promises to be the catalyst for many of the promised new forms of voice and video
communications. It should empower millions of developers to embed interactive
sessions into web-pages with just a few lines of Javascript. More than 4 billion
devices should support WebRTC (or something closely similar) by the end of 2016.
At its most basic level, it is often described as allowing the creation of Skype-type
experiences in a web browser - in the context of rich data from the relevant web
page/site - rather than a separate application, and without the need for often-flaky
media plug-ins like Flash. It is designed to be secure, tolerant of network glitches,
and able to work even when firewalls are in the way. But this belies its sophistication,
and also the fact that it works in two modes:

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Peer-to-peer, where the connection just goes directly from user to user,
without the media streams going via a gateway or server in the middle.
Transit via a server or gateway, which can link together multiple users, add
value to the media flows through processing, interconnect with other systems
(eg PSTN, IMS, UC) and act as the pivot for a range of monetisable business
models.

The technology is still undergoing standardisation, but is already appearing in


commercial use-cases in pre-standard form, such as enterprise contact centres,
online telehealth consultations, conferencing and many more. It is supported by PC
and Android versions of Firefox and Chrome browsers. It is also accessible through
non-native WebRTC browsers via plug ins, and used in mobile apps and even
directly in specific devices as well.
(A full analysis of the market and use-cases for WebRTC is outside the scope of this
paper. Disruptive Analysis publishes detailed reports on this topic, and also has
various presentations available on Slideshare. See here for details).
While various similar attempts have been made before to create communications
APIs (notably Adobe Flash Media), WebRTC appears to have a much greater
chance of success. Firstly, much of the basic machinery is available free and opensource, especially the core media engine donated by Google. Secondly, its direct
integration with the web allows communications to be coordinated with context
rather than click to call, for example, the user might click to speak directly to an
adviser knowledgeable about hotels in Venice. Thirdly, the WebRTC ecosystem and
standards domain is very open, approachable and fast it encourages prototyping
and experimentation, fixing problems as they arise rather than waiting for the official
version. Lastly, it is being pulled along by such a broad array of separate groups of
applications enterprise, telco, consumer web, entertainment, even M2M that it is
insulated from practical problems or delays with one group individually.

Figure 2: Installed base of WebRTC-supporting devices, m

Source: Disruptive Analysis, Oct 2013 WebRTC report update

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But perhaps the best indicator of its success paradoxically is that the standard
approach is already fragmenting. Pragmatism is winning over dogmatism. There is
now a lot of momentum around putting voice and video into mobile apps, even
though Apple doesnt directly support WebRTC. The actual specific purity of
WebRTC is starting to look less relevant. There are enough useful open-source bits
(eg the media-engine, encryption and firewall standards), plus assorted WebRTC
cloud platforms/SDKs for developers, that the Javascript API is not actually
necessary in some cases.
As a result WebRTC or at least its very close relatives is moving outside the
browser into 3rd-party APIs for embedding voice/video easily into apps, or
alternatively with more hardcore developers just using the components to create
their own home-brewed RTC solution.
One side-effect of this will be that browser-browser P2P uses of WebRTC may get
overtaken by non-browser cases that transit servers, and perhaps also get
gatewayed to other systems. All things being equal, Disruptive Analysis believes this
may further drive demand for media processing in WebRTC.

Figure 3: WebRTC key use-case status, Oct13

Source: Disruptive Analysis, Oct 2013 WebRTC report update

Another angle to WebRTC is that it allows the streaming of realtime data as well as
voice and video traffic. This could be web-page components between browsers,
sensor data, or a variety of M2M and P2P-type use cases. There will likely be many
surprised with WebRTC DataChannel in coming years. It is as yet unclear whether
such data might also be classed as media from the perspective of the MP
capabilities of the network.

Video will be more important; but how/where?


Few industry observers doubt that video communications (in its broadest sense) will
become much more important in coming years. That will likely fuel a parallel need for
various types of media processing.
What remains unclear is exactly which use-cases will grow fastest and furthest and
precisely the best ways to deliver them. Unlike voice communications which starts
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with basic traditional telephony as by far the most dominant application video starts
with a clean sheet, and several directions for innovation.

Is WebRTC going to be the main catalyst for the creation of new video
communications applications?
Will videoconferencing and calling become pervasive? For businesses
mostly, or for consumers? And as web conferencing has, will it create new,
revenue-generating use cases for remote collaboration?
Will video communications be driven by in-browser uses (eg customer
support on a web page), in-app (similar to todays Skype & FaceTime usage),
or linked to dedicated hardware?
1-to-1, 1-to-many, or groups?
Will we see mashups of video with games or educational tools? For
example, superimposing images of users real faces onto avatars?
Will broader use of telepresence become important for example, a virtual
window linking offices in London & New York, allowing staff to interact as if
they were in the same place.
How much video will transit mobile networks (3G, 4G, satellite etc) rather than
fixed/WiFi connections, and what constraints will that bring?
Will there be a need for much greater amounts of video recording, analytics
and processing for certain applications? If so, will that be carried out on the
device itself, the edge of the network, the core, or in servers in the cloud?
Will most video communications be confined to islands, or will there be a
broad need for interconnection (and therefore transcoding and other
functions)?
How much video communications will be driven by IMS platforms, rather than
pure web or traditional enterprise systems? What about new domains for
video such as TV, M2M or vertical-industry systems?
Will we see a need for video communications acceleration to reduce
latency, like a 2-way version of a content delivery network?
Where will video communications (& processing) fit alongside operators
growing initiatives around APIs, developers and partnerships? Will telcos be
importers, exporters, or traders of video?

The right answer is all of the above, plus probably a lot more.
This presents several problems to a telecom operator wanting to participate directly
in these services, either as an owner and operator, or as a facilitator or hub for thirdparties. Various of the possible tasks and sources of value require some quite
heavy lifting in terms of media processing. One or more services may suddenly
experience viral adoption as well, demanding scaling for the media elements without
necessarily requiring other functions to be expanded as fast. Adoption of a new
codec or new screen resolution could occur almost overnight, further driving the
need for flexibility and capacity expansion.
Disruptive Analysis view is that one solution to this problem is to decouple media
processing as a separate network function if possible, rather than expect to integrate
it with other network elements. A shared, virtualised software MP resource
especially if enabled with appropriate APIs could fit into a broad range of these
scenarios. At one level, it could work as an MRF for IMS applications, particularly
fitting with VoLTE functions and value-add services. But it could also form part of a
standalone videoconferencing or collaboration suite, or as part of a hosted/wholesale
WebRTC platform for developers.

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Implied in decoupling the MP from the application are two key benefits:

The flexibility to build, enhance, and extend applications without constraints,


as requirements and user behaviour evolve in short enabling a general
purpose resource optimised for video to support developers innovation.
Drive operational and capital costs down via resource reuse applying the
cloud model of asset repurposing and elasticity to MP.

Meeting telcos future MP requirements


Operators already employ media processing for various tasks audioconferencing
services, interactive voice response (IVR), call recording, contact centres, and more,
as well as the MRF (media resource function) in IMS networks if deployed.
In a way, the IMS MRF is a similar but more restricted version of what is being
proposed here an MRF is intended as a shared resource solely for IMS-resident
applications, using a traditional and specialised 3GPP interface.
But what is becoming very clear is that a large amount (perhaps the bulk) of future
MP requirements will not be linked to an operators IMS. Some probably will be, but
for those operators pursuing a serious innovation strategy, a virtualised and APIexposed MP resource should be usable by both IMS and non-IMS applications.
That is something of a contentious statement, so it is worth explaining in a bit more
detail. Originally, it was hoped that IMS would be a platform for all future telecoms
IP/multimedia services especially based around voice, messaging and video
communications. Such services would be linked to subscribers numbers, delivered
with managed QoS and the full suite of supplementary and emergency services, and
be federated between multiple carriers and exposed to developers via tightlycontrolled in-house APIs.
Unfortunately, that is not how the industry has evolved. The market reality is that
consumers and businesses have readily adopted non-IMS forms of IP
communications both on fixed networks and mobile. These have included standalone
systems such as enterprise UC, as well as web- and app-based offers that are often
referred to as OTT, exploiting generic Internet connections. There are many
reasons for this, including late time-to-market for IMS (especially on handsets
Disruptive Analysis first wrote about the lack of IMS phones in 2006), different billing
and charging models such as free/freemium, the unconstrained pace of application
development and deployment in the Web / Internet model, and the linking of such
communications tools to other technology ecosystems such as device OSs or
enterprise networks & IT systems.
Many in telecom operators have recognised this as well. Rather than trying to
recreate all services in the network, many now partner with successful UC,
videoconferencing, consumer OTT and cloud telephony players, reselling or bundling
their non-IMS capabilities. Where operators have attempted to create their own
Telco-OTT services, typically this has been achieved on a pragmatic independent
basis too.

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Figure 4: IMS will only be used for some future telecom services

VoLTE &
RCS

Corporate
UC

Video
conf

Network
APIs

Core ntwk
& legacy
voice

Corporate
UC

Video
conf

Developer
APIs

IMS,
slowly

Major
vendors

VC specialists or
WebRTC

3rd party
cloud
comms

IMS as a
platform

Consumer

Business

OTTs

Developers

The Theory

The Reality

Source: Disruptive Analysis

In effect, many telecoms units now effectively disintermediate their own core
network organisations. Consider hypothetically the content division of a telco,
wanting to evolve an existing music download service to support karaoke. Or
perhaps an IPTV unit wanting to create a new form of reality TV. It is highly unlikely
that either of these would be based on the companys IMS core, because it would
prove too inflexible and inaccessible to the bulk of designers and developers involved
in the project. It would also bring with it legacy business models (not least, huge
teams of lawyers) and a tie into a subscription approach which may not be
applicable. It would also probably not easily support certain media features such as
stereo sound, easy fast-forward/pause, offline mode and so forth. The underlying SIP
signalling protocol is optimised as the acronym suggest for sessions rather than
more general forms of interaction.

Telcos WebRTC opportunities


A number of telcos have been early advocates of WebRTC especially AT&T and
Telefonica, and more recently Deutsche Telekom, NTT and Orange. Many others are
watching its evolution, or are participating in standards meetings and conferences.
In a way, WebRTC is a double-edged sword for telcos. At one level, it is a
continuation perhaps a major acceleration of the OTT trend, making it easier to
create new competitive web-pages or apps containing third-party voice or video
intelligence rather than phone calls. But at another level, it allows telcos to play the
same game, creating their own innovative new communications services faster and
more cheaply than before, either on a standalone basis or linked into existing
network and application infrastructure.
There is certainly a big push to integrate WebRTC with IMS, in particular. Most of the
major vendors are working on solutions, and numerous service providers are
members of the relevant 3GPP working group. The most often-mentioned uses are
for the creation of web-phones to accompany VoLTE on other devices, or perhaps
around extension of RCS capabilities to devices which have browsers but lack native
support.

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In Disruptive Analysis view, operators should probably not be putting more than 2030% of their overall WebRTC budget and effort into IMS integration there is so
much more to it, than merely using WebRTC as a front-end to IMS. It is notable that
NTT and Telefonica, in particular, are distributing WebRTC activities more broadly
across their respective groups.
The practicalities of adding WebRTC front-ends to existing telecoms services (or new
ones like VoLTE) are very involved, with many extra moving-parts and touch points
throughout the organisation. Lawful intercept, testing, customer support systems,
product design and creation, OSS/BSS additions and so forth all need to be in place
for addition of WebRTC to mainstream core services like telephony. While all this is
important, it will be hard to rush.
In the meantime, telcos need to experiment with and deploy WebRTC elsewhere too.
Among the concepts already seen discussed include:

Operator ownership of WebRTC cloud platforms & APIs aimed at


developers wanting to create cross-device communications, bridging
browsers and native mobile apps. Telefonicas ownership of TokBox is
probably the most visible here.
Addition of WebRTC-type APIs to existing developer programmes, perhaps
integrated with core telephony services for interoperability as well. AT&T has
evangelised this.
Incorporation of WebRTC into home TVs or set-top boxes, allowing
applications such as interactive education, family gaming and so on.
Use of WebRTC by telcos enterprise divisions, which wish to offer
managed/hosted contact centres, unified communications or other services. It
is worth noting that most telcos have long sold non-core telephony systems
based on vendor PBXs and UC platforms, to corporate clients, so the
philosophical not invented here objection is a lower barrier.
Use of WebRTC within the operators own customer contact and support
functions, eg for communicating with an agent via the self-care portals on the
web or mobile apps.
Links to content or entertainment units, eg adding interactive communications
to music or movies.
Embedding voice or video communications directly into M2M platforms, eg
truck drivers having a speak to warehouse button integrated directly into
their telematics terminal.
Use of WebRTC to make existing attempts at creating telco-OTT or digital
lifestyle apps more effective.

In brief, pretty much any unit of a telco that creates a website or an app should be
thinking about how to exploit WebRTC. As before, choosing winners at this stage is
nearly impossible, but what is certain is that timing will matter. Waiting for the slow
wheels of IMS integration to grind to a result will not help all of these other
opportunities.
In other words telco use of WebRTC should be a microcosm of the wider
marketplace, not just extension of the IMS/SS7 core. It should involve a diverse
group of innovators willing to choose different trade-offs between QoS and time-tomarket, and worry less about interoperability, roaming and other traditional telco
business components. That said, it might also allow telcos to leverage their network
capabilities for prioritising traffic, QoS, compliance, integrated billing and
provisioning, etc., which could have value to certain subscriber segments such as
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business users. Such propositions are very complex to bring to reality, however
many previous suggested use-cases such as 1-800-style reverse billing for mobile
data have proven unworkable. Disruptive Analysis is watching the evolving
WebRTC/policy domain keenly for signs of realistic applications.
And, where possible, it could make therefore make sense for those groups to share
resources such as media processing, rather than each buying its own separate
infrastructure. Clearly, that may pose some organisational complexities of its own
especially if the shared MP function is used for IMS MRF purposes as well as
standalone WebRTC, but it may be possible to retrofit web-APIs to existing softwarebased MRFs to extend their abilities towards other applications.

MPaaS internal & external customers


One possible future direction-of-travel of media processing is found by thinking about
it in a cloud context. Having a virtualised MP resource, together with appropriate,
usable APIs, allows multiple applications to benefit from the same shared
functionality. This then allows it to be scaled up and down in capacity, and also
potentially distributed geographically to help minimise latencies, round-trip times and
so forth.
If presented as MPaaS, then the picture becomes clearer. In a similar fashion to
obtaining storage or compute capabilities from the cloud, the same could be true of
media processing as well.

Figure 5: Shared media processing / MPaaS can serve IMS & WebRTC

Source: Disruptive Analysis

The MPaaS concept can apply both inside and outside telcos:

Internally, having an MPaaS cloud function could enable various 1st party
business units to consume MP capabilities. These units could be regional
operating subsidiaries creating local WebRTC services, the enterprise
communications unit, consumer content and IPTV business, and so forth.
One of the anchor tenants would likely be the core/IMS group which will

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want to use MRF capabilities for VoLTE and perhaps other services such as
videoconferencing (Disruptive Analysis retains serious doubts about the
viability of RCS/joyn, but that would hypothetically fit here too).
Close partners of the operator could also benefit here, with custom
integrations to the MPaaS. For example, a telco may decide to work with a
specialist firm providing WebRTC cloud/API services, or develop a unique
variant of a videoconferencing bridging service. Other examples of 2 nd party
interactions could be vendors offering hosted/managed applications, but
without having the full heavy lifting MP capacity to deal with peaks in-house.
3rd-party customers for MPaaS would look more similar to a traditional cloudservices model. Provided either through a developer portal, or perhaps with
capabilities bundled into telco-provided SDKs, voice and video capabilities
could be offered to long tail application creators or enterprise users. One
scenario might be for large companies wanting to manage peaks/troughs in
videoconferencing usage, offloading peak traffic to an MPaaS provider.

Organisational challenges
While the idea of shared media processing resource, spanning multiple domains and
applications, sounds compelling at first sight, it has to be recognised that it will need
to fit with the real world of telco organisational structures as well.
Historically, operators core network businesses have been very much geared
towards the official, 3GPP-approved route to service infrastructure investment and
deployment. The expectation has been for all or most operators to deploy IMS, and
for that to serve as the basis for most future services and revenue. In reality however,
disparate arms of the operator are already pursuing their own agendas. While IMS is
and will be important for some operators, it will be neither universal nor a lynchpin of
value for others.
Enterprise divisions have partnered with UC and videoconferencing third-party
vendors to offer hosted/multi-tenant platforms rather than build them directly into the
core. Digital lifestyle groups are examining a range of ways to build VoIP or social
apps as differentiators, often with Telco-OTT models and radically different
infrastructure approaches. Vertical units considering educational technology, security
services, developer platforms, interactive TV or even M2M applications are ploughing
their own furrow.
While at some level Disruptive Analysis applauds this decentralisation process, at
some point it seems possible that we will move back to a more coordinated
approach, to avoid duplication of effort and costs but also to retain flexibility and the
removal of traditional telco dogma and conservatism about platforms.
One such approach might be for there to be a new distributed network division,
intended to develop a telcos network in such a way that it could support any or all of
these, at moderate cost and with maximum flexibility. One likely path to that end-goal
comes from the general move towards the programmable telco, with two other
white-hot acronyms, SDN and NFV.

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The rise of NFV & SDN


Alongside the trends towards adoption of multimedia and WebRTC, various other
shifts are occurring in the telecoms industry in terms of network architecture.
Obviously, there is the move towards all-IP access and transport networks, as well as
growing adoption of LTE networks in mobile and fibre in the fixed-line world. WiFi is
becoming ever-more prevalent as well typically managed by venue-owners as an
amenity, but also sometimes integrated with telcos infrastructure.
But perhaps the most important megatrend is the move towards various forms of
virtualisation often referred to as the move to the software telco or the
programmable network.
There are two separate but related angles here:

SDN is the separation in the IP access/transport part of the network of the


intelligence from the heavy lifting of packet-processing. In other words,
functions that were historically integrated in individual routers and switches
are now being disaggregated. The brains of the IP network can dynamically
re-programme the functions of its localised agents.
More relevant here is the idea of network function virtualisation, NFV. This
relates to recreating the various middle-boxes in telco networks in software,
and virtualising them to create greater flexibility and efficiencies. Rather than
proprietary hardware DPIs, optimisation boxes, SBCs, load balancers and so
forth, the idea is to have some or all of these functions running in software, on
commodity hardware. This is very similar to the IT-centric view of cloud
computing. Potentially this could span both consolidated servers in telcos
main data-centres and more-distributed functions deeper in the network (or
even the cell-site) to optimise latency.

The idea of shared media processing functions, as well as cloud-based MPaaS, very
much fits with this wider philosophy, although it was not identified by ETSI as one of
its initial targets for virtualisation. Nevertheless, this paper suggests a rationale for
exactly that to occur.

Conclusion
The communications industry is about to get much more complicated. The age of
monolithic services such as circuit-based phone calls and standalone voice
services. It will be replaced with a much more fragmented landscape of new forms of
IP voice communication, the rising importance of video, and innumerable attempts to
move from standalone calls to app/web-embedded contextual communications.
This presents several challenges to service providers, especially as many are being
forced to invest in IMS infrastructure just to maintain their existing service portfolios in
an era of LTE and fibre. As well as continue with the more classical approach to
voice and/or video, many will exploit the simplicity of WebRTC and cloud
communications to launch new, non-IMS products as well. They will also likely
partner with various 3rd-party vendors, and open up capabilities to various groups of
developers.

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While it is hard to predict which services will ultimately prove winners and losers, it
seems highly likely that this fragmentation will massively increase the need for media
processing in many instances. While not every scenario needs MP functions, many
will do especially if we get incompatibility between various forms of almost
WebRTC as well as a desire to interconnect with legacy systems.
For this reason, Disruptive Analysis believes that some form of shared, virtualised
media processing function makes sense, especially if it can simultaneously service
the needs of IMS (eg the MRF function) as well as being easily-accessible via APIs
to others working on WebRTC use-cases. While this may not happen in its full
incarnation overnight, owing to the practicalities of telco inter-departmental
cooperation, it also fits with the general trend towards NFV and should be considered
by CTOs as a long-term architectural goal.

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About Radisys
Radisys (NASDAQ: RSYS) is a major vendor enabling wireless infrastructure solutions for
telecom, aerospace and defence applications. Radisys MRF (Media Resource Function) and
T-Series Virtualised Platforms, coupled with Trillium software, services and market expertise,
enable customers to bring their products to market faster with lower investment and risk.
Radisys technology is used in a wide variety of 3G & 4G / LTE mobile network applications
including: small cell Radio Access Networks (RAN), wireless core network elements, deep
packet inspection (DPI) and policy management equipment; conferencing and media services
including voice, video and data, as well as commercial offerings for network applications that
support the aerospace and defence markets. www.radisys.com
@radisys

About Disruptive Analysis


Disruptive Analysis is a technology-focused advisory firm focused on the mobile and wireless
industry. Founded by experienced analyst Dean Bubley, it provides critical commentary and
consulting support to telecoms/IT vendors, operators, regulators, users, investors and
intermediaries. Disruptive Analysis focuses on communications and information technology
industry trends, particularly in areas with complex value chains, rapid technical/market
evolution, or labyrinthine business relationships. Currently, the company is focusing on mobile
broadband, operator business models, the Future of Voice, smartphones, Internet/operator
ecosystems and the role of governments in next-generation networks.
Disruptive Analysis attempts to predict - and validate - the future direction and profit potential
of technology markets - based on consideration of many more "angles" than is typical among
industry analysts. It takes into account new products and technologies, changing distribution
channels, customer trends, investor sentiment and macroeconomic status. Where
appropriate, it takes a contrarian stance rather than support consensus or industry
momentum. Disruptive Analysis' motto is "Don't Assume".
For more detail on Disruptive Analysis publications and consulting / advisory services,
please contact information@disruptive-analysis.com . For details about Future of Voice
workshops & publications, please see www.futureofcomms.com
Website: www.disruptive-analysis.com
Blog: disruptivewireless.blogspot.com
Twitter: @disruptivedean
/ @DApremium
Quora: Dean-Bubley

Intellectual Property Rights / Disclaimer


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Ltd.
Every reasonable effort has been made to verify research undertaken during the work on this document. Findings, conclusions and
recommendations are based on information gathered in good faith from both primary and secondary sources, whose accuracy it is not
always possible to guarantee. Disruptive Analysis Ltd. disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such
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