Into the Telecom vortex

“Ten little Indian boys went out to dine,
One choked his little self and then there were nine
Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight…”

From the poem “Ten Little Indians”


You don’t need to be particularly observant to notice that the telecom landscape over the last decade and a half is full of dead organizations, bloodshed and gore. Organizations have been slain by ruthless times and bigger ones have devoured the weaker, fallen ones. Telecom titans have vanished, giants have been reduced to dwarfs.

Some telecom companies have merged in a deadly embrace trying to beat the market forces only to capitulate to its inexorable death march.

The period from the early 1980s to the late 1990’s were the glorious periods for telecommunication. Digital switches (1972-1982), ISDN (1988), international calling, trunk protocols, mobile (~1991), 2G, 2.5G, and 3G moved in succession, one after another.

Advancement came after advancement. The future had never looked so bright for telecom companies.

The late 1990’s were heady years, not just for telecom companies, but to all technology companies. Stock prices soared. Many stocks were over-valued.  This was mainly due to what was described as the ‘irrational exuberance’ of the stock market.

Lucent, Alcatel, Ericsson, Nortel Networks, Nokia, Siemens, Telecordia all ruled supreme.

1997-2000. then the inevitable happened. There was the infamous dot-com bust of the 2000 which sent reduced many technology stocks to penny stocks. Telecom company stocks went into a major tail spin.  Stock prices of telecom organizations plummeted. This situation, many felt, was further exacerbated by the fact that nothing important or earth shattering was forth-coming from the telecom. In other words, there was no ‘killer app’ from the telecommunication domain.

From 2000 onwards 3G, HSDPA, LTE etc. have all come and gone by. But the markets were largely unimpressed. This was also the period of the downward slide for telecom. The last decade and a half has been extra-ordinarily violent. Technology units of dying organizations have been cannibalized by the more successful ones.

Stellar organizations collapsed, others transformed into ‘white dwarfs’, still others shattered with the ferocity of a super nova.

Here is a short recap of the major events.

  • 2006 – After a couple of unsuccessful attempts Alcatel and Lucent finally decide to merge
  • 2006 – Nokia marries Siemens in a 20 billion Euro deal. N
  • 2009-10 – Ericsson purchases Nortel’s CDMA and LTE business for $1.13 billion
  • 2009-10 – Nortel implodes
  • 2010 – Motorola sells networking unit to Nokia for $1.2 Billion
  • 2011 – Internet giant Google mops up Motorola’s handset division for $12.5 billion, largely for the patents
  • 2012 – Ericsson closes a deal with Telcordia for $1.15 billion
  • 2013 – Nokia sells its handset division to Microsoft after facing a serious beating from smartphones
  • 2015 – Nokia agrees to a $16.6 billion takeover of Alcatel Lucent

And so the story continues like the rhyme in Agatha Christie’s mystery novel

And then there were none

Ten little Indian boys went out to dine,                                                                                                                
One choked his little self and then there were nine…”

The Telecom companies continue their search for the elusive ‘killer app’ as progress comes in small increments – 3G, 3.5G, 3.75G, 4G, and 5G etc.

Personally I think the future of Telecom companies, lies in its ability to embrace the latest technologies of Cloud Computing, Big Data, Software Defined Networks, and Software Defined Datacenters and re-invent themselves. Rather than looking for some elusive ‘killer app’ they have to re-enter the technology scene with a Big Bang

As I referred to in one of my earlier posts “Architecting a cloud Based IP Multimedia System” the proverbial pot at the end of the rainbow may be in

  1. Virtualizing IP Multimedia Switches (IMS) namely the CSCFs (P-CSCF, S-CSCF, I-CSCF etc.),
  2. Using the features of the cloud like Software Defined Storage (SDS) , Load balancers and auto-scaling to elastically scale-up or scale down the CSCF instances to handle varying ‘call traffic’
  3. Having equipment manufacturers (Nokia, Ericsson, and Huawei) will have to use innovating pricing models with the carriers like AT&T, MCI, Airtel or Vodafone. Instead of a one-time cost for hardware and software, the equipment manufacturers will need to charge based on usage or call traffic (utility charging). This will be a win-win for both the equipment manufacturer and carrier
  4. Using SDN to provide the necessary virtualized pipes between users with the necessary policies for advanced services like video-chat, white-boarding, real-time gaming etc.
  5. Using Big Data and Hadoop to analyze Call Detail Records (CDRs) and provide advanced services to customers like differential rates for calls etc

Clearly there will be challenges in this virtualized view of things. Telecom equipment is renowned for its 5 9’s availability. The challenge will be achieving this resiliency, high availability and fault-tolerance with cloud servers. How can WAN latencies be mitigated? How to can SDN provide the QoS required for voice, video and data traffic in IMS?

IMS has many interesting services where video calls from laptops can be transferred as data calls to mobile phones and vice versa, from mobile networks to WiFi  and so on.

Many hurdles will have to be crossed. But this is, in my opinion, will be the path forward.

While the last decade and a half have been bad for the telecom industry, I personally feel we are on the verge on the next big breakthrough in telecom in the next year or two. Telecom will rise like the phoenix from its ashes in the next couple of years

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Tomorrow’s wireless ecosystem

The wireless networks of today had its humble beginnings in 1924 when the first mobile radio was demonstrated. It was many years since this beginning, that a completely functional cellular network was established. The earliest systems were the analog 1G system that was demonstrated in 1978 in US with great success. The initial mobile systems were primarily used for making mobile voice calls. This continued for the next 2 decades as the network evolved to digital based 2G systems.


It was around 1999-2000 that ETSI standardized GPRS or 2.5G technology to use the cellular network for data. Though the early data rates, of 144 kbps, were modest, the entry of GPRS proved to be a turning point in technological history. GPRS provided the triple benefits of wireless connectivity, mobility and internet access.  Technological advancement enabled faster and higher speeds of wireless, mobile access to the internet. The deployments of 3G enabled speeds of up to 2 Mbps for fixed access while LTE promised speeds of almost 56 Mbps per second coupled with excellent spectral efficiency.


The large increase of bandwidth along with mobility has allowed different technologies to take advantage of the wireless infrastructure for their purposes.  While Wi-Fi networks based on 802.11 and WiMAX based on 802.16 will play a part in the wireless ecosystem this post looks at the role that will be played by cellular networks from 2G to 4G.


The cellular network with its feature of wireless access, mobility and the ability to handle voice, video and data calls will be the host of multiple disparate technologies as we move forward into the future.  Below are listed some of the major users of the wireless network in the future


Mobile Phones:  The cellular network was created to handle voice calls originating from mobile phones. A large part of mobile traffic will still be for mobile to mobile calls. As the penetration of the cellular networks occurs in emerging economies we can expect that there will be considerable traffic from voice calls. It is likely that as the concept of IP Multimedia System (IMS) finds widespread acceptance the mobile phone will also be used for making video calls. With the advent of the Smartphone this is a distinct possibility in the future.

Smartphones, tablets and Laptops: These devices will be the next major users of the cellular network. Smartphones, besides being able to make calls, also allow for many new compelling data applications. Exciting apps on tablets like the iPad and laptops consume a lot of bandwidth and use the GPRS, 3G or LTE network for data transfer. In fact in a recent report it has been found that a majority of data traffic in the wireless network are video. Consumers use the iPad and the laptop for watching videos on Youtube and for browsing using the wireless network.

Internet of Things (IoT):  The internet of things, also known as M2M, envisages a network in which passive or intelligent devices are spread throughout the network and collect and transmit data to back end database. RFIDs were the early enablers of this technology. These sensors and intelligent devices will collect data and transmit the data using the wireless network. Applications for the Internet of Things range from devices that monitor and transmit data about the health of cardiac patients to being able to monitor the structural integrity of bridges.

Smart Grid: The energy industry is delicately poised for a complete transformation with the evolution of the smart grid concept. There is now an imminent need for an increased efficiency in power generation, transmission and distribution coupled with a reduction of energy losses. In this context many leading players in the energy industry are coming up with a connected end-to-end digital grid to smartly manage energy transmission and distribution.  The digital grid will have smart meters, sensors and other devices distributed throughout the grid capable of sensing, collecting, analyzing and distributing the data to devices that can take action on them. The huge volume of collected data will be sent to intelligent device which will use the wireless 3G networks to transmit the data.  Appropriate action like alternate routing and optimal energy distribution would then happen. The Smart Grid will be a major user of the cellular wireless network in the future.

Hence it can be seen the users of the wireless network will increase dramatically as we move forward into the future. Multiple technologies will compete for the available bandwidth. For handling this exponential growth in traffic we not only need faster speeds for the traffic but also sufficient spectrum available for use and it is necessary that ITU addresses the spectrum needs on a war footing.

It is thus clear that the telecom network will have to become more sophisticated and more technologically advanced as we move forward into the future.

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Spectrum: The Big Crunch is Coming

Published in The Hindu “Scarce spectrum impacts mobile broadband

Published in Voice & Data: Spectrum: The Big Crunch is Coming

The ubiquity of the mobile phone and its ability to access the internet has been nothing short of miraculous. Mobile broadband has had such a powerful impact in recent times that it was described as the “Mobile Miracle” by the ITU-T.

A report by the Broadband Commission (set up by ITU-T and UNESCO) says that mobile users grew from 740 mn in 2000 to 5 bn in 2010, of which 1.8 bn were mobile broadband users. And this report says that for a 10% increase in mobile penetration, there is an increase of 1.38% in the GDP of the region.

Powerful smartphones, extremely fast networks, content-rich applications, and increasing user awareness, have together resulted in a virtual explosion of mobile broadband data usage. This explosion has begun to ring warning bells the world over. For it is predicted that with the existing spectrum availability, the world will run out of spectrum capacity by the middle of this decade.

The reasons behind this are fairly obvious. The growth in mobile data traffic has been exponential. According to a report by Ericsson, mobile data is expected to double annually till 2015. Mobile broadband will see a billion subscribers this year (2011), and possibly touch 5 bn by 2015.

According to IDATE, a consulting firm, the total mobile data will exceed 127 exabytes (an exabyte is 1018 bytes, or 1 mn terabytes) by 2020, an increase of over 33% from 2010.

There are 2 key drivers behind this phenomenal growth in mobile data. One is the explosion of devices-smartphones, tablet PCs, e-readers, laptops with wireless access. All these devices deliver high-speed content and web browsing on the move. The second is video. Over 30% of overall mobile data traffic is video streaming, which is extremely bandwidth hungry. The rest of the traffic is web browsing, file downloads, and email.

The growth has been fuelled by advances in wireless technology, as it evolved from EDGE, HSPA to LTE. There’s high growth of HSPA networks in the US, Canada and Latin America. And there will be over 25 operators with commercial deployments of LTE by 2015. EDGE, HSPA, and LTE have been enabling the delivery of extremely high-speed data to and from the internet and between devices.
However the ability to squeeze more and more bits per hertz of spectrum comes with additional costs and increased complexity. And despite all the advances, there is a technological limit to the bandwidth possible in the existing spectrum. This upper bound is determined by Shannon’s theorem, which provides the theoretical limits to the capacity of a channel for sending or receiving data.

Given the current usage trends, coupled with the theoretical limits of available spectrum, the world will run out of available spectrum for the growing army of mobile users. The current spectrum availability cannot support the surge in mobile data traffic indefinitely, and demand for wireless capacity will outstrip spectrum availability by the middle of this decade.

According a report published by the International Telecommunication Union–Radio (ITU-R), the spectrum requirement for regions in the world will be between 500 MHz and 1 GHz by 2020. The demand for spectrum bandwidth, based on average mobile broadband spectrum usage, clearly indicates that this demand will exceed the supply of spectral capacity by the middle of 2014.
Mobile Spectrum is a scarce resource and the governments of all the nations must work to optimize the usage of this resource. The ITU-R allocates spectrum frequencies for the use of various countries. In this context, the NGMN alliance (a global alliance of operators) states that “a timely and globally aligned spectrum allocation policy will play a key role in the development of a viable ecosystem on a national, regional and global scale, whose benefits will last well beyond the next decade”. Hence, there is a need for global harmonization in spectrum allocation, to prevent fragmentation, and to promote innovation for the next generation of networks.

The issue of spectrum scarcity is the real problem which must be addressed immediately by all nations going forward, given the fact that it typically takes some 6 years for spectrum to be operational, from the time it is allocated.

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Technology Trends – 2011 and beyond

There are lots of exciting things happening in the technological landscape. Innovation and development in every age is dependent on a set of key driving factors namely – the need for better, faster and cheaper, the need to handle disruptive technologies, the need to keep costs down and the need to absorb path breaking innovations. Given all these factors and the current trends in the industry the following technologies will enter mainstream in the years to come.

Long Term Evolution (LTE): LTE, also known as 4G technologies, has been born out of the disruptive entry of data hungry smart phones and tablet PCs. Besides, the need for better and faster applications has been the key driver of this technology. LTE is a data only technology that allows mobile users to access the internet on the move.  LTE uses OFDM technology for sending and receiving data from user devices and also uses MIMO (multiple-in, multiple out). LTE is more economical, and spectrally efficient when compared to earlier 3.5G technologies like HSDPA, HSUPA and HSPA. LTE promises a better Quality of Experience (QoE) for end users.

IP Multimedia Systems IMS): IMS has been around for a while. However with the many advances in IP technology and the transport of media the time is now ripe for this technology to take wings and soar high. IMS uses the ubiquitous internet protocol for its core network both for media transport and for SIP signaling. Many innovative applications are possible with IMS including high definition video conferencing, multi-player interactive games, white boarding etc.

All senior management personnel of organizations are constantly faced with the need to keep costs down. The next two technologies hold a lot of promise in reducing costs for organizations and will surely play a key role in the years to come.

Cloud Computing: Cloud Computing obviates the need for upfront capital and infrastructure costs of organizations. Enterprises can deploy their applications on a public cloud which provides virtually infinite computing capacity in the hands of organizations. Organizations only pay as much as they use akin to utilities like electricity or water

Analytics: These days’ organizations are faced with a virtual deluge of data from their day to day operations. Whether the organizations belong to retail, health, finance, telecom, or transportation there is a lot of data that is generated. Data by itself is useless. This is where data analytics plays an important role. Predictive analytics help in classifying data, determining key trends and identifying correlations between data. This helps organizations in making strategic business decisions.

The following two technologies listed below are really path breaking and their applications are limitless.

Internet of Things: This technology envisages either passive or intelligent devices connected to the internet with a database at the back end for processing the data collected from these intelligent devices. This is also known as M2M (machine to machine) technology. The applications range from monitoring the structural integrity of bridges to implantable devices monitoring fatal heart diseases of patients.

Semantic Web (Web 3.0): This is the next stage in the evolution of the World Wide Web. The Web is now a vast repository of ideas, thoughts, blogs, observations etc. This technology envisages intelligent agents that can analyze the information in the web. These agents will determine the relations between information and make intelligent inferences. This technology will have to use artificial intelligence techniques, data mining and cloud computing to plumb the depths of the web

Conclusion: Creativity and innovation has been the hallmark of mankind from time immemorial. With the demand for smarter, cheaper and better the above technologies are bound to endure in the years to come.

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The Future of Telecom

Published in Voice & Data – Bright Future

Introduction: The close of the 20th century will long be remembered for one thing. The dotcom bust followed by the downward spiral of many major telecom and technology companies. For those who believe in the theory of the 12 year economic cycle this downturn is right about to end and we should see good times soon. Even otherwise there is good news for those in the telecom domain. We could shortly be witness to golden years ahead. There are many signs that seem to indicate that the telecom industry is on the verge of many major breakthroughs. Technologies like LTE, IMS, smartphones, cloud computing point to interesting times ahead. In fact telecom is at a inflexion point when the fortunes seem to be pointed northward. This article looks at some of the promising technologies which are going to bring back the sunshine to telecom.

3G Technologies –Better Quality of Experience (QoE): The auction of the 3G spectrum ended after 131 days of hectic bidding for this cutting edge telecom technology. 3G promises a whole new customer experience backed by extremely high data speeds. 3G promises download speed of up to 2 Mbps for stationary subscribers and 384 Kbps for moving subscribers. It is very clear that such high data speeds will inspire a host of new and exciting applications. Applications that span location based services (LBS), m-Commerce and NFC communications will be simply be irresistible to the users. Moreover the ability to watch video clips or live action on mobile TV or on laptops enabled with 3G dongles will have a lot of takers for 3G technology. App stores for 3G are bound to do a roaring business as 3G takes off in India.

Smartphones – The game changers: In the last decade or so in the telecom industry no other invention has had such a disruptive effect in the telecom domain as smartphones. Smartphones like the IPhone, Droid or Nexus One have changed the rules of the game. The impact of smartphone has been so huge that it actually spawned an entire industry of developers who developed applications for smartphones, content developers and app stores. The irresistible appeal of smartphones is the ease of use and the ability to browse the net as though they were using a normal data connection.  Users can watch youtube clips, play games or chat on the Smartphone.

IP Multimedia Systems (IMS) – Digital Convergence:  IP Multimedia System (IMS) , based on 3GPP’s Release 5 Specification in 2005, has been in the wings for quite some time. The IMS envisions an access agnostic telecommunication architecture that will use an all-IP Core for the transport of medium be it voice, data or video. IMS uses SIP protocol for signaling between network elements and SDP for exchanging media between applications.  The IMS architecture promises a whole slew of exciting application ranging from high quality video conference, high speed data access, white boarding or real time interactive gaining.  IMS represents a true convergence of the telecom wireless concepts with the data communication protocols. The types of services that are possible with IMS will be only limited by imagination. With the entry of smartphones and tablet PCs, IMS is a technology that is waiting to happen and will soon become prime time

Long Term Evolution (LTE)Blazing Speeds: Already there are upward of 5 billion mobile devices and a report from Cisco states that the total data navigating the net will exceed ½ a zettabyte (1021) by the year 2013. The exponential growth of data and the need to provide even higher Quality of Experience (QoE) led to the development of the LTE. LTE is considered 4G technology. LTE promises speeds anywhere between to 56 Mbps to 100 Mbps to users enabling unheard of speeds and applications.  What makes  LTE so attractive is that it promises better spectral efficiency and lower cost per bit than 3G networks. The competing technology for LTE is WIMAX which is also considered as 4G. But LTE has a better evolution path from 3G networks as opposed to WiMAX, While LTE is a packet only network there are sound strategies for handling voice traffic with LTE.  The standards body 3GPP offers two options for handling voice. The first is the Circuit switched (CS) fallback to 2G/3G network. In this scenario data access will be through the packet network of LTE while voice calls will use legacy 2G/3G voice networks. The other alternative is the switch voice traffic to the IMS network with its all-IP Core. This method is supported by the One Voice initiative of many major telecom companies and accepted by GSMA.  This strategy for handling voice through an IMS network is known as VoLTE (Voice over LTE)

Internet of Things- Towards a connected World:  “The Internet of Things” visualizes a highly interconnected world made of tiny passive or intelligent devices that connect to large databases and to the internet. This technology promises to transform the network from a dumb-bit pipe to a truly “computing” network. The Internet of Things or M2M (machine-to-machine) envisages an anytime, anywhere, anyone, anything network. The devices in this M2M network will be made up of passive elements, sensors and intelligent devices that communicate with the network. The devices will be capable of sensing, identifying and responding to changes in the immediate environment. Radio Frequency Identification (RFIDs) is one of the early and key enabler of this technology. The uses for this technology range from warning when the structural integrity of bridges is compromised to implantable devices in heart patients warning doctors of possible heart attacks.  The impact of the Internet of Things will be far-reaching. There are numerous applications for this technology. In fact, ubiquitous computing or the Internet of Things allows us to distribute processing power and intelligence throughout the network into a kind of ambient intelligence spread across the network. This technology promises to blur the lines between science fiction and reality.

App StoresThe final verdict:  The success of App Stores in the last couple of years has been nothing short of phenomenal. It is a complete ecosystem with App Store Developers, App Stores, and the Content Developers and Service Providers.  Apps and App stores have changed the rules of the game so completely. No longer is a mobile phone’s snazzy looks enough for it to be a best seller.  The mobile should be supported by cool downloadable apps for the user to use.  App Stores and apps will play an increasingly important role with apps being developed for smartphones and tablet PCs.  There are bound to be several interesting apps spanning technologies like   Location Based Service (LBS), mobile Commerce, eTicketing, Near Field Communication

Cloud Computing – Utility computing: Cloud Computing has been around some but is slowly gaining more and more prominence. Cloud computing follows a utility model for computing where the cloud user only pays for the computing power and storage capacity used. Cloud computing not involve any upfront Capacity expenditure (Capex).  Users of public clouds like EC2, App Engine or Azure can pay according to the usage of the resources provided by the cloud. Cloud technologies allow the CSPs to purchase processing power, platforms, and databases almost like a utility like electricity or water.  The cloud exhibits an elastic behavior and expands to accommodate increasing demands and contracts when the demand drops. Cloud computing will be slowly be adopted by more and more organizations and enterprises in the years to come.

AnalyticsMining intelligence from data:  Nowadays organizations all over are faced with a deluge of data.  For raw data to be useful it has been analyzed, classified and important patterns determined from the data. This is where data mining and analytics come into play. Analytics uses statistical methods to classify data, determine correlations, identify patterns, and highlight and detect key trends among large data sets. Analytics enables industries to plumb the data sets through the process of selecting, exploring and modeling large amount of data to uncover previously unknown data patterns. The insights which analytics provides can be channelized to business advantage. Data mining and predictive analytics unlock the hidden secrets of data and help businesses make strategic decisions. Analytics is bound to become more common and will play a predominant role in all organizations in the years to come.

Internet TVHot off the net:  If IMS represents the convergence of Telecom and the internet, Internet TV represents the marriage of TV and the internet. Internet TV is a technology whose time has come. Internet TV will bring a whole new user experience by allowing the viewer to be view rich content on his TV in an interactive manner. The technology titans like Apple, Microsoft and Google  have their own version of this technology. Internet TV combines TV, the internet and apps for this new technology.  Internet TV is bound to become popular with complementary technologies like IMS, LTE allowing for high speed data exchange and the popularity of websites like Youtube etc. Internet TV will receive a further boost from apps of smartphones and tablet PCs

IPv4 exhaustion – Damocles’ sword: While the future holds the promise of many new technologies it is also going throw a lot of attendant challenges. One serious problem that will need serious attention in the not too distant future is the IPv4 address space exhaustion.  This problem may be even more serious than the Y2K problem. The issue is that IPv4 can address only 2 32 or 4.3 billion devices. Already the pool has been exhausted because of new technologies like IMS which uses an all IP Core and the Internet of things with more devices, sensors connected to the internet – each identified by an IP address. The solution to this problem has been addressed long back and requires that the Internet adopt IPv6 addressing scheme. IPv6 uses 128-bit long address and allows 3.4 x 1038 or 340 trillion, trillion, trillion unique addresses. However the conversion to IPv6 is not happening at the required pace and pretty soon will have to be adopted on war footing. It is clear that while the transition takes place, both IPv4 and IPv6 will co-exist so there will be an additional requirement of devices on the internet to be able to convert from one to another


Technologies like IMS, LTE, and Internet TV have a lot of potential and hold a lot of promise.  We as human beings have a constant need for better, faster and cheaper technologies. We can expect a lot of changes to happen in the next couple of years. We may once see rosy times ahead for telecom as a whole

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