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Rich Tehrani’s (News - Alert) ’s Executive Suite is a monthly feature in which leading executives in the VoIP and IP Communications industry discuss their company’s latest developments with TMC (News - Alert) president Rich Tehrani, as well as providing analysis on industry news and trends.

recently took the time to speak with Sridhar Ramachandran, co-founder and CTO of NexTone about the company’s session border controller products, as well as how the move to IMS is changing the telecom industry.

Sridhar Ramachandran


Sridhar Ramachandran


NexTone’s Sridhar Ramachandran

Service providers today are faced with the reality that they must offer a host of multimedia services in order to compete, and they must be able to introduce new services quickly and efficiently, which also means they must be well equipped to manage network traffic better as subscribers access these next generation services.

What this new era of IMS-based network architectures and multimedia communications capabilities has affected is an alteration in the way service providers manage and bill for traffic. They can no longer simply consider bandwidth or minutes; instead, they have to managed individual sessions in order to not only enable accurate tracking, billing and troubleshooting, but also to effectively optimize their networks to ensure quality and reliability of their services.

NexTone has built its business on enabling its customers to manage and control their network traffic, especially at the individual session level. With NexTone components, they are able to deploy and manage new real-time IP service with ease and reliability.

RT: What is the current state of the session border controller (SBC) market?

SR: The SBC market is a growing marketplace. According to Infonetics Research, it is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 44 percent and is expected to exceed $550 million in 2010. A number of vendors provide SBC products, and NexTone is one of the leaders in the space. NexTone enunciated the problem of VoIP peering, pioneered the solution, and hence created the product category back in 2002.

RT: How is NexTone different from other vendors in the space?

SR: NexTone fundamentally believes that, in this age of standardization, form and flexibility are differentiators in the marketplace. When we set out to build our product, we deliberately used these two dimensions of form and flexibility not only as differentiators, but also to give us a substantial competitive edge. As a philosophy, we did not invest in building proprietary and custom hardware to run our software. Instead, we leveraged best-of–breed, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware components. This has paid off tremendously, as today we can claim the highest performance of any SBC solution in the market. This philosophy also gives us the advantage of being able not only to scale down and embed our SBC software in any smaller hardware, such as CPE devices, but also to integrate with other network elements such as routers, B-RAS, and more.

As VoIP services started to take hold, the issue of interoperability between network operators reared its head, challenging service reach. This is a hard multidimensional problem to solve. The flexibility we architected into our software solution breaks down this problem so that NexTone’s customers can enjoy unprecedented service reach. NexTone’s advantage in solving the interoperability problem comes from a set of fundamental principles that helped drive a flexible software architecture. We follow through in our Interop Lab by using proven processes for multi-vendor and multi-network interoperability.

RT: What is your view on current market innovation?

SR: The current market innovation model has been focused on two major areas — security and Quality of Service (QoS) of VoIP systems. A general concern today, especially among the operator community, is that any IP-based service will have security vulnerabilities similar to those we face on the public Internet. While current security practices may suffice to thwart most security threats within the closed-service IP network, most endpoints for VoIP may still be taken over by Trojans and attack the service infrastructure. NexTone has been a leader in the multi-layered security model required to thwart attacks on VoIP networks.
QoS is another area where there is currently a lot of innovation — in measurement, monitoring, and reporting. NexTone was the first to implement a voice QoS probe in the SBC so that operators can proactively monitor and dynamically adjust their networks when quality is impaired.

RT: What type of services are NexTone’s products best suited for?

SR: At the core of NexTone’s platform is a sophisticated policy enforcement and routing engine that is embedded with both H.323 and SIP protocol stacks. With this unique architecture, NexTone’s SBC and corresponding MSX products offer service providers a lot of intelligence at the edge of their networks. NexTone’s solution is widely deployed, and the company has enjoyed a significant position of strength in VoIP peering and wholesale VoIP applications. Operators offering VoIP use the breadth of NexTone’s sophisticated policy-based session management and routing capabilities in addition to the security features that have become table stakes in the industry. NexTone has over 400 customers, and carries over 50 percent of VoIP international long distance traffic.

Many NexTone customers have traditionally been next generation carriers that manage predominantly VoIP traffic. What we see happening is that as traditional carriers migrate greater portions of their traffic to VoIP, they, too, are beginning to appreciate the enormous potential of NexTone’s intelligent edge solution for their networks. We are now seeing an increasing number of carriers implement NexTone SBCs in between the service provider and consumers or businesses. Here the SBCs are using NexTone’s policy-based routing and session management capabilities to provide traffic normalization at the edge and offload the network core.

RT: How does IMS affect the current telecom landscape?

SR: IMS is a standardization effort that has been going on for the last six years. IMS specifies a standard way to build an IP network that can be leveraged to deliver multiple services over a common infrastructure. IMS is thought of as the “build once, deliver many” infrastructure. However, before they invest in this type of infrastructure, operators are waiting for the standards process to complete. Meanwhile, the standards process requires small or pilot deployments to prove the standard out as well as to ensure interoperability. A number of best-practices organizations, as well as operators, are working to implement the standards and ensure interoperability of services. Once this process is reasonably understood and underway, operators will be comfortable with large-scale deployments of IMS-based infrastructure. This type of investment from the operators may be a couple of years out. Until that time, intense activity is needed in the standards making and standards debugging processes in the form of pilot trials.

RT: Are Triple Play and Quad Play services an end-all in themselves, or a means to a larger enablement of services and applications in the future?

SR: Triple play and quadruple play services, as currently deployed, enable an economic bundle that can eventually enable higher-revenue services for operators in the future. For the end user, bundling lowers the barrier to experimenting with a new application, and it enables the operator to begin monetizing a new application or service across an existing subscriber base.

First-generation triple play/quad play services tend to be a bundle of independent applications, such as wireline voice, video, and data. Once a subscriber base exists for this triple play service, operators have an incentive to invest in their infrastructures to enable a common IP-based delivery mechanism for all their service bundles. However, once these applications are delivered over a common IP pipe, the potential to enable new interactions between these applications can give rise to newer applications. The new applications will, in turn, attract new subscribers and increase revenue for the operators.

RT: Describe your vision of VoIP 2.0

SR: VoIP and the corresponding infrastructure investment have, until now, been about recreating the PSTN and voice services. VoIP is really an IP application, but it stands alone today. Interestingly, the technology and protocols that enable VoIP today straddle the worlds of traditional telecom applications and Internet applications. Even though VoIP’s current commercial impact is in traditional telecom applications, where it has the most potential to affect everyone’s lives is in Internet applications. VoIP will be embedded in Internet applications and create interesting “mash-ups” that lend audio communication capability to multiple applications. Until now, voice has always been thought of as person-to-person communications; with VoIP, one can enable person-to-application (or machine) communications that will open up immense productivity increases and collaboration flexibility.

Rich Tehrani is President and Editor in Chief at TMC.

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