Nathan Bell: Using IP and IPX, operators can offer services
that their customers will take with them when they travel
Residents of Australia and Hong Kong are avid travellers, so
LTE users are a perfect test-bed for data roaming on the new
Telstra Global is rolling out its new IPX (Internetwork Packet Exchange) service to 4G mobile operators worldwide having designed the platform — which enables application and content providers to exchange content with operators in this new all-IP mobile world. The service was developed with the close collaboration of two of the Telstra Group’s companies, the domestic mobile business in Australia and the Telstra majority-owned operator, CSL – both in the vanguard of LTE deployment.
“This is something that is providing mobile operators with a great opportunity,” says Nathan Bell, director of global portfolio and marketing at Telstra Global, the worldwide services arm of the leading Australian operator, Telstra Corporation Limited.
IPX technology is becoming increasingly vital in this all-IP world. Initially the term was used for the facilities that allow fixed IP-based networks to interconnect, but the concept has spread over the past year or so because LTE networks, which are inherently IP-based, have started up in many parts of the world.
“There are many different types of IPX platform,” says Bell. “In fact, we sometimes think there are as many varieties of IPX as there are of tulips. It’s a very diverse marketplace.”
And IPX is an essential part of the product and service mix for any active wholesale operator as the 4G world develops. Roaming in the 3G market is handled by GRX technology — GPRS roaming exchanges. “GRX providers have to go to IPX,” says Bell. “They are being forced to move to IPX out of necessity due to the evolution of mobile operators towards LTE.”
That’s where he believes Telstra Global has a rare advantage. In addition to the Telstra Group’s two in-house LTE operators that provide Telstra Global executives with insight into the requirements for IPX services, it has also expanded its discussions to include mobile companies outside the Group. Four of them have already signed up to use IPX, says Bell. “We hope to make an announcement towards the end of the year,” he says. And the company is in active discussions with others, he adds.
The data explosion is driving the need for advanced facilities such as the IPX service — especially when mobile users move outside their home territories and expect to take their data services with them.
That’s another factor that gives Telstra Global a particular advantage, says Bell. “It’s in the nature of the average Australian to travel offshore,” he smiles, “and then we have to think of the vast multicultural nature of the Hong Kong market.” Residents of both countries are avid travellers — and so Telstra’s and CSL’s customers are a perfect test-bed for the effectiveness of data roaming on the new LTE services.
But the all-IP nature of LTE is changing other relationships, he notes — including those with over-the-top players, which are forming close relationships with mobile users that threaten to remove the mobile operators’ opportunity to earn revenue from advanced services.
“Operators want to move to IP so they can do things differently,” says Bell. Using IP and IPX, they can offer services that their customers will take with them when they travel — and IPX will also allow operators to work with content providers in a way that challenges the OTT companies.
“We see multiple aspects of the IPX service,” says Bell. First, it will redefine partnerships. There are already a number of big international alliances between mobile operators, especially in Asia. Sometimes it’s hard for operators outside those alliances to get access to the services they want.
But the IPX service will give challenging operators the opportunity to select their partners in different countries, says Bell, “maybe picking a tier two operator in one country, or even an MVNO. This can reignite the whole discussion of what the traveller wants from the mobile experience.”
Excitingly, it means that a mobile operator will be able to offer its customers advanced services that they can still experience when travelling, he notes. “We’re talking of the mobile equivalent of high-definition voice or of telepresence,” says Bell. “Imagine having that on your mobile phone.”
For an operator, “that would be a game changer”, he says, as users start to demand high-quality services — and then use them for longer, earning the operator much more revenue.
“But we see that as a short-term gain and an evolution of what people already use. The really big benefits will come later.”
Those benefits will help LTE operators recoup some of the investment that they have put into their 4G networks, he says. “They will be able to define their own value add. That’s what the OTT companies are looking for already as they earn additional revenue and start the perception that they own their customer engagement.”
What sort of services are he and his colleagues at Telstra Global thinking of, when they talk of benefits that could be implemented via the IPX service. Bell gives a few examples of the way the team is thinking at the moment — there are gaming companies in China, he says. “And we’re referring to personalised social media, offering cross-platform services.” A Skype user could take part in a WebEx conversation, for example.
“These sorts of features are attractive, but the challenge that operators have is that they don’t have the budget to build these things themselves.”
But with a central IPX service, Telstra itself could host the facilities and offer them to mobile operators across the world for their own customers, on a pay-as-you-use basis. “That’s the sort of thing we’re testing out now,” he says.
“We’re also planning a video distribution service,” Bell adds. He’s talking about various levels of video - both personal and professional - as well as full-scale TV broadcasts.
“With an all-IP network we can use its great capabilities to improve the quality of experience that service providers can offer their customers who pay a premium charge. That’s what will give the service providers some capability to recover the cost of their investments in LTE.”
And these facilities will allow mobile operators to move into new markets — even challenging fixed-line operators in the enterprise markets, he says. “Many mobile operators do not have a presence in the fixed market, but the Telstra Global IPX service will allow them to enter the enterprise space. An operator won’t even need to invest in much equipment, but it will be able to add incremental value to the offer.”
The idea is that Telstra Global’s IPX service will host the enterprise service, and mobile operators that are connected to it will be able to offer services based on the platform to their own customers.
In addition to the four operators that are signed up, Bell and his team are talking to another eight. “We also have two content providers we are engaging with and we are talking to others.”
“We’re using the early stages of the operation to report and track what services people are using, and what values they are getting from them. We’re linking the IPX service to our own billing systems.”
Of course, we’re still in the very early days of LTE, but there’s an increasing optimism in the industry that this will be an enabler of a huge number of advanced services and drive mobile to the next level of operations. Bell is at one with that view. “We see that LTE is becoming a big enabler,” he says.
Telstra’s heartland is clearly in the Asia Pacific region, but the brand — as the Telstra Global name implies — has a worldwide presence and Bell intends that the IPX service will be available everywhere. “We have teams in the US and Europe. Of course, there is huge excitement in Asia and that’s where everybody is focusing, and our aim is to help our global customers continue to expand.”
The all-IP business will enable services to be global, and the new IPX services will allow the LTE operators above all to offer a new era of advanced services to their customers.