By Thomas Schroer

The market is seeing the next technology evolution as more service providers want to move to IP voice and deliver all the services that go along with an all-IP network. Terms like “IPX” and “Diameter” are moving into the industry lexicon as providers discuss the need to address connectivity challenges across multiple network technology domains that make up an end-to-end service. But at the same time, carriers live and operate in the real world, where they still have to leverage a tried-and-true TDM infrastructure that continues to carry a large portion of traffic and generate a large portion of revenues.

While voice continues to play an important role in the overall revenue picture, declining margins on international traffic, increased cannibalization from over-the-top (OTT) applications and the move to all-IP are making business-savvy service providers think hard about their investment plans for any services declining in return.  Still, there are several reasons why we see service providers pulling the trigger on plans to change out their switching technology for traditional voice services. The biggest one is this: end-of-life support and end-of-sale for legacy switching infrastructure. 

Some switching vendors notified customers of plans to discontinue sales and eventually support for both TDM and softswitch platforms that are widely deployed in their networks.  For example, Cisco Systems put its PGW 2200 on the path of end-of-sale/end-of-life. This leaves service providers wondering how best to continue to provide end users uninterrupted, high-quality service. 

While there are replacement options from which to choose, most service providers are loathe to replace their existing platforms with something similar. Rather than replacing what they have with a like-for-like platform, carriers should think of the end-of-life issue as a transformative opportunity to migrate from legacy TDM or softswitch platforms and position themselves for IMS and all-IP. 

Now, some vendors may offer a migration strategy, but others, such as Cisco, are exiting the class 4 softswitch business altogether. Many service providers get frustrated after scanning the market and finding softswitch vendors that don’t scale and don’t have much experience transitioning from old technology to new.

Service providers relying on an end-of-life switching infrastructure are in a tenuous position.  And, while an end-of-sale product will still be supported for a few years after the announcement, there are several reasons why providers see a need to accelerate their migration to new technology:

 Equipment for replacement or growth is tough to find: Expansion and replacement equipment becomes scarce and much of what is available is refurbished. 

New services are all the rage: One service provider that worked with us to migrate off its end-of-life media gateways shared that while it had access to re-conditioned equipment, deploying infrastructure that couldn’t offer new functionality or allow it to deliver new services would effectively hold the provider back from staying competitive. 

 End-of-life technology experts are in short supply: As vendors discontinue more equipment, R&D and the knowledgebase fall by the wayside, as well. Voice switching is complex, and even with networks moving to all IP, the need to interwork across multiple technology domains will be necessary for years to come.

Connectivity is paramount: As the world becomes more mobile, service providers will need the IPX capabilities for any-to-any connectivity between mobile and fixed NGN, IMS, 3G, LTE and 4G networks to deliver reliable service.

 Transformations carry cost savings: Let’s face it; new technology is in many cases faster, better, smarter – it’s all about Moore’s law. Another exciting trend is virtualization and in many cases one of the benefits of newer technology is operational savings, as well as capital expenditure savings.

What are the considerations service providers should make in transforming their networks? We’d like to hear from you, and we’ll cover some of those in an upcoming blog.