Service providers all face the same challenges when moving into the New IP world no matter their size or location: increased competition and the need to lower costs and increase revenue. However, rural telcos might be more cost challenged because of their limited funds, size, skill sets and legacy infrastructure when it comes to delivering VoIP, video and data services to their customers.
This week in the US, NTCA's Rural Broadband Association met for their annual Rural Telecom Industry Meeting & Expo to tackle a number of challenges, including understanding what the telco of the future looks like and how to adapt to the changes required by the New IP. The association's most recent 2013 Broadband/Internet Availability Survey Report cites a number of challenges faced by rural providers, with the main challenge being financial.
Rural service providers face many barriers when deploying broadband services according to NTCA's 2013 Broadband/Internet Availability Survey Report.
While the industry seems to have rallied around the Tier 1 service provider strategies, such as AT&T Domain 2.0, rural telcos are equally focused on driving the new operational and economic models that SDN and NFV enable, according to Kevin Shatzkamer, CTO, Mobile Networking, Brocade.
"In fact, their businesses may see more benefit than Tier 1. The reduction in opex and acceleration of service rollout by implementing SDN and NFV should reflect positively on rural telco economics and customer satisfaction," Shatzkamer said in an email.
Giving into pressure
In Europe rural providers are facing similar challenges, especially now that superfast broadband has become as essential as electricity and water according to local UK community members in Cumbria, where EE recently rolled out services.
Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Gabriel Brown said, "In the UK and Germany, and Europe in general, there's a lot of pressure from government and regulators to build-out wireless broadband coverage to rural areas. It's taken far too long, in my opinion, but the silver-lining is that operators now have better technology options to connect these hard-to-reach customers."
In addition to network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking, other technologies are being used by service providers to deliver services such as dynamic mesh routing, for example, to connect and backhaul traffic between and from remote base stations, noted Brown.
"Potentially also, caching and content delivery networks (CDNs)," he said. "In India, for example, Ericsson says operators are using local caching to download content (films, education material, etc.) to communities with 3G and 4G access networks, but which rely on satellite connectivity to the rest of the world."
Lowering the capex
Another option for rural telcos are wholesale solutions that can help them migrate from TDM to IP-based services without the capex. Alianza provides wholesale cloud-based voice services built on an NFV core to incumbent and rural providers that need next-generation solutions.
Whether rural telcos are looking at revenue growth initiatives or driving costs down in their network, a hosted solution allows them to retire their legacy gear and offer IP-based services or expand into new markets to service businesses and residential customers with lower capex, said Kevin Mitchell, vice president of marketing and product for Alianza.
"The old TDM switches are end-of-life, they can't find parts, the expertise on how to run those switches is hard to find, they know that it's just fraught with risk," he said. "They need to be able to retire those as soon as possible and still be able to power those POTS lines using a VoIP core without the capex of softswitch and NFV equipment." This week at NCTA, Alianza introduced a telco voice solution aimed specifically at Tier 2 and Tier 3 providers.
The issue of cost is not just a US issue, though, it's a global concern according to Rajesh Mishra, founder and CEO of Parallel Wireless. "One hundred percent population coverage is now recognized as a very real desire for people and it will be one of the requirements for not so distant all-IP 5G," said Mishra. "Telcos in many developed countries are mandated by the government to provide rural service, but realistically, it is not possible as installation and maintenance costs are high, especially for areas with limited population."
“For example, in the past, the main barrier to offering mobile coverage in remote areas of the UK has been the cost of building large radio towers and laying fiber/cables across the countryside," continued Mishra. "The rural micro network solution that EE is implementing reimagines cellular economics by cost effectively delivering coverage to hard to reach areas as it eliminates the need for large masts or cabling."
Regardless of the path they take to get to the New IP, it's clear that rural providers need to make the switch in order to get the broadband for VoIP, data and video services out to the rural masses -- and they need to do it in a way that overcomes the financial obstacles of construction, deployment, capex and more. As one respondent to the NTCA's survey -- which is included in the report -- said, "Overall, it comes down to cost." This is where New IP mainstays of NFV and SDN can really make an impact.
— Elizabeth Miller Coyne, Editor, The New IP