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Cloud Voice Platform Gains As Next-Gen Cable Solution

Aging Infrastructure, the Need to Reach IP Devices Generate Traction for Alianza.

Amid the scramble in cable circles to build service strategies on a cloud foundation suited to delivering next-generation multiscreen TV, another big issue in need of attention from the cloud perspective is digital voice.

Kevin Mitchell, VP, marketing & product, Alianza.

At one level, the multiscreen service expansion into the Wi-Fi domain, where keeping subscribers on the cable network with the convenience of pay TV and OTT content access has become a priority, raises questions of whether it would help to give those subscribers voice service on those connections, eliminating their need to go back to cellular connectivity to make calls. While cable voice is based on IP technology adapted to the PacketCable standard, most implementations are not set up to support over-the-top access to the service.

At another level, voice, as a commoditized component of triple-play packages, is a given requirement of cable service that is far less lucrative than it once was, not only because of package discount pricing but, more importantly, because of the steady falloff in wireline voice connections as people rely on cell service for voice exclusively. This means there is less revenue to support the costs of upgrades essential to replacing obsolescent equipment and to bringing more advanced iterations of voice service into the product portfolio, especially for the burgeoning base of cable commercial service customers.

All of this is good cause for looking to the cloud – specifically, the hosted cloud service offered by cable industry newcomer Alianza, says Kevin Mitchell, the firm’s vice president of marketing and product. Alianza, building on a small business VoIP service technological foundation sold to AT&T in 2008, has been supplying cloud-hosted voice support for the Clearwire component of Sprint’s operations and for satellite service provider ViaSat along with several wireless ISPs. Now the company has scored a win in cable with Vyve Broadband, a fast-growing Tier 2 MSO that is porting its existing VoIP service to the Alianza Cloud Voice Platform.

Mitchell describes the Alianza’s Cloud Voice Platform as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering that untangles operators from the restraints of old-school voice networks and frees up resources to accelerate strategic initiatives. “Our proposition is you don’t have to rebuild your voice network, which drives cap ex and causes organizational distractions from other priorities,” Mitchell says. “Our cloud-source voice platform takes all that cap ex off the table.”

The platform allows operators to cost-effectively deliver a feature-rich, ubiquitously available carrier-class voice service that can support whatever bells and whistles an operator may want to add, including OTT voice access, he explains. “We allow you to extend your brand to connected devices, such as tablets, with soft clients – the kind of thing cable VoIP 1.0 is incapable of supporting,” he says.

Mitchell stresses the applicability of the platform for cable business services. Built to conform to the IMS (Internet Multimedia Subsystem) VoIP architecture, Alianza utilizes an IMS Session Border Controller (SBC) to analyze and modify VoIP signaling and media flows to ensure interoperability, security and control across IP network boundaries. The SBC protects the Alianza voice core from external attacks and overloads and provides NAT (Network Address Translation) traversal and secure pinholes that enable VoIP delivery when end-user devices are located behind a firewall or use private IP address spaces. “Having a SIP infrastructure allows you to go after the business market,” Mitchell says.

But Mitchell acknowledges that a hosted voice service with quality performance comparable to what cable operators are accustomed to offering can be a hard sell. “Some operators get it and embrace it, and it’s a matter of when the window opens in terms of their needs to upgrade or rebuild VoIP infrastructure,” he says. “And some are still trying to wrap their heads around it.”

While OTT VoIP has been around since Vonage got underway in 2004, the emergence of carrier-class hosted voice is relatively new. But it’s taking hold, even in the business sector, as evidenced by data generated from new research studies. In one report, Infonetics says the hosted SMB VoIP and unified communications market in North America, calculated to be 3.6 million seats in 2012, will grow to 14.9 million seats in 2016. Separately, Frost & Sullivan says the market will grow at an average annual rate of 27.5 percent over the next five years.

Given that Alianza only recently began targeting cable after largely focusing on WISPs, the Vyve agreement is sure to lend some credibility to the concept in cable operators’ eyes. The small-market MSO formed by ex-Bresnan Communications executives in 2012 operates in nine states with about 70,000 video subscribers in service areas totaling 300,000 households.

Vyve is leveraging Alianza’s EasySwitch VoIP migration program to transition its legacy VoIP customers to the Cloud Voice Platform, Mitchell says. “Our professional service team provides support for managing the migration, including new feature development, eMTA (embedded multimedia terminal adapter) certification, training and transition of subscribers to the platform,” he explains, adding this can be done in live traffic situations. Total cutover time for all areas served with Vyve’s legacy VoIP service was projected to take 30 to 60 days, he notes.

The Alianza service, licensed as a wholesale service on a monthly per-subscriber or, in the case of commercial services, per-seat basis, will reduce Vyve’s total cost of ownership, enable new voice services growth and improve operational efficiency, says Vin Zachariah, senior vice president of residential services at Vyve. “Vyve Broadband was formed with a core strategy to provide a truly next-generation broadband customer experience to the largely underserved markets that we have recently acquired,” Zachariah says. “After a rigorous analysis of all of the potential voice technology partners, Vyve is confident that the Alianza cloud voice solution is the best offering for our commercial and residential customers.”

On first blush that’s an amazing claim for a cloud-based service as compared to an existing PacketCable-based voice system. But Mitchell makes clear Alianza’s service is designed to replace operator-owned softswitches and related facilities with robust MPLS-based private IP connections to the cable infrastructure, allowing SIP signaling to be passed between the datacenters with the same speed and reliability as if the datacenter softswitches were locally based.

“We’re not replicating the underlying transport architecture and PSTN connectivity,” Mitchell says. “The marriage of that transport with our cloud VoIP provides a complete solution that offloads costs and the heavy lifting of building and running VoIP on the cable network.”

Softswitches, along with servers running voice mail, media service-store applications and policy managers, operate in a virtualized SDN (software-defined network) environment on HP servers in Alianza’s datacenters in Lindon and Ashburn, Va. “We’ve virtualized our own code to leverage NFV (Network Function Virtualization) as it relates to VoIP,” Mitchell says. “The architecture makes it easy to scale and expand on a datacenter infrastructure shared by other customers.”

Along with using Level 3 Communications’ links to tie cable and other providers’ infrastructures to the datacenters, Alianza is using Level 3’s VoIP Enhanced Local Service to handle PSTN interconnection, number assignment and local number portability. For now Alianza is confining operations to its own datacenters, but there’s no reason the company couldn’t “leverage public clouds down the road,” he notes. “Not now, but that may be a future option.”

The cloud service APIs support integration of the platform with operators’ back office systems to enable highly automated order entry, provisioning, billing and customer care in sync with existing operations, Mitchell says. “We haven’t found a billing or CRM system we haven’t been able to plug into,” he says.

“Vyve has two provisioning and billing systems we hadn’t encountered before,” he notes. “It only took us one or two weeks to plug into their business processes and systems, which is fairly typical for us. Once you’re set up, it takes just three minutes – 60 key strokes – to create a new account with all the features and billing policies that have been selected for that account.”

Device certification goes quickly as well, he adds. “We already have a list of 70 to 80 certified devices, and if something is not on that list, we will work with operators to get it on,” he says.

“All the blinking lights are in the cloud, but the operator still has control over the service and what they want to provide to residential and commercial customers based on whatever they want to put in their service plans,” he continues. “They can use our features to create one, ten or more products.”

Operators can also use Alianza’s APIs to take advantage of capabilities supported by PacketCable and CMTS (cable modem termination system) infrastructure over and above the softswitch and other cloud-based functionalities, he adds. “We’ve mapped out five different quality-of-service solutions for cable operators, some of which take advantage of PacketCable,” he says.

For example, operators who employ IMS policy enforcers with PCRF (Policy Charging Resource Function) signaling to dynamically provision bandwidth on a per-session basis can integrate those functions into the Cloud Voice Platform ecosystem. “We can query back and forth between their service and us to leverage that,” Mitchell says. “We’re using two signaling protocols to talk between the voice and policy infrastructures. When the subscriber makes a call, our Cloud Voice Platform asks the policy server to provde QoS bandwidth for voice or video, if it’s a video-enabled call.”

Enabling calls to be received over cable Wi-Fi connections is part of a larger suite of capabilities tied to operator/subscriber-customizable voice apps such as find me/follow me and Caller ID. These capabilities are enabled through the Alianza-provided operator-branded OTT voice clients hosted in iOS and Android app stores or on voice-specific client components that have been integrated into the operator’s multi-device service client. “It’s all intuitive to the end user,” Mitchell says.

“The operator can standardize a feature like Caller ID for everyone or make it configurable through the subscriber-facing Web portal,” he adds. “Subscribers can set up find me/follow me by recurring times of day or for specific hours on a daily basis. The service can be configured to follow the user on the LTE data stream as well as over Wi-Fi connections.”

Anish Koirala
Anish Koirala
Meet Anish, a talented author in the gaming industry. With a passion for storytelling and a deep understanding of game mechanics, Anish weaves captivating narratives that immerse players in unforgettable worlds.
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