Earlier this month, Azaire Networks made a pair of announcements regarding a deployment and a demonstration of its fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) solution. The company stated that the Australian carrier Optus had deployed Azaire’s IP Converged Network Platform (IP-CNP) as a core component of its recently-launched Wireless Connect Internet Service—and that Taiwanese operator Chunghwa Telecom had demonstrated dual network services using the Dopod 900 mobile device with Azaire’s solution.
Naveen Dhar, Azaire Networks’ Vice President of Marketing, says the company has now completed more than 10 live network deployments. Clients include Rogers, T-Mobile, Telefonica Moviles and Mobilkom Austria.
The challenge carriers are now facing, Dhar says, is that voice revenues are either flattening or declining, due to the advent of VoIP—so additional services and bundled offerings are becoming increasingly attractive. “From a carrier perspective, we see the growth as coming from mobile broadband services—whether it’s music, video, mobile TV, or even enterprise applications,” he says.
Since neither fixed nor mobile solutions alone can provide both the mobility and the capacity needed for mobile broadband, some kind of converged offering is required. “There needs to be a common thread that pulls it all together to offer a seamless service to the end customer,” Dhar says. “Depending where the user is—whether it’s in a mobile location, or in-building, or rural—there will be different technologies offering that service.”
A convergence platform
Azaire’s converged network solution, the IP-CNP, consists of two key network components—the Service Control Node (SCN) and the Metro-Wireless Services Gateway (Metro-WSG). The SCN manages authentication and authorization for services, while the Metro-WSG manages actual traffic.
Key to the Metro-WSG, Dhar says, is the fact that it serves as a security gateway for IP access. “If an operator wants to offer services over these new access technologies, they need to make sure that services are offered in a very secure way—not only that the traffic is not compromised, but also that there’s no theft of service,” he says.
Once the connection is secured, the Metro-WSG routes the traffic to the appropriate service center. “If it’s voice, it’ll forward to the voice core; if it’s a data service, it’ll forward to the data center; if it’s an IMS service, it’ll forward to the IMS core,” Dhar says. “It has the intelligence not only to figure out who the user is and provide the security, but then to route the traffic based on their different service needs.”
The client software, the Azaire Connection Manager, is designed to ensure both security and a seamless connection. “As you jump from one access network to the other, it maintains the connection across the different access networks without the user having to do anything,” Dhar says.
Adapting to new services
One of the main selling points for the IP-CNP, Dhar says, is the fact that its flexibility keeps it relatively future-proof. “It has a long life, because it evolves as the operators’ networks evolve, in offering different fixed-mobile convergence services,” he says. “On the access side, today we’re showing it working with Wi-Fi, but it could work easily with any other access service, like WiMAX.”
That means that carriers can deploy the product today, and can then continue to use it as they add new services. “Today, they would offer services like mobile VPN and push e-mail for corporate users,” Dhar says. “As voice becomes available, they can add voice to it, and when IMS becomes available, they can evolve to IMS, without throwing away the box.”
This month’s announcements with Chunghwa and Optus, Dhar says, focused on seamlessly delivering data services over both 3G and Wi-Fi. “You can now complement your 3G expenditure by utilizing the Wi-Fi that’s already there, whether it’s in hotspots, in an enterprise location or a home—and extend the 3G footprint by using Wi-Fi, offering your data services over 3G and Wi-Fi seamlessly,” he says.
For most carriers, Dhar says, that’s an extremely attractive proposition. “What we tell the carrier is, it doesn’t matter which way you go—there’s a common element that’s required in all the solutions, which is our packet data gateway—our Metro-WSG,” he says. “You can start off with any solution—everybody wants to eventually move to IMS. That’s the end goal, and we can get you there in an easy way.”
Focused on flexibility
ABI Research analyst Vamsi Sistla agrees that Azaire’s strength lies in the flexibility of its solution. “They’re not limiting that product to any particular transport technology, and at the same time to any particular end device,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what your IP transport is—as long as the content or stream is IP-ready, Azaire Networks’ IP-CNP can handle that particular service offering.”
The customer relationships that Azaire has developed, Sistla says, are equally impressive. “If you look at the list of customers, pretty much all the established brand names are partners with them—SingTel, Chungwa, T-Mobile, Rogers, all the big names,” he says. “So it’s not just the technology—their ability to go after all the right customers and integrate their technologies into the operator’s infrastructure or network is also key to their success.”
The fact that the IP-CNP can work with future solutions, Sistla says, is crucial for these clients. “They don’t want to keep upgrading their infrastructure every time a new technology or a new platform or service enters the market,” he says. “They want to partner with an infrastructure vendor who can address the current landscape as well as the future technological evolution, and that’s probably why they chose Azaire.”
A word of caution
Yankee Group analyst Phil Marshall agrees with Sistla that Azaire’s strength lies in its flexibility—though he says that could also prove to be a weakness, in terms of the complexity required to deliver such a technology-agnostic solution. “If you’re a vendor, in some respects it makes sense to simplify the way in which you go to market with a solution—particularly if you’re a startup vendor with limited resources,” he says.
Beyond the issue of complexity, Marshall says, the real challenge will be to ensure that there’s a sufficient market demand for these kinds of services. At this point, he says, fixed-mobile convergence is a reaction more to industry structure than to any real demand in the marketplace. “People are substituting away from fixed services,” he says. “So in essence, what’s driving it is a land grab that service providers are trying to use fixed-mobile convergence to facilitate—as opposed to saying, ‘These are services which we know are going to be demanded in the marketplace.'”
And so, Marshall says, companies like Azaire risk being too early to market with these types of solutions, regardless of how many clients the company may have. “Support in the marketplace when the market lacks that demand pull is not an indicator of success,” he says. “There’s a potential that some of these companies are going to be the incubators of the market, but not the beneficiaries.”