Bringing legacy into the 21st century

Service providers must find a way for their legacy technology to work alongside IP.

One of the most hotly debated topics in the technology world in recent years has been digital transformation. Everyone is having their say on how businesses can best serve their customers in light of ever-evolving hardware and software. Agility and the ability to remain nimble is an asset that many identify as being critical for survival today, as it allows businesses to effectively meet constantly changing customer expectations. The customer is king so meeting their requirements in any industry is essential.   

The telecoms industry had predicted that in a bid to keep up with end user demands, service providers would rip and replace their legacy infrastructure as the introduction of 4G and a glossy LTE future loomed large. But this didn’t happen. There was a vision and expectation that the focus would shift exclusively to all-IP, but as we’ve seen, this hasn’t materialised. Equipment manufacturers who appeared to cut their legacy connectivity offerings, such as Cisco, which announced the end-of-life of its IP Transfer Point (ITP), were too quick to make the leap and their promised seamless integration from legacy to LTE is broken and in need of repair. Because of this, service providers which held tight before making any knee-jerk reactions, are the ones who are indeed benefiting now. 

From the outside, it is easy to see why service providers might want to focus on providing better 4G connectivity. Recent research from consumer watchdog Which? found that the rest of the UK is lagging behind London when it comes to accessing 4G data services. On average, UK users can only connect to 4G 50 per cent of the time, with users in Wales only being able to connect just over a third (35 per cent) of the time. Furthermore, service providers have a spotlight shining brightly on 5G which is being touted as the promised land when it comes to enabling good, consistent broadband bandwidth and unlocking IoT capabilities; the industry really is getting ahead of itself. Providers need to take a step back and realise that legacy connectivity for existing voice, SMS and IN applications still remains an absolute requirement. It is crucial for service providers to grasp how their legacy technology, such as time-division multiplexing (TDM) equipment, can work alongside IP over shared-use networks. In doing so, not only can they keep up-to-date with modern-day user demands, but also protect their investment in legacy equipment.   

Keeping previous investments safe 

When it comes to future proofing their networks whilst getting the most bang for their buck, service providers can continue to use the legacy TDM equipment they have invested in at the edge, but focus on modernising the core by using VoIP and SIGTRAN to transmit calls and data over long distances.   

Supplanting long-distance, dedicated, TDM circuits with IP over shared-use networks provides substantial savings for service providers by reducing their core network transport costs and negating the need for the costly rip and replacement of legacy switching systems. Which will be music to the ears of shareholders, as it will keep capital expenditure at a minimum during these politically uncertain times.   

There are also solutions available to service providers that will route SS7 traffic over an IP network to an IP-enabled device, or route IP traffic over an IP network to an SS7 device. M2UA backhauls further provide transparent connectivity between traditional, circuit-switched SS7 signaling points and any IP-enabled signaling element. By leveraging MTP2 to M2UA interworking, service providers require no modifications to the MTP3 layer, addresses or routes on either side of the network. They will also not require any additional point codes. This will be a huge benefit for providers because introducing new codes can require the whole network to be rearchitected, and in a large network, there may not be any new codes available.   

Forty years from now   

Four decades on and the situation hasn’t changed. It is still important to maintain legacy infrastructure to meet the current demand to interconnect different networks. Multi-protocol solutions are required to connect divergent circuit and packet switching architectures, while end users continue to make voice calls and use SMS, alongside continued use of Over-the-Top (OTT) applications. SS7 technology isn’t retrograde – it’s traditional. Forty years on, it is still the most robust, high performance, and reliable signaling solution out there and it’s needed today more than ever.   

Service providers need to concentrate on delivering a saleable and flexible solution to manage the convergence and growth of their networks whilst maintaining legacy connections and infrastructure. It is the only way they will continue to grow and satisfy end user demand. Alongside this, their core focus will remain performance, scalability and reliability. Continuing to do the basics well and nurturing their legacy equipment will ensure their market-hold remains strong.

Lessons to be learned 

If digital transformation should have taught us anything it is that customer expectations are increasingly difficult to predict. With this in mind, a successful organisation is one that offers agility and nimbleness. Companies really can’t afford to throw all their eggs into one basket because as we’ve seen, the market is just not that easy to predict. What seems like a smart, assertive decision today, may be one you live to regret years down the line. Rather, successful service providers will be the ones that don’t supplants their legacy infrastructure with modern technologies to continue their efficacy through changing times. Being adaptive and flexible to match customer needs will be key.  

The industry had predicted that circuit switching would die a slow death and the complete replacement of TDM by IP. These claims made by industry experts and media commentators alike never came to fruition. Today, service providers need to keep their capital expenditure low, while realising as much return on investment in their networks as they can. It is therefore essential to maximise the capabilities of their legacy TDM equipment, but bring them up-to-date to meet modern-day user demands. 

Robin Kent, director of European operations, Adax 

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