“It’s Telecom, Jim, but Not as We Know It”

David Snow
David Snow

Summary Bullets:

  • Telecoms announcements these days are routinely full of VoLTE rollouts and NFV implementation headlines.
  • However, below the headlines, two recent announcements from Africa were subtly different and perhaps all the more significant for it.

Apparently the phrase from which this blog title was adapted – “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it” – wasn’t actually said in the Star Trek series, but subsequently misattributed. Perhaps it caught on because the phrase aptly captures the sense of surprise when something familiar, yet not quite the same, is encountered.

That’s what happened last week, when there were a couple of announcements on fairly common topics: a voice over LTE (VoLTE) launch and a network functions virtualization (NFV) contract. Nothing unusual, yet getting past the headline, both had some unique content.

  • It’s VoLTE, but not as we know it.

Firstly, Squire Technologies of the UK announced that it supplied its Session Border Controller (SBC) to Smile Telecom to support its pan-African VoLTE launch. Apart from the fact that Squire Technologies isn’t exactly a well-known name in the SBC market, the company also revealed that it has been working with an “unnamed operator in Africa” for VoLTE using an open source IMS core, Kamailio. Whether the operator is actually Smile isn’t clear from the collateral, but the fact remains that both IMS and SBC technology hitherto not seen in developed markets is evidently emerging in Africa. That’s surprising, particularly as the mainstream SBC and IMS vendors (with the exception of Metaswitch) all play up VoLTE as very sophisticated and very difficult to get right. Admittedly, VoLTE deployment in Africa is at an early stage and subscriber numbers, device types, QoE subscriber expectations, etc. may be quite low, but it sounds like this small vendor/alternative technology approach to VoLTE is surprisingly close to delivering.

  • It’s NFV, but not as we know it.

So, that brings us onto the second announcement – not quite so unusual as the first, but nonetheless a different slant on NFV. Alcatel-Lucent announced that it is providing cloud networking technology to the government of Burkina Faso to develop new digital public services. In particular, it includes Alcatel-Lucent’s network functions virtualization (NFV) solution, CloudBand. The interesting thing about this particular announcement is simply that NFV originates firmly from the telecoms industry, but there’s no hint of any virtualized telecom functions; it’s all IT services. So, while NFV was originally framed as a move to introduce the flexibility of IT into telecoms, here we have the reverse play: a telecoms solution providing the processing and orchestration infrastructure for IT services. Again, this could simply be a “one-off,” but perhaps it also indicates a recognition of the fact that telecom has a lot to offer IT after all. That’s also a message now coming strongly from the major telecommunications vendors, but here is some evidence of early recognition and uptake.

That was last week’s news. As a postscript, another title considered for this blog post was “Out of Africa – Doing Things Differently.” Perhaps we haven’t heard the last of this continent’s alternative approach.

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