Itsuma Tanaka, Lead Core Network Architect, Core Network Development Department, NTT Docomo

Itsuma Tanaka, Lead Core Network Architect, Core Network Development Department, NTT Docomo

This post is by Itsuma Tanaka,  Lead Core Network Architect, Core Network Development Department, NTT Docomo

Do you actually voice roaming when you’re abroad?

When you’re calling somebody from the LTE Asia 2014 venue, or when you sit in Starbucks on the high-street, or when you’re relaxing in your hotel room—or even when you’re surfing on the sunny Maldives beach, – you generally would use free Wi-Fi and Skype.

Recently, the EU introduced new regulations that cap prices for roaming phone calls leading operators, especially in the EU region facing fears of (even more) reduced revenues. They have to reduce prices, whilst maintain existing systems.

These are just a few examples of disruptive factors to our good ol’ ecosystem, which has supported the entire human society (not to mention M2M) around the globe since the creation of GSM technology. My bet is that the vicious cycle will continue, unless the business paradigm changes.

Operators around the world are doing their best to make our roaming voice services more accessible by reducing costs and prices—and so is my company NTT Docomo. But this is not enough; the industry needs more innovative breakthrough.

So, the industry needs new technology and a new business architecture to change the game – all for the benefit of the entire ecosystem, including our precious customers.

Voice over LTE (VoLTE) is the cutting-edge of voice technology. It’ll offer High Definition quality voice with QoS, simultaneous ultra-fast data and voice services over LTE, and the user interface is the symbolic “Green Button” that must be most familiar to many phone users.

However, does it make sense to keep this 25-year-old roaming business model for this latest technology?

I say no.

Unlike traditional circuit switched voice services, VoLTE runs 100 per cent on IP. And it was designed so to reduce the OPEX/CAPEX needed to support voice. And it is also access agnostic – meaning it runs on any access. It’s a more mobile-broadband-friendly technology. So why don’t we take advantage of this and move towards “all-IP” roaming business paradigm?

In the “all-IP roaming business paradigm”, voice will be treated as just another data application. No IMS level inter-working is actually necessary to enable roaming: we can shorten the time-to-market, and reduce the cost of testing and of creeping functions as well as the cost of handling different implementations of roaming devices. I also expect that an IP-based charging model based on the Internet model should help create cheaper voice services, making the voice roaming service more attractive to our customers.

What’s more – the all-IP roaming business paradigm with VoLTE technology can still fulfil regulatory services (e.g. emergency calls) so that operators can remain as the most trusted voice services providers.

I know some might think I sound crazy but something we deploy now will be used for another 20 or more years, so the industry needs to make a wise decision. Therefore, I urge everyone – operators, equipment vendors and interconnect providers – to re-think voice roaming.

So come and join me at LTE Asia 2014 to discuss the future of voice roaming. I look forward to hearing your insights and innovative ideas.

(Follow me on Twitter to discuss innovation: @itsuma_tanaka)



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