Have you ever considered becoming a VoIP only carrier? Imagine if you never needed to buy another media gateway, or troubleshoot bit errors on a T1, or deal with a traffic outage caused by a faulty Mux.
Is this really possible? And would it actually be better?
When I attended the Metaswitch Symposiums back in April, I had the opportunity to talk with numerous ILECs and CLECs about their operations. During these discussions, it became clear that many chose to switch a large proportion of their outgoing traffic to SIP trunks, primarily for financial reasons, but were still maintaining sizeable SS7 networks at significant cost.
On the surface, this decision didn’t make sense. After all, SIP trunks are highly cost-effective, and the ability to route traffic over IP has been available for years. So, I was left wondering why they would continue to invest in SS7 when alternatives were clearly available.
The answer resides in a single place: the LECs.
As the guardians of the PSTN, the Local Exchange Carriers are required by law to provide access and number portability to smaller ILECs, or IOCs, and CLECs. However, that requirement doesn’t mean they have to make it easy – so most LECs, from what I’ve gleaned, only provide interconnect over SS7.
This left me wondering… does it really have to be this way?
SS7 really ought to be obsolete by now – and yet it’s hanging on by its fingertips, on-life support thanks to the LECs. Can we pull the plug?
Key Question: Rent or Own your DNs?
Before we get into the fundamentals and details of removing SS7, it’s important to ask yourself one question: Do you want to own your own telephone numbers? If this is not so important to you, and you are willing to pay a monthly fee per directory number, there are several carriers that you can port your DNs to, including Bandwidth.com, Level 3, among others. These DNs can then be easily delivered to you over a SIP trunk.On the plus side, this is a quick and easy way of becoming a VoIP-only service provider, with access to nationwide numbers. On the downside, you lose the ability to collect carrier compensation for inbound traffic, and also, because you no longer own your numbers, you’re heavily dependent on a third party, which might not be appealing to you.
Show me the money!
As I mentioned before, incoming calls are the main reason why so many networks are still relying on SS7. After all, how are you supposed to receive calls that originated somewhere else in the PSTN if you don’t have SS7 connectivity to the local exchange carrier?
Hopefully, someday soon, LECs will have come to their senses and will start offering SIP trunks to all their subtending carriers, but until that day comes, we need alternatives. That means working with third parties, and that means we need to consider the various different types of inbound calls we’ll need to handle, and how things could work in each scenario.
When your subscriber receives a long-distance incoming call, that call is routed through an inter-exchange carrier, or IXC. That IXC then uses the LERG to identify your local exchange carrier, which in turn delivers the call to its final destination – you.It is, however, possible to update the LERG and ask the inter-exchange carrier to deliver the call to a third party, rather than the LEC. You simply need to sign a contract with said third party, asking them to act as recipient for your traffic and deliver it to you over a SIP trunk. One-two, problem solved, TDM eliminated for inbound LD calls.
If you want to, you can search for service providers who offer this Access Homing Tandem service, or you can take a look at either Inteliquent or Peerless Network, who are the two providers that are the most prominent in this space.
Incoming Local from LEC
If a caller who receives phone service from your LEC contacts your subscriber, then, fundamentally, the call needs to originate from the LEC, making this scenario particularly difficult to address when the goal is to eliminate TDM.
However, there may be a method for receiving the call over SIP through the use of a third-party.
For example, Inteliquent has agreements with certain LECs in specific areas allowing them to receive traffic over SS7 that is destined for you. Then, Inteliquent, through their Local Connect End Office offering, acts as a TDM-IP gateway, converting that SS7 call into a VoIP connection.
This provides a workaround for an otherwise challenging scenario, making the removal of TDM from your network a possibility.
Incoming Local from non-LEC Subscriber
Of course, not all local calls originate within the LEC, so these have to be addressed as well. Some areas may have a few small IOCs and CLECs that you can coordinate with directly to turn up SIP trunks for local traffic, giving you an opportunity to eliminate TDM from these situations.
Additionally, there are some large providers – most commonly wireless companies (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, etc.) and MSOs (Comcast/Xfinity, Charter, etc.) – that control large blocks of numbers that operate as local within your area.
Both Inteliquent and Peerless Network offer “Local Transit” services that give you the ability to receive these calls from other local carriers outside of the LEC over SIP, though geographic limitations may apply.
While incoming and outgoing activity represents the bulk call volumes, there are some other services and lesser used call types that still play a factor when the goal is to remove TDM. Each of these must be tackled as part of a larger implementation, so it’s important to understand what they are in advance.
While 911 is very lightly used, it is a critical function of any phone service provider. If you’re lucky, there may be some local efforts to move the PSAPs away from MF or SS7 trunking and over to VoIP. However, this is handled on a state-by-state basis, so there are no guarantees in this area.
When that situation arises, you can use one of the third party services that are specifically designed to provide 911 access to VoIP carriers. This ensures that all legal requirements are met, and subscribers have definitive access to essential emergency services when the need arises.
One such service is operated by West (who purchased Intrado) which can ensure your services meet all FCC regulations.
Other CallsThere are a variety of other calls that need to be addressed as part of your elimination of TDM.
Operator calls may need to be re-routed through a toll-free number to ensure they reach the proper destination. While this can be an additional cost, the use of such services has diminished significantly since the kind of information people typically required is highly accessible by other means.
Caller ID, or CNAM, is another service that must be considered when you’re working to eliminate SS7 from your network. Often, the easiest solution is to use an IP-based interface through service providers, like Neustar or OpenCnam, which can ensure that the desired information is displayed and received properly.
To manage toll-free calls, the option of routing them over SIP LD carriers is often the most efficient implementation, which can make it a smart choice is the vast majority of scenarios.
For LNP queries, you may have options. First, if you choose to use local trunks through Inteliquent or Peerless Network, they may be able to handle your outbound traffic undipped, for a fee (of course). Second, for as long as you still maintain your own A-links, then you can obviously perform the queries yourself prior to routing the calls, removing the need to have a third party involved at all.
What about SIGTRAN?
SIGTRAN encompasses a series of protocols, which are an extension of the SS7 protocol family. It operates within the same SS7 paradigm, but uses SCTP in place of TCP or UDP, carrying PSTN signaling over IP.
Technically, this option isn’t ideal. But, it’s still a good option to have up your sleeve if you’re dedicated to moving away from SS7 and TDM media gateways but are otherwise hobbled by local availability of third-party options.
Is it worth it?
If you’re a small carrier, the best option may be to give up your numbers to a third party and coordinate with a company like Bandwidth.com or Level 3 to receive your numbers and associated service. Yes, you do end up paying more per minute than you would otherwise, and you have a monthly per-DID charge to contend with for each telephone number. But, at your size, the capital costs are more significant than the usage charges in the vast majority of cases, making this an option worth investigating.
If you’re a larger carrier, then losing your CABS compensation could be enough to justify keeping your own numbers. Of course, the FCC are phasing out termination charges over the next few years, so this may not matter for long, but if you’re keen to maintain your own DNs you can explore the path I’ve described in this article and use Access Homing Tandems and Local Transit services to achieve the most value and cost savings.
There’s a fair bit of work involved in putting all of the pieces together, and you may find that even a partial implementation provides you with significant benefits, giving you a financial (and possibly mental) boost as you move through the process. But, long-term, it would be worth the effort if you can stop worrying about specialist hardware availability and the high replacement costs associated with TDM media gateways.
If you’d like to discuss your own situation in more detail, then please contact me, and we can arrange an initial consultation to determine the ideal course of action based on your present circumstances and overall goals.
Also, make sure you download your TDM-free calculator to see how much you could save (or not) by becoming a VoIP-only carrier.